Big Labor's Billion Dollar Bet on Obama

The dirty little secret of Big Labor's massive support for the Obama campaign is the anticipated end to state right-to-work-laws and secret ballots in unionization campaigns.

On June 26, the AFL-CIO brass officially endorsed Barack Obama for president.  With Big Labor's largest umbrella organization and its member unions pouring unprecedented resources into the general election campaign, the public ought to fear the legislative payback that would ensue if Obama were elected.

Indeed, Big Labor is launching its largest political campaign in its history, and this year, more than ever, Big Labor means Big Money.  The union conglomerate is already sending teams of canvassers to knock on doors in swing states.  Unions are distributing 1.5 million flyers and sending 500,000 targeted attack mailers to voters as well.

The two largest union coalitions -- the AFL-CIO and the "Change to Win" Federation, a coalition of the American labor unions formed in 2005 as an alternative to the AFL-CIO -- have publicly admitted they will spend at least $300 million combined on federal elections alone.  When combined with political action committees and local unions and other union funders, at least $1 billion of union money (mostly in forced union dues coerced from workers as a job condition) is being dumped into electioneering.

The Democratic Party is but a penny ante player in comparison to Big Labor; the party itself will likely spend mere chump change in electing Obama and other pro-union candidates in comparison to that which will be spent by unions.

You can bet that the union bosses expect a lot of "change" from Obama next year when it comes to labor law.  An Obama administration -- possibly coupled with a filibuster-proof Senate -- will feel a real sense of obligation to repay political debts.

Top on the union agenda is the so-called "Employee Free Choice Act" (EFCA), which is better described as the Employee "No Free Choice" Act.   If it passes, employees would effectively have to declare their support or opposition to unionizing their shop and lose the ability to cast their vote by secret ballot.  Under this Act, union organizers would "collect" signed cards from workers that then count as "votes" for unionization.  When organizers have the signatures of over fifty percent of employees, the union instantly sweeps every worker into its ranks.

According to Big Labor's logic, employees can only have a "free choice" when union officials stand over them and pressure them to sign the cards.   Employees who have been subjected to card check union drives have complained they have signed the cards as a result of coercion and deceptive practices. 

Mandatory card check drives will mean that millions more American workers will find themselves in unions and facing the "choice" between paying union dues or being fired.  Both George W. Bush and John McCain said they would veto this power grab, while Obama is a co-sponsor and leading advocate.

Another union power grab on the fast track is the misnamed "Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act."  If it becomes law, the bill would force state and local governments to collectively bargain with union officials over all contracts involving police officers, firefighters, and paramedics -- even in states with laws guaranteeing workers the right to choose whether or not to join a union.  This would literally overturn "Right to Work" protections for these groups of workers in the 26 states that provide these rights.  The Act would also create massive unfunded mandates by imposing significant additional costs on state and local governments which are not reimbursed by the federal government.

Public safety employees would no longer be permitted to bargain individually and could be forced to accept the union's "representation" -- like it or not.  Meanwhile, the bill would facilitate efforts by firefighter union bosses to stamp out (at tremendous cost to the taxpayers) the proud tradition of volunteer firefighting in America.

Like the Card Check Forced Unionism bill, the police and firefighter monopoly bargaining bill has so far been blocked -- barely -- in the Senate, backstopped by a Bush veto threat.  But it could be unstoppable under an Obama presidency.

One of Obama's pet projects is the Patriot Employers Act, which he introduced last August.  The bill offers incentives -- in the form of tax breaks -- to employers that comply with a litany of Big Labor demands.  To get these tax breaks, companies need to agree to eliminate secret ballot elections for unionizing in their shop and to enforce a gag rule on truthful and non-coercive speech about the downsides of unionization.

But there's more.  An Obama White House will also seek law changes that prohibit permanent replacement of striking workers.  Under current law, an employer has the right to continue operating during a strike by hiring replacement workers.  To prevent a total shutdown, an employer must have the ability to recruit replacement workers who may hope for a permanent job.   In advocating a ban on striker replacements, Obama's message is clear - union ordered strikes would be automatic winners, and American workplaces would come to a screeching halt in the face of extortionate union demands.

Then there is the ultimate, though rarely spoken, goal of Big Labor: ending the rights of "Right to Work" states to secure the rights of employees to decide for themselves whether or not to join or financially support a union. This could be effected by repealing Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act.  Without this provision, forced unionism would prevail in all states, and states could not protect private sector workers from union demands to pay dues to them as a condition of employment.  This is a huge win for unions and pro-union candidates -- literally billions of additional dollars in new coerced dues would flow into Big Labor's coffers which could be used to support pro-Union candidates. 

So the union bosses have found their man.  With their billion dollar bet on Barack Obama, they know that the payoff of new union coercive powers will be worth the trouble.

Mallory Factor is a merchant banker and the co-chairman and co-founder of the Monday Meeting, an influential meeting of economic conservatives, journalists and corporate leaders in New York City.
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