- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2001

It isn't hard to imagine the outrage that would greet an executive order requiring as a condition of employment that workers join a particular church, civic organization or political party. Allowing these groups to spend workers' donations on causes with which workers happen to disagree would only add to the outcry.

But this is exactly the kind of political coercion that unions impose on workers in this country every day. In "closed shop" states, organized labor requires union membership as a condition of employment. It routinely leverages that monopoly to commandeer union dues exacted in the name of collective bargaining. When President Bush issued an executive order last week to provide some protection for workers, critics spun it as an attack on organized labor. "Bush to Sign Orders Curtailing Labor's Influence," The Washington Post reported last week.

One would have thought the president had stripped union members of the right to vote or to participate in the democratic process. In fact, what he did was to require that federal contractors post notices advising employees that they were free to withhold that portion of their dues being spent on politics. It's not a new right, by the way. The Supreme Court ruled in 1988 that workers could engage in such withholding without fear of losing their jobs.

Big Labor would have everyone believe that that unions and workers are one and the same; a threat to unions' ability to collect dues is necessarily a threat to workers. But as last year's presidential election demonstrated, the gulf between union bosses and union workers has never been wider. While organized labor came out strongly for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore, union workers alarmed by the candidate's anti-gun, anti-car politics (many union members like to hunt; many work in the auto industry) stayed away in droves, particularly in the Midwest.

The distinction between worker and union undoubtedly informed another of Mr. Bush's executive orders, this one banning so-called project labor agreements. The order is particularly important to the Washington metropolitan area because Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening had insisted that construction of the new Wilson Bridge proceed under such an agreement. In effect, it would have required an advance negotiated accord with organized labor that would, the governor says, have guaranteed there would be no costly work stoppages and no shortage of expert workers as needed. One would have thought the governor had not heard of contracts with incentive clauses to reward timely or early project completion. On a more sinister note, the governor's comments sounded vaguely like a threat: Give unions the high wages they want or else.

One problem with such agreements is that they effectively bar nonunion workers and companies from competing for contracts. Yes, they can apply for work, but they have to abide by time-consuming union work rules, pay union dues and pay into union benefit funds. For all practical purposes, they become union members. That means higher costs for taxpayers.

Nothing in the president's orders would restrict work to nonunion employees. Unions are welcome to compete. They just can't count on a monopoly on workers or their dues to win the contract now.

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