- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2002

President George W. Bush hit the political jackpot by bucking Senate Democrats' demands for new union privileges at the proposed Department of Homeland Security. A look at key Senate races indicates that the Democrats took a beating because it appeared that they were only interested in erecting partisan roadblocks and paying homage to their political friends. But it is yet to be seen whether the GOP will take to heart the fundamental lesson that opposing union power grabs is a winning political strategy while appeasement of the union hierarchy backfires.

By highlighting that the sticking point in the homeland security debate was over expansion of union monopoly bargaining power, the president not only took a stand broadly supported by the American people, but he publicly exposed where the loyalties of Democrat candidates lay. Most voters believe that the president should not be required to get the permission of union officials before implementing personnel decisions necessary to improve national security.

Anathema to the principles of individual liberty, compulsory unionism is opposed by nearly 80 percent of the American people. But the existence of numerous government-granted special privileges has enabled union officials to corral 12 million working men and women into union collectives while collecting nearly $8 billion in annual mandatory union dues. And despite the wishes of many workers, these resources fuel the engine of the political left.

With the Democrat Party so dominated by union political muscle, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney had little trouble persuading Senate Democrats to vote against the president on a vital national security issue just one month before an election and for no apparent reason other than helping the union bosses. Even Martin Peretz, editor of the normally pro-forced-unionism New Republic, blasted the Democratic Party line as a "mad orthodoxy." But Sen. Tom Daschle and other Senate Democrats felt they had no choice but to take the gamble, and that decision put members of their caucus in a tough bind.

Take the upset defeat of Sen. Max Cleland by Rep. Saxby Chambliss. Aside from the grass-roots issue-discussion program on the abuses of compulsory unionism implemented by the 2.2-million-member National Right to Work Committee through direct mail and newspaper and television ads, the Georgia Republican Party conducted its own direct mail blitz blasting Mr. Cleland for voting against passage of the homeland security bill on 11 occasions.

Despite the Democratic Party's shrill accusations that the disabled Vietnam veteran's patriotism was being called into question, Peach State voters understood that patriotism and political judgment are entirely different matters. And bowing to union special interests is especially unpopular in Georgia, a longtime right-to-work state.

Similarly, Sen. Jean Carnahan forfeited her seat, thanks in part to her knee-jerk vote for union security over homeland security. And depending on her votes during this month's lame duck session, Sen. Mary Landrieu may pay a similar price in Louisiana's Dec. 7 runoff election.

While confrontation on the issue of compulsory unionism can be the path to political victory, Republican appeasement of union bosses consistently backfires. Over the past 18 months, some within the White House political office have attempted to court officials of the Carpenters and Teamsters unions by making numerous policy concessions.

For example, administration aides gave Teamsters President James P. Hoffa veto power over National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) nominations. They also promoted steel tariffs and added a provision to the Energy Bill mandating costly union-only Project Labor Agreements (PLAs), which discriminate against non-union contractors and employees.

And in a move that somehow escaped media attention, Ted Olson, President Bush's solicitor general, filed arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court that completely endorsed the Clinton NLRB's gutting of Communications Workers vs. Beck. This Supreme Court ruling, which is yet to be vigorously enforced, allows dissenting employees to refrain from paying compulsory union dues that are spent for non-collective bargaining activity like organizing and politics.

Yet, no matter how much administration officials bent over backwards in an attempt to make friends of their enemies, union operatives worked furiously to defeat the Republicans all the same. As with other unions, a vast majority of the Carpenters and Teamsters unions' political resources went to elect Democrats especially in the closely contested races where the makeup of the Congress would be decided.

In the tight Senate and House races, 95 percent of reported PAC contributions given by the White House's new "friends" went to Democrats. Similarly, 93 percent of the soft money given by the two unions went to Democrat Party committees.

GOP strategists would be prudent to take heed of this lesson: Confronting union coercive power is the path to political victory. Looking toward the 2004 elections, the failed union concession strategy should be scrapped, and the GOP should seek new high-profile battles over union special privileges. As the election result shows, doing so is not just good policy; it's a winning electoral strategy.


Stefan Gleason is vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.


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