- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 30, 2002

As it wheeled and dealed with officials of the Carpenters and Teamsters unions over the past 18 months, the Bush administration seemed to have forgotten the difference between its friends and its enemies. Perhaps Big Labor's actions during this election season have reminded them.
Much to the chagrin of the president's right-to-work and small-business base, the White House has attempted to cozy up to union officials by making core policy concessions to increase their compulsory unionism privileges. This strategy has not only resulted in policies that reduce freedom and employee rights, but it has done little to blunt the ongoing attacks by union officials on the Bush administration or Republicans.
In the 2000 elections, the union hierarchy gave overwhelming support to the Democratic Party even though 40 percent of rank-and-file union voters routinely vote another way. Now, as the 2002 elections reach their climax, Big Labor is once again throwing its weight behind the Democrats, working feverishly in tight Senate and House races to put Congress in Democratic hands.
White House strategists are reeling this month after their lengthy courtship of Teamsters boss James R. Hoffa backfired again with the union's endorsement of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's opponent. In addition to hosting Mr. Hoffa as a "guest of honor" in his private box at the State of the Union address, the White House had signaled the president's intention to release the notoriously corrupt and violent union from federal oversight.
But the unsuccessful White House appeasement of the Teamsters has not been limited to merely symbolic actions. Media reports have confirmed that Mr. Hoffa was given veto power over Mr. Bush's recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in January. Meanwhile, the Teamsters and Carpenters unions are publicly claiming credit for influencing Mr. Bush's selection of pending NLRB nominees, a group which is more sympathetic to compulsory unionism and more hostile to employee rights and business interests than it otherwise would have been.
Other examples abound. For instance, in order to garner backing by the Teamsters and other unions for legislation to begin oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), the White House inserted a provision allowing union-only Project Labor Agreements (PLAs), which discriminate against non-union contractors and employees while raising costs to taxpayers. This flatly contradicted the president's own Executive Order 13202 outlawing such PLAs in federally funded construction projects. Meanwhile, the administration's concession has also proved ineffective in gaining the support needed to open up ANWR to exploration.
Or, take the arguments that Mr. Bush's solicitor general filed in the U.S. Supreme Court last month 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.
Also, Business Week reported that White House aides have even urged congressional allies not to hold hearings on issues that would be embarrassing to the union hierarchy, and not to pass legislation to rein in coercive union power.
For all the concessions, the payoff has been nil. Union political contributions in 2002 continue to flow overwhelmingly to the Democrats. Even the Teamsters and the Carpenters unions continue to give grossly one-sided support to Democrats especially in the closely contested races where the makeup of the next Congress will be decided.
In the tight Senate and House races, 95 percent of Teamsters' and Carpenters' PAC contributions to date has gone to Democrats. Similarly, 93 percent of the soft money given by the two unions has gone to Democratic Party committees.
This president achieves his greatest success when he draws a line in the sand and stands on principle, as he did, for example, in pushing through tax cuts last year. Unfortunately, the White House seems to be pursuing the opposite strategy with regard to the issue of compulsory unionism, the very root of Big Labor's government-granted power.
The National Right to Work Committee is now engaged in a $3.1 million issue-discussion campaign in various congressional races, but this national effort would be even more effective if the White House had decided to fight alongside congressional allies against compulsory unionism. Polls show that nearly 80 percent of Americans favor giving workers a choice about whether to join or support labor unions. Right to work is a simple, easily understood principle, and, in abandoning it, the White House risks discouraging its natural allies, alienating swing votes and sacrificing the moral high ground.
Having gone all-out to defeat Mr. Bush in 2000, union officials remain totally committed to returning the Democrats to power in 2002, in 2004, and beyond. It's nothing personal, just politics.

Stefan Gleason is vice president of the Springfield, Va.-based National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.


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