- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2005

As the 2006 midterm electionscreep closer, a few Republican consultants may be advising their clients to make alliances with the union bosses behind the recent AFL-CIO split. But history tells us that when Republicans cozy up to Big Labor the result is bad policy and equally bad politics.

Rather than repeat mistakes of the past, Republicans should seize the moment to make lasting political gains by confronting compulsory unionism head-on.

In 2002, President Bush hit the political jackpot by bucking Senate Democrats’ demands for new union special privileges at the proposed Department of Homeland Security. A look at key Senate races that year indicates that the Democrats took a beating at the ballot box because Mr. Bush called them out for siding with union special interests at the expense of national security.

Polls consistently show that nearly 8-in-10 Americans believe that forcing workers to affiliate with a union against their will is wrong. Yet, expanding compulsory unionism is a top goal of union officials regardless of which side of the AFL-CIO divide they fall on. In fact, a central reason for the rift was that the defectors thought that AFL-CIO chieftain John Sweeney’s strategy for corralling workers under union monopoly control was not militant and aggressive enough.

The reality is that the union hierarchy has made control of the Democratic Party its No. 1 goal, and the only Republicans that union bosses ever back are those who work even harder to expand union coercive power. That is not an easy feat.

Recent attempts by Republicans to buddy up to Big Labor have also undermined worker freedom. After Carpenters Union boss Douglas McCarron pulled his union out of the AFL-CIO in 2001, a few White House strategists tried to gain Mr. McCarron’s support.

As a result of this strategy, the Labor Department’s top officials approved of Mr. McCarron’s rigging of the Carpenter Union’s election rules to allow him to gain permanent control of the union and its millions of dollars in compulsory dues. This scheme clearly violated members’ rights under federal labor law to directly elect the union bosses that “represent” them. Yet, Labor officials were unfazed in their effort to pull out all the stops for Mr. McCarron, even as the department’s decrees were twice overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

More recently, certain Labor appointees catered to union lobbyists when they watered down the union financial-disclosure reforms. As a result, rank-and-file workers are now denied the ability to see how much union officials spend on organizing rather than collective bargaining, and they cannot get an independent audit or any itemization of expenditures under $5,000.

During the past few years, a top staffer in Secretary Elaine Chao’s Labor Department spent considerable time cozying up to certain unions, particularly the carpenters. He had also been an advocate of gutting the union reporting requirements to reduce union bosses’ accountability to workers. The staffer’s work did not go unnoticed. When he left the administration after four years in the Labor Department, he immediately landed a contract as a registered lobbyist for the Carpenters Union.

While throwing bones to Big Labor can help land some people cushy lobbying jobs when they leave the administration, such actions put the Republican Party at odds with worker freedom and never seem to translate into meaningful political support for Republican candidates.

The union concession strategy is a political loser to say nothing about the workers harmed. Despite all the favors they received, the Carpenters Union hierarchy still backed Mr. Bush’s opponent in 2004.

The time has come for the Republican establishment to learn these lessons once and for all.

The National Labor Relations Board is now weighing a precedent-setting case in which union officials are seeking new monopoly-bargaining powers over privatizedairport-security screeners. Yet, inexplicably, Transportation Security Administration lawyers just filed a brief indicating that forced unionization was OK by them, even though Mr. Bush himself has a policy that sensitive Homeland Security Department staff should not be unionized due to national-security concerns.

Mr. Bush ought to order TSA to get back on the reservation and correct its position in the high-profile NLRB case. The potential consequences of illegal strikes and work slowdowns at our nation’s airports are too high.

At the same time, the president and his congressional allies ought to be looking for more battles with the union bosses over compulsory unionism. Doing so would not only put them on the side of worker freedom and public opinion, but it is also likely to pay off politically in the 2006 elections.

Mark Mix is president of the National Right to Work Committee and National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.


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