- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 28, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

Much has been written about the so-called Employee Free Choice Act, or “card-check” bill, Congress is expected to approve early in its new term. But few people have identified the controversial legislation for what it is — a bailout for big labor.

For decades now union membership has been declining in the United States, with the exception of public employee unions. In 1945, more than a third of all U.S. workers were union members. By the early 1980s, that number had decreased to barely 20 percent of the work force. In 2007, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported union membership was down to 12 percent of wage and salary workers.

Union membership is highest, as a percentage of the work force, in the public sector, where some 40 percent of local, state, county and federal employees, including a high percentage of schoolteachers, belong to unions.

In the private sector, however, union membership generally has been declining. While a few fields are still highly unionized - 22 percent of transportation and utility workers, for example, nearly 20 percent of telecom workers, and 14 percent of construction workers, according to government statistics - overall union membership across all industries and trades (excluding government) stands at just 7.5 percent.

Like the Big Three automakers, organized labor wants government to step in and reverse its decline, boosting membership and increasing dues collection. That’s the real purpose of the Employee Free Choice Act.

First introduced in the House of Representatives in February 2007, the legislation would allow a union to organize a company or workplace without requiring a secret ballot vote of the workers, as is now typically required. Union organizers and supporters would merely have to persuade a majority of workers to sign cards saying they approve of union representation.

Such approval would not always be totally voluntary. If history teaches us anything it’s that organized labor is not above arm-twisting and intimidation. That’s why the secret ballot is important. To keep union organizers off their backs, workers who might oppose union representation can sign union consent forms - knowing they can then vote against union representation in the privacy of the voting booth. The proposed legislation would eliminate this safety valve.

When all is said and done the misnamed Free Choice Act is a gift to big labor, intended to make it easier for union organizers to do what they’ve been unable to do on their own: grow their membership. It is a bailout bill, plain and simple.

And it has been bought and paid for through union political activity.

During the most-recent election cycle, which culminated with the November elections, unions made more than $61 million in direct campaign contributions. Democratic candidates, including those pushing the big labor bailout bill, received a reported $55.7 million of the total.

Looking back further - after all, buying political influence should be seen as a long-term investment - organized labor made a whopping $646.8 million in campaign contributions between 1990 and 2008, covering the last 10 federal elections, $595.4 million of which went to Democrats.

But that’s not the end of the story. As academic research and information brought to light in several important lawsuits have shown, organized labor’s indirect contributions to candidates - providing campaign workers, organizing selective get out the vote drives, etc. - are worth far more than the checks they write to candidates. These in-kind contributions are the real deal-makers.

After they help get candidates elected, union officials pour additional millions into lobbying: an estimated $343.9 million from 1998 to 2008. Organized labor now expects a payback. The name of that payback is the Employee Free Choice Act, which is intended not to guarantee workers a free choice, but to give union officials a free ride.

With the U.S. economy on the ropes, this is an unnecessary bailout bill America clearly can’t afford. Its price tag would be far too high: a loss of individual freedom for many rank-and-file workers and further erosion of U.S. competitiveness.

Richard Ebeling is a senior research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research (www.aier.org), Great Barrington, Mass., and the Shelby C. Davis Visiting Professor in Economics at Trinity College, Hartford, Conn.

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