In the 2008 elections, labor unions supported Democratic candidates in a big way - to the tune of $400 million, in fact. And few benefited more from union largesse than Barack Obama - the powerful Service Employees International Union (SEIU) alone contributed millions to Team Hope and gave of sweat and time as well. On Oct. 27, 2008, the SEIU bragged publicly:
“We have 3,000 SEIU members, staff and local leaders off the job and in the field working on the campaign. Nurses, janitors, child care providers and other workers are volunteering after work and on weekends to ensure Barack Obama, Joe Biden and pro-working family candidates win on Election Day.”
Mr. Obama knew where his bread was buttered and to whom he would owe his presidency, promising on the campaign trail:
“We’re ready to play offense for organized labor. It’s time we had a president who didn’t choke saying the word ‘union.’ A president who strengthens our unions by letting them do what they do best: organize our workers.”
And President Obama has indeed gone to bat time and again for his union masters. He has championed “card check” legislation, which would curtail secret balloting in union elections - making it easier for labor to organize and intimidate.
But perhaps Mr. Obama’s greatest flourish is how he has managed to repay his labor suzerains while simultaneously consummating the long-held liberal dream of national health care. For the recently passed health care bill is both a large step in the direction of universal health care and a conglomerate of sweet deals, actual and potential, short-term and long-, for organized labor.
First there was the agreement between administration and labor officials that the excise tax on high-end or “Cadillac” health plans would not extend to plans covered under union contracts until 2018 - giving labor another eight years to weasel out of the tax altogether. In the meantime, the exemption will save union employees an estimated $60 billion.
Then there is the provision tucked away in the health care bill under Section 10503, which establishes a Community Health Center Fund to be “administered through the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services” for the purposes of providing “an expanded and sustained national investment in community health centers.”
This Community Health Center Fund will transfer massive amounts of cash to the secretary of health and human services: For fiscal 2011 alone, $700 million will be appropriated for health centers under the Public Health Service Act and $290 million in funding for the National Health Service Corps. An additional $1.5 billion will be made available from 2011 to 2015 for “the construction and renovation of community health centers.”
If the stimulus bill is any guide, this infusion of cash to the HHS secretary could prove a monumental slush fund for medical workers unions, one of the fastest-growing union sectors: According to American Medical News, a publication of the American Medical Association (AMA), while union membership in the United States has generally been declining for years, “the number of medical professionals who are members of collective bargaining organizations” has been rising over the past decade.
Many of these health worker unions are affiliated with the big-name labor groups that contributed so generously to Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign. United Health Workers-West, for example, which bills itself as “the largest and most powerful health care union in the western United States,” is an affiliate of Mr. Obama’s old benefactor, the SEIU.
Then there is the Personal Care Attendants Workforce Advisory Panel, created in Section 3210 of the health bill, “for the purpose of examining and advising the Secretary and Congress on workforce issues related to personal care attendant workers, including … the salaries, wages and benefits of such workers.” And who will make up this panel? The bill helpfully tells us that the participation of “representatives of workforce and labor organizations” is mandatory. This is an ominous prescription for the forced unionization of health care workers.
Fulfilling his campaign promise, Mr. Obama is indeed on the “offense” for organized labor - putting worker choice, economic liberty and the American taxpayer on defense.
Terrence Scanlon is president of the Capital Research Center in Washington.