Unions have good reason to thank President Obama, who has gone to unprecedented lengths to reverse demographic trends and public sentiment to help unions cling to power. In the past 100 years, Americans have never thought less of organized labor. This disenchantment didn’t happen overnight - Gallup polls show that Americans increasingly disapprove of labor unions and think they should have less power.
Given this negative perception of unions, it is not surprising that union membership has dropped dramatically: Twenty-four percent of America’s workforce was unionized in 1979 while only 12 percent are unionized today. Trying their best to buck this 30-year trend, unions began lobbying for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) - more commonly known as “card check” - during the tail end of the Bush administration. Card check would have stopped unions’ membership from deteriorating further. It would have allowed unions to bully workers into unionization by eliminating the private ballot during union elections.
After spending hundreds of millions of dollars during the 2008 election cycle to help Democrats secure both chambers of Congress, unions had their best chance to have card check signed into law. However, the 111th Congress came and went without even a vote on EFCA. Constituents barred their representatives from even considering this legislation. It turns out the same Americans who don’t want to join a union in the first place don’t want to be forced into a union.
With Congress no longer a viable vehicle to implement pro-union policy, the Obama administration began using federal agencies such as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the National Mediation Board (NMB) to achieve similar ends. Appointing former union officials to both federal agencies, Mr. Obama’s unabashedly pro-union appointees went to work writing rules to facilitate unionization.
The National Mediation Board - the federal agency that oversees union-employer relations in the transportation sector - overturned 75 years of accepted law to tilt the scales in unions’ favor come election time. Traditionally, for a union to win representation, a majority of workers had to vote yes for the union. Under the new NMB rule, only a majority of voting workers have to agree to unionize. This is especially problematic as it is practically impossible to decertify a union in the transportation industry - no body of workers with more than 400 members has ever decertified a union.
Not to be outdone, the NLRB is busy considering rules that also change union election law, tell businesses where they can and cannot open shop and require employers to post ridiculous union propaganda in their workplaces. The most infamous of these affronts on the free market came from NLRB’s complaint against the Boeing Co. for opening a plant in South Carolina. Looking to expand production of its 787 airliner, Boeing wanted to enlarge its Washington state plant as long as the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) agreed to include a no-strike clause in its contract. Boeing had been burned by the union regularly over the past decade and didn’t want its billion-dollar investment to be jeopardized.
When Boeing couldn’t come to terms with the IAM, it decided to simply open a factory in the right-to-work state of South Carolina rather than expand production at its Washington plant.
This didn’t sit well with the union, which ran to the NLRB asking for help. Two years later, after Boeing had invested heavily in the South Carolina factory and hired thousands of workers, the NLRB filed a complaint with Boeing, which could effectively force the company to close the South Carolina factory. This single complaint is emblematic of America’s Washington-induced joblessness. The slightest, artificial affront to a union could bring down the NLRB’s guillotine. Making matters worse, American labor law is so convoluted that it is nearly impossible for an employer to cover all the bases - unions are lying in wait, salivating at the prospect of unleashing bureaucratic aggression on any perceived slight.
But the NLRB didn’t stop there. The agency is considering shortening the amount of time between when a union calls an election and when the election takes place. Prohibiting employers from telling their side of the story, these ambush elections encourage misinformation from union organizers.
Finally, the NLRB finalized a rule that forces every employer in America to post union propaganda explaining the “perks” of joining a union, but none of the drawbacks. Clearly, unions have found their man in Mr. Obama. Facing an unsympathetic public, unions know their only road back to power runs through the White House - and Mr. Obama is driving the car.
Christopher Prandoni is executive director of the Alliance for Worker Freedom and a federal affairs manager at Americans for Tax Reform.