Sunday, August 31, 2008

The 2008 elections may represent the high-water mark of Big Labor’s political ascendancy. Although union operatives have already announced $300 million in national campaign expenditures, union political spending could exceed $1 billion after factoring in PACs, 527s, and state and local outlays.

What does Big Labor want? A sympathetic president and a filibuster-proof Senate majority mean less federal oversight for corrupt unions and new government-granted special privileges for union bosses.

Most ominously, the erroneously titled “Employee Free Choice Act” (AKA the Card-Check Forced Unionism Bill) looms over the horizon, threatening to unleash a wave of coercive union organizing across America.

In recent years, the Card-Check Forced Unionism Bill has become Big Labor’s No. 1 political priority - a de facto litmus test for candidates seeking union bosses’ political backing. Endorsed by presidential nominee Barack Obama and virtually all congressional Democrats, this legislation would allow union operatives to unilaterally bypass federally supervised secret ballot elections and instead pursue coercive card-check organizing drives to determine whether workers unionize.

By forcing workers to declare their support or opposition to unionization in front of aggressive union organizers, card-check leaves employees vulnerable to coercion, intimidation and harassment. Without even the limited protections of secret ballot elections, card-check allows aggressive unions to acquire monopoly bargaining privileges in an environment that makes it nearly impossible for employees to say “no” to unionization.

Under current law, an employer still has the right to insist that employees get a secret ballot election, rather than to bargain with the union assuming the cards are legitimate and uncoerced. The Card-Check Forced Unionism Bill would change all that.

The National Right to Work Foundation, a group that provides free legal aid to workers whose rights have been violated by compulsory unionism, has helped hundreds of employees abused by card-check. Workers report being harassed at home and on the job until many eventually agree to sign away their rights to self-representation. Some have had to threaten to call the police just to get aggressive organizers out of their homes.

In other instances, union activists have resorted to lying or misleading employees about the cards’ meaning, claiming workers’ signatures would only be used for choosing health insurance coverage, validating tax deductions, or initiating a federally-supervised secret ballot election.

According to Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger, the Card-Check Forced Unionism Bill is “the fuel - the opening - for the SEIU to change our growth curve from 100,000 to a million or more workers a year.” If the SEIU is allowed to intimidate and cajole workers into signing cards, Ms. Burger’s prediction threatens to become self-fulfilling.

Big Labor’s political organizers are nothing if not ambitious. The Card-Check Forced Unionism Bill represents the cornerstone of their efforts to reshape American politics for decades to come.

While mandatory card-check would greatly enhance Big Labor’s influence, union operatives have already used card-check drives to push thousands of workers into union collectives.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys recently acquired new information on the prevalence of card-check in the workplace. According to the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) report, union organizers successfully completed more than 250 card-check organizing drives between October 2007 and May 2008. Because the NLRB was not required to track the use of card-check until late last year, this information only hints at the pervasive nature of coercive organizing.

Current law gives employers the right (but not the obligation) to secure employee access to a secret ballot election, so Big Labor’s efforts increasingly focus on bludgeoning management into submission. Union operatives frequently initiate vicious “corporate campaigns” aimed at targeted companies featuring drawn-out litigation, staged protests and massive PR broadsides. Employers then face a stark choice: suffer months of harassment at the hands of union militants, or subject their employees to abusive card-check organizing.

Once they cave in to union pressure, companies frequently are compelled to provide union operatives with employees’ personal information and force workers to attend mandatory meetings touting the “benefits” of union membership.

Federal labor law already grants union officials privileges enjoyed by no other private organization, including the power to force workers to accept union “representation” and pay union dues as a condition of employment.

By further tilting the playing field in favor of union organizers, legislation like Card-Check Forced Unionism Bill will give union bosses what they need to raise billions of dollars in new forced union dues to spend on things like radical politics. Supporters of workplace freedom had better watch out.

Mark Mix is president of the National Right to Work Committee

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