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The Threat of Forced Unionism


Repeatedly pledging to Big Labor that he will sign a bill that eliminates the secret ballot in union elections, President Obama is the top cheerleader for a policy that would effectively destroy the ability of workers to make real choices in the workplace. Obama would allow outside union organizers to bypass the secret ballot and instead collect workers’ signed “authorization cards” to determine unionization. It doesn’t take much imagination to grasp the potential for abuse inherent in any “card check” drive, since workers would be subjected to immense face-to-face pressure from intimidating union organizers.

Although Big Labor’s political operatives may bluster about dropping certain provisions of their forced-unionism bill as part of a broader legislative strategy, the bill’s forced-arbitration provision also undermines worker choice. Forced arbitration would compel union and company officials to submit to a federally mandated settlement if they are unable to agree to a contract within 120 days. Under current law, workers can vote to reject any final agreement between management and union officials, but forced arbitration would eliminate this check entirely.

Why is Obama so comfortable with this coercive approach to workplace organizing? Perhaps because his political career was launched under similar circumstances. Few remember it now, but Obama’s electoral debut came in 1996, when he won a seat in the Illinois state legislature. “Won” is a bit of a misnomer, however, as candidate Obama ruthlessly eliminated his opponents by disqualifying signatures collected for ballot eligibility. As former National Review political reporter David Freddoso detailed in his 2008 book on Obama, voters’ signatures were thrown out for a variety of spurious reasons, including one woman’s failure to list her married name instead of her maiden name. Other voters were struck from the lists for printing instead of signing their names on the eligibility petitions. Obama not only had his main opponent disqualified, he also succeeded in forcing a protest candidate off the ballot. Obama has personally admitted he felt “uncomfortable” with this hardball political tactic, but success has evidently allayed any guilt. After his opponents were disqualified, Obama won a seat in the state legislature by default.

Just as candidate Obama was willing to go to great lengths to eliminate political opponents to gain a state senate seat, President Obama appears eager to eliminate any semblance of protection for workers in order to curry favor with union bosses. In 2008, Big Labor gave more than $1 billion in campaign contributions to candidates such as Obama who pledged their loyalty to forced unionism. Obama was sold as an exciting symbol of change, but he benefited mightily from the union bosses’ largesse, cashing in on Big Labor’s impressive forced-dues machine throughout the election cycle. Now union bosses are demanding a return on their investment (they always do!), and Obama appears eager to deliver.

In 1996, Obama’s team of political operatives succeeded in bypassing an entire election. President Obama now seeks to end elections in every workplace in the country. He has already issued a series of executive orders designed to pressure government contractors to submit to compulsory unionism. Next up on the administration’s checklist: rolling back basic union financial-disclosure guidelines. Forced unionism via card check may not be far behind.

Under card check, employees would have only one choice: submit to unionization and forced union dues. As some Chicago voters discovered in 1996, having only one choice is not a real choice at all.

– Mark Mix is president of the National Right to Work Committee.


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