A More Perfect Union

by Mark Mix

Big Labor intrudes on electoral politics--to the detriment of the little guy.

AFL-CIO chief John Sweeney conferred with America’s top union bosses at a posh Florida resort last month about how best to unseat President Bush and expand Big Labor’s special privileges. At the powwow, some proposed that the massive Big Labor conglomerate permanently drop all operations other than politics and organizing.

Of course, union officials have increasingly focused on politics and novel organizing methods in recent years, but why the fevered pitch heading into the 2004 election? The answer: Big Labor is in an all-out struggle to preserve and expand its government-granted power to corral American workers into union ranks against their will.

Increasingly unable to sell workers on the merits of union membership, union officials are battling tooth and nail to expand union-dues revenue. Building on an explosion in government-sector forced unionism–where the employer is the very politician intimidated or elected by compulsory dues-fed political operations–organizers are now targeting hundreds of thousands of private-sector workers with similar “top-down” organizing tactics, in industries ranging from service, textile, hospitality, and construction, all the way to automotive.

Expensive union programs are designed to bully companies into furnishing active assistance to union organizers and denying employees the chance to vote in secret-ballot elections before they are organized. Companies that resist face vicious attacks in the press, trumped-up lawsuits, and pressure from union boss-influenced regulators and politicians. When companies accept a “truce,” union officials are allowed to bully workers one by one into signing union-recognition cards, which are then counted as a vote in favor of unionization. Militant union organizers even obtain employees’ home addresses so that they can conduct “home visits” and browbeat workers into signing the cards.

Union bosses once hailed the secret-ballot election as the cornerstone of American labor law. But today, Big Labor loses nearly half of all such elections (and only after canceling many they anticipate they are likely to lose). Frustrated by this trend, union officials now claim that secret-ballot elections are “unfair” and must be eliminated in order to save “democracy” in union organizing.

That’s why every Democratic presidential candidate came out in favor of a new bill introduced by Sen. Ted Kennedy and Democratic California congressman George Miller–the deviously named “Employee Free Choice Act.” It bans secret-ballot elections unless union officials consent to them, and it eliminates workers’ ability to make a collective decision about their form of representation in the privacy of a voting booth.

Since the sitting president and majority leaders in both houses of Congress are generally unsympathetic to the notion of expanding union special privileges, Big Labor bosses are–not surprisingly–backing John Kerry, who has pledged allegiance to their agenda. And a large chunk of the $8 billion in forced union dues that are collected annually will go toward what Sweeney called “the biggest, earliest, most aggressive grass-roots political program in our history.”

Late last year, Sweeney again openly bragged, “It’s safe to say we will put as much as we possibly can of our resources into the 2004 political campaign…We don’t want to distract from what our main agenda is right now, and that’s to win back the White House and Senate and House.”

Yet polls reveal that more than 60 percent of union members oppose the use of union dues for electoral politics. In the last presidential election cycle, however, the union hierarchy spent hundreds of millions of forced-dues dollars and, according to the AFL-CIO’s November 2000 “Work in Progress” newsletter, fielded an army of more than 100,000 union activists to do political work. This year forced-dues-paid union professionals will again organize boiler-room phone banks, literature drops, and get-out-the-vote drives–overwhelmingly to the benefit of liberal Democrats.

Meanwhile, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) alone has already dispatched 1,000 operatives to “battleground” states on behalf of its handpicked candidates. Each operative is enjoying a one-year leave of absence, with full salary and travel costs paid out of the pockets of rank-and-file workers.

Meanwhile, union officials are working around the “Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.” To do so, Big Labor constructed a network of union fronts under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code. Known as “527s,” these groups may still receive unlimited “soft money” funneled directly from union treasuries. 527s have now all but replaced the Democratic National Committee in what Fortune magazine recently branded the “privatized Democratic Party.”

Over the past three years, union-backed 527s alone outspent all such GOP committees combined at the state and federal level. This year, they hope to raise over $300 million to defeat President Bush.

Union officials are going all out in 2004 because they fear that letting workers themselves decide whether or not to unionize would cost Big Labor dearly. Amassing even more government-granted special privileges to compel workers into union ranks is vital to keeping their ideological organizations running strong.

So much for standing up for the little guy.

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