Advocates of freedom may be tempted to uncork the champagne after the United Food and Commercial Workers union became the third major union to ditch the AFL-CIO in recent days, after the AFL-CIO’s annual convention in Chicago. Not so fast!
Despite wide coverage of bickering among Big Labor’s top brass, the mainstream media overlooked the real story: The acrimony among several union chiefs amounted to little more than political posturing, blame-shifting, and a wrestling match over control of more than $10 billion in compulsory union dues. These developments only mean that America will face even more union militancy and even more coercive organizing.
All the fireworks aside, the power to force more than twelve million workers to pay union dues or be fired–the crown jewel of all Big Labor special privileges–was unaffected by the shake-up. At its core, the controversy was simply a debate over tactics toward achieving the same end: corralling even more workers into union affiliation.
In announcing their unions’ departures from the AFL-CIO conglomerate, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) chief Andrew Stern and Teamsters boss James Hoffa argued that even more resources should be diverted to corporate campaigns and coercive top-down organizing. These militant tactics involve attacking companies until they agree to herd their employees into forced unionism without even so much as a workers’ vote.
In just the past few years, so-called “card check” schemes and other forms of top-down organizing have triggered numerous legal cases documenting everything from bribes to threats to stalking aimed at workers who resist unionization. Under these schemes, union operatives browbeat workers into signing union-authorization cards that are counted as “votes” in favor of unionization. Many of the employees who brought unfair labor practice charges with help from the National Right to Work Foundation are waiting for decisions by the National Labor Relations Board, which is tasked with prosecuting such abuses.
On the other side of the rift, AFL-CIO chieftain John Sweeney has vowed to funnel even more forced-dues dollars into partisan politics with the goal of passing new laws that grant union officials greater coercive organizing privileges. Since Big Labor loses nearly half of all secret-ballot representation elections (and only after canceling many they anticipate they are likely to lose), union bosses believe that passage of new legislation to eliminate these pesky elections will turn things around for them.
The so-called “Employee Free Choice Act,” introduced by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.) and Rep. George Miller (D., Calif.), would ban secret-ballot representation elections unless union officials consent to them, and it would eliminate workers’ ability to make their decisions in the privacy of a voting booth. While the issue has generated a lot of heat, the fact is that coercive organizing and left-wing politics are two sides of the same coin. At the end of the day, both sides of the controversy are working toward the goal of expanding their power and forcing more workers to join unions.
Indeed, experience suggests that the budding rivalry may actually make each side more effective as they shake off the lethargy that comes from being part of a giant confederation. Unfortunately, this improved efficiency will only make them better at crushing worker freedom, intimidating entrepreneurs, and bullying public officials into handing them favors.
Ironically, as Stern and Hoffa exercise their right not to associate with the AFL-CIO, they hypocritically seek to deny rank-and-file workers similar freedoms. In fact, in the 28 states without Right to Work laws, workers can be fired for refusing to join or pay dues to a union. So while union brass can exercise a right to disaffiliate from the AFL-CIO, millions of workers across America are being barred from–or even fired for–leaving unions.
In light of this hypocrisy, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation recently announced it will raise and spend upwards of $2 million by the end of this year to provide free legal assistance to employees seeking to leave their unions. Through a series of victories in the U.S. Supreme Court, our attorneys have established that employees may not be compelled to pay more than a union’s proven collective bargaining costs, and they can refuse forced payment for activities such as lobbying or politics. But union officials routinely block workers from exercising these rights.
Instead of fighting about how best to enslave more of America’s workers, union bosses should make an effort to improve their product in order to attract workers’ voluntary support. In the end, it doesn’t matter who is steering Big Labor’s ship as long as individual workers continue to be strapped to the mast.
–Stefan Gleason is vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.