Big Labor Safeguards Its Big Stake in Obama

Labor unions have a lot at stake in 2008. The AFL-CIO's PAC is spending $53M to help elect Barack Obama. More is being spent on behalf of Democratic incumbents and challengers in House and Senate seat races. There is nothing dearer to the hearts of Big Labor than securing the White House and a filibuster-proof Senate majority to help them obtain their number one legislative priority: the Orwellian named Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). And Big Labor will stop at nothing, not even the First Amendment, to achieve their aims.

EFCA isn't about "choice," but it would radically alter labor law in America. Current law gives workers the right to a secret ballot vote on whether or not to have a union represent them in their workplace. The right to a secret ballot election has been a mainstay of federal labor law for decades. And just as it does in political elections, it ensures that neither unions nor companies can strong arm employees or exact revenge based on how they vote. EFCA would substitute a "card check" system where employers would be forced to recognize and bargain with a union if a simple majority of employees signed union authorization cards. Those cards are routinely signed by employees in the presence of union officials.

In short, the EFCA abolishes secret ballot union elections. In the words of the statute once that 50% threshold is passed "the [NLRB] shall not direct an election but shall certify the individual organization as the labor representative."(Emphasis added.)

In the last Congress the measure passed the House but stalled in the Senate, falling nine votes short of the 60 needed for cloture. Gains by Big Labor-supported Democrats in the Senate would deprive opponents of the EFCA of the ability to filibuster. With the White House secure (or 2/3 majority in Congress to override a veto should John McCain be elected) Big Labor would have its prize.

Big Labor's progress is all the more remarkable given how unpopular the measure is with actual voters. Polling this spring conducted by a business coalition dubbed the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace ("Coalition") found that voters by overwhelming margins in Minnesota, Colorado, and Maine opposed the measure. Moreover, voters were less likely to vote for Democratic Senate candidates if they supported EFCA.

With the prospect of Democratic gains in 2008, the Coalition launched an eye catching ad campaign which created national buzz and headaches for Democratic candidates. Featuring Vince Curatola (better known as "Johnny Sack" in the Sopranos), the first ad showed Curatola as a labor mobster crowding into a voting booth which vanishes with a snap of his fingers, leaving the hapless worker at the mercy of a gang of menacing labor thugs. That got laughs and plenty of buzz.

But then the Coalition turned it up a notch, taking on Al Franken in his Minnesota Senate race against Republican Norm Coleman. Curatola was back in a new ad, snapping his fingers to remove a recalcitrant cut out figure of Coleman and replacing it with Al Franken, who the ad informs voters favors EFCA and wants to eliminate secret ballot elections.