Big Labor Not Looking Good on Labor Day

The president is getting a lot of flack these days for a cardinal sin of politics — overreach. Yes, he spent too much and tried to aggrandize too much federal power. But he’s not alone, of course. Lots of groups and politicians are guilty of overreach and it’s gotten them, like the president, in a heap of trouble. Chief among them is Big Labor.


Big Labor contributed tens of millions (hundreds of millions if your count state and local races and all that phone banking help) to elect Barack Obama and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. At the peak of their power they are becoming quite unpopular. Gallup reports that 51% of Americans think organized labor hurts the economy. Where’d they get such an idea? Mickey Kaus writes:

I wish I could say “card check” — the labor plan to avoid secret ballots when organizing — but that isn’t the most visible of the roles unions have played recently. The most visible would be 1) the auto industry, where the UAW helped bankrupt two of the Big Three and stuck taxpayers with the bill without even taking a cut in hourly pay, and 2) the public schools, which the teachers’ unions have helped to degrade in a way that adversely impacts the lives of even affluent Dem yuppies (at least those with kids).

Ruth Marcus is similarly glum that Big Labor has blown its moment to shine, but thinks card check, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), is to blame. She concedes that Big Labor could have pushed for less extreme legislation:

Labor, however, decided to stake it all on what it describes as “majority signup” and what business calls “card check” — a provision that would let unions be recognized if a majority of workers sign cards indicating their support. Business mounted a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign against what it portrayed as an un-American assault on election by secret ballot. Labor insisted on the provision, even though it did not have the necessary 60 votes in the Senate.


Yeah, pretty sneaky to “portray” the effort to take away the secret ballot as un-American.

The irony is that after raising a ton of cash and filling Washington with grateful recipients of their largess, Big Labor has now become toxic. Card check isn’t going to come up before health care reform is complete, and not until Sen. Arlen Specter and a few Democrats can be converted to the cause.

Moreover, card check has now become an issue in one of the key gubernatorial races this year. Republican Bob McDonnell, in a recent conference call with business leaders, explained:

I’ll use every resource of my office to speak out strongly on behalf of the business community, and against card check. … We’ll use every possible political resource to fight card check, which I think is important and I think that will, in the long term, serve Virginia businesses well. … While others have said that it is a federal issue and doesn’t affect Virginia and there’s nothing they can do about it, I think that’s absolute nonsense.

Those “others” include his opponent, Democrat Creigh Deeds, who is all too happy to take Big Labor’s money but becomes very uncomfortable when asked his position the issue.

McDonnell has also gone after the other provision in EFCA — mandatory arbitration. He explained, “If there is no agreement between management and labor within 120 days, it requires the appointment of a federal arbitrator to come in and essentially write the contract for a private company.”


So now Big Labor may become a liability rather than an asset to the Democrat Deeds running in a key gubernatorial race, one that is likely to be interpreted, correctly or not, as a referendum on Obama.

Now, none of this is to say that Big Labor hasn’t gotten its share of victories since the 2008 election. Obama’s secretary of labor isn’t enforcing pesky financial disclosure requirements on Big Labor, which chaffed when the Bush administration put them into effect. Big Labor did after all persuade the Obama administration to not only bail out two auto companies, but spare them the usual bankruptcy fate for labor unions — the evisceration of their collective bargaining agreements. And even “cash for clunkers” was a special favor to the UAW, a little boost just for their industry in dire need of some customers.

But the current state of affairs wasn’t what Big Labor imagined  when they spent millions of their members’ dues to elect a pro-labor lineup in Washington. What happened? Whether you buy the Kaus or the Marcus theory, it is clear that they made themselves a tad too conspicuous at the expense of the average taxpayer, the vast majority of whom belong to no union. Big Labor appears to be not the defender of the common man, but a special interest bully that doesn’t want to play by the same rules — whether at the ballot box or the bankruptcy court — as everyone else.


Big Labor may recover their clout and may still get some legislative goodies before the next election. But so long as they insist on special treatment, average Americans will likely regard them as just another special interest, the sort that, come to think of it, Obama promised to banish from Washington. Well, maybe after the next election.


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