Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 12:05 PM ET, 03/ 3/2011

Unions still in the driver's seat

By Jennifer Rubin

Reid Wilson at the National Journal has a peculiar take on the relationship between organized labor and the Obama administration: "For the first time in more than a century, labor is playing a minor role, at best, in a Democratic-led Washington." Wilson takes at face value the complaints of Andy Stern, former head of the Service Employees International Union, that Obama hasn't given organized labor enough goodies. (" 'The union movement has had and has extremely high hopes for the Obama administration,' Stern said in an interview. But, he added: 'People have felt he needed to be more proactive himself when it comes to policy issues.' ")

This is off-base in several respects. For starters, Big Labor's degree of influence in the Democratic Party has never been greater. Whether we look at the nonstop access of Stern himself to the White House, the prominence of organized labor in the list of top third-party donors, the foot-dragging on free-trade deals or the appointments by this administration (Hilda Solis to the Labor Department and Craig Becker, formerly a lawyer for the AFL-CIO and SEIU, to the National Labor Relations Board, to name two) it is hard to think of any other special interest that wields more power than organized labor.

But, Reid says, organized labor didn't get its top priority, the Orwellian-named Employee Free Choice Act (that would have effectively done away with secret ballots in union elections). However, that was not the White House's doing but the refusal of nervous red state Democrats in the Senate to vote for a bill hugely unpopular in their home states. Moreover, by appointing Becker to the NLRB, the administration is attempting to give Big Labor this prize through administrative action.

On the policy front, the administration is already granting waivers to prominent unions. Other union "gets" included the defunding of the Washington D.C. school voucher program at the behest of the teachers union, repeal of Bush-era rules forcing financial disclosure by unions and, of course, the president's rhetorical support for public-employee unions in the Wisconsin face-off.

This is all the more remarkable given the plunging membership in unions. Total membership is down new lows nationwide and now a majority of union members are government workers. Michael Barone of the Washington Examiner recently reported on the latest statistics:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is out with its annual report on union membership. It's down, once again: 11.9% of employees in 2010 were union members, down from 12.3% in 2009. There were 14.7 million union members, significantly down from 1983, the first year for which comparable data is available, when there were 17.7 million. Note that the population of the United States in 1983 was 234 million as compared to 308 million in 2010.

In 2009, for the first time, a majority of employed union members were public employees. The trend continues: in 2010 there were 7.6 million public sector union members and 7.1 million private sector union members.

So let's be clear about what is going on here. Labor unions are the biggest source of revenue for the Democratic Party. While private-sector unions have crumbled, Big Labor remains a potent force because of its domination in the public sector. They have managed in many states to enlist the power of the government (made possible by the votes of Democratic legislatures and governors) to permit them to collectively bargain and to strike, thereby trumping the power of elected officials. Even when collective bargaining does not exist (in the federal government), unions use the coercive power of government to force employees to join their ranks, and then automatically deduct dues from its members. Those dues are funneled back to unions which make huge campaign donations and "negotiate" luxurious benefit deals from the very pols on whom they have showered with campaign donations. No wonder organized labor is fighting tooth and nail to keep this racket going.

And let's not kid ourselves, Obama is the most pro-Big Labor president since FDR. Organized labor has certainly gotten its money's worth.

By Jennifer Rubin  | March 3, 2011; 12:05 PM ET
Categories:  Obama White House  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Thursday feature: A turn to lighter fare
Next: California: How to fix what public employee unions have wrought?

Comments

Jennifer,
you people in the right are so hypocrite, When Walls Street screwed up, and blow up the American economy, they got a big bonus while tax payer money bailed out their company, the reason you guys gave is they had contract,
and Now everybody on the right are going after the public employees and their retirement, well those employee had contract too, so what is the difference between those public employee's contract and the executives at walls street's contract ?
Shame, Shame, Shame on you

Posted by: tqmek1 | March 3, 2011 12:25 PM | Report abuse

The unions have Obama in their pocket. He can't be re-elected without their full support, which of course he'll get. When union bosses grumble that Obama isn't giving them enough, they're just following the strategy of Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor: "We do want more, and when it becomes more, we shall still want more." Whatever Obama and the Dems give the unions, they will always want more.

Posted by: eoniii | March 3, 2011 12:37 PM | Report abuse

"it is hard to think of any other special interest that wields more power than organized labor."

??????????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

WHAT FREAKIN' PLANET ARE YOU ON?????

Posted by: Lisa68 | March 3, 2011 3:26 PM | Report abuse

My african gray parrots, george and gracie, have a better vocabulary than this guy:
=========
Jennifer,
you people in the right are so hypocrite, When Walls Street screwed up, and blow up the American economy, they got a big bonus while tax payer money bailed out their company, the reason you guys gave is they had contract,
and Now everybody on the right are going after the public employees and their retirement, well those employee had contract too, so what is the difference between those public employee's contract and the executives at walls street's contract ?
Shame, Shame, Shame on you

=============

My goodness why not just say "polly want a cracker" and be done with it?

How about some facts? go look at open secrets pal and see to whom Wall street gave its campaign donations. It wasn't the Republicans. Heck the PAC operated by Goldman Sachs gave Barrack Hussein Obama almost a million.

Look it up.

then find something new to parrot.

Posted by: skipsailing28 | March 3, 2011 4:40 PM | Report abuse

We've got unions. You've got the Koch Brothers, Karl Rove, U.S. Chamber, and ReligionUSA.

Do you really think we aren't going to give unions the same access Republicans give the above mentioned?

Posted by: danw1 | March 3, 2011 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Just checked in here, and got my usual chuckle. The lefties are really in rare form and so original with their Koch brothers rant. Are not labor unions invested in them? Are the the bros not doing business with Obama on some green projects? Beware of cognitive dissonance, lefties, it might make a head or two explode. But the greatest chuckle came from Skipsailing. He is, as usual, spot on!! Thanks, Skipper.

Posted by: DocC1 | March 3, 2011 5:58 PM | Report abuse

Most Taxpayers are NOT unionized. So, tell me, why do Wisconsin voters think its Ok for public employee unions to have
collective bargaining?
Do they realize that Unions are Wheeling & Dealing with the Politicians-who-want-their-vote?
Do the Taxpayers, who PAY THE BILL- have a seat at this bargaining table - NO, THEY DON'T.... but Taxpayers Pay the Consequences when Unions and Politicians-who-want-their-vote are making deals!
WAKE UP, WISCONSIN TAXPAYERS. Collective bargaining for public employee unions is NOT IN YOUR BEST INTEREST. PAY ATTENTION.

Posted by: ohioan | March 4, 2011 10:56 AM | Report abuse

tqmek1,
The state pays the employee share because of state law, the local contracts are a separate issue.
The state CAN change that law and just say they aren't going to pay it. The state will change the law.

So either the local government figure out their problems, the employees pay their share, or the retirement fund doesn't get the money and gets in a situation like Illinois where the state government has not paid their share while workers were paying their share. Under law the state is supposed to, but the Democrats in Illinois never have.
Leave it to local to figure it out, which is why the state is trying to give the local governments the tools to fight their problem. Those local governments foolish enough to hurt themselves by pushing their contracts through and trying to delay the law, like Madison city with the aid of the Minority Speaker in the Senate (Dem who ran), are bringing their own problems on themselves.

Posted by: win1 | March 4, 2011 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge washingtonpost.com's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.




characters remaining

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company