Ten-Strike for Big Labor

Steve Forbes

In 1935 FDR signed the Wagner Act, which virtually forced countless companies to accept unionization.

Leaders of organized labor are licking their chops at the prospect of Washington's passing legislation that would lead to the biggest boost to unionization since the New Deal. The ostensible prime vehicle for this offensive is "card check," which would do away with the secret ballot when workers are choosing whether or not to join a union. Card check is an egregious assault on basic democratic rights and an invitation to coercion. For example, a single working mom may get late-night visits or calls "suggesting" she go along with the plan to unionize. Under current law she might sign a card for unionization - but then vote no in a secret ballot. Card check's Sovietesque stench will arouse more and more opposition as it makes its way through Congress.

But there's a trap in the making; In the name of compromise, Labor's allies may drop card check, demanding in return provisions that could achieve most of Big Labor's expansionary goals. There are three key measures labor would want as part of a deal.

--"Equal access" to company property. This would give union organizers the right to solicit support on a company's premises, not just outside of the workplace. Anytime that management did anything to oppose unionization, union activists could come to offices and factories and make their pitch. Being able to solicit consistently on a business' premises would be an enormous aid to organizing.

--Mandatory contract arbitration. If a union and management don't come to an agreement within 90 days after negotiations begin, a federal abitrator would be parachuted in. Should the arbitrator not procure an agreement in 30 days, he or she would then impose a two-year contract on the company.

Arbitrators know that individual companies don't have nearly the political clout that well-funded, politically active unions have. Most arbitrators - know where, in effect, their bread is buttered - will more often than not impose adverse settlements on management.

--So-called quickie elections. This provision would mean that when a union wants to organize, a company must immediately hold an election. Big Labor knows that time usually works against it. When people can patiently asses what, if anything, they might gain from joining a union, they usually conclude they're better off not doing it. Certainly the 100,000 well-paid autoworkers employed by overseas manufacturers in the U.S. need only look to Detroit and what the UAW was wrought there to realize that unionization could well spell a loss of jobs and competitiveness. Millions of people don't take kindly to the idea that as a condition of work they must join a union and pay sizable dues, most of which go toward political activities and not toward dealing with the particular interests of workers.

Taken together, these provisions would sharply change the balance of power in both union organizing and negotiations. Labor may also push for an old favorite: barring striker replacements. Under current law, when workers go on strike, a company may bring in replacements. If companies are banned from doing this, most would be forced to settle quickly to stay alive.

Unions may even try for the repeal of provision 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act, which allows states to pass right-to-work laws that ban forced unionization. It's not coincidence that right-to-work states have shown higher rates of economic growth than states that permit forced unionization.

Entrepreneurs and executives had better beware. These provisions would be espcially devastating to startup companies, which are the front of innovation for the U.S. economy. As Western Europe has amply demonstrated, without innovation an economy stagnates and job creation suffers. Since 2001 the U.S. has created proportionately three times as many new jobs as Germany.

Steve Forbes is President/CEO of Forbes and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes magazine
Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved.


Print page