March 16, 2012 | Commentary on Labor
To understand why the AFL-CIO this week endorsed President Obama for re-election, it helps to know that Tyrone Freeman enjoys Cognac — $175 glasses of Cognac, allegedly paid for by the SEIU local he used to run. Freeman’s union also paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to companies run by his wife and family.
New, Bush-era federal rules forced unions to be more open about their spending, and brought these facts to light. Soon afterward, the SEIU forced Freeman to resign. Everyone except corrupt union officers ought to support such transparency.
But the AFL-CIO’s leadership hated the scrutiny, so it asked Obama to repeal these union-transparency measures — and he obliged. His Labor Department quickly rolled back most of the union transparency rules the previous administration implemented.
It was just one giveaway of many, which is why the AFL-CIO endorsement was no surprise. For all candidate Obama’s talk of putting the common good above special interests, President Obama has given the union movement handout after handout — at a high cost to taxpayers and the economy.
Within days of taking office, Obama signed an executive order directing agencies to use project labor agreements on their construction projects. PLAs require contractors to sign collective-bargaining agreements before starting work. He also required contractors on stimulus projects to use union work rules and pay union rates. These orders reserved federal jobs for the one-in-seven construction workers who belong to a union. Nonunion workers got left in the cold.
Obama proceeded to staff his Labor Department with union officials. They’ve run the agency at the behest of their former employers — hence the rollback of union transparency. And Obama appointed the SEIU’s lawyer, Craig Becker, directly to the National Labor Relations Board.
The NLRB used to referee disputes between unions and management; Becker transformed it into an agency pushing workers to unionize. And while the NLRB’s drive to close a nonunion Boeing plant in South Carolina got national attention, other outrages escaped much notice.
Under Becker, the NLRB shortened the time for union elections to roughly two weeks. That gives employers little time to explain their side before workers vote. Hearing primarily from unions will make employees more likely to unionize, which is exactly the point.
And he allowed unions to cherry-pick which groups of workers will get to vote on unionizing: Organizers targeting a hospital, for example, could form a union of just registered nurses, excluding nurse practitioners from the vote.
Don’t forget the Detroit bailout. Obama spent far more than GM and Chrysler needed to stay running — his stated goal. In a normal bankruptcy, courts would’ve rewritten union contracts wholesale, junking inefficient work rules and reducing compensation to current workers. Instead, the administration insisted that the United Auto Workers get special treatment.
So the UAW recovered far more of its debts than other creditors, which is how it wound up owning half of Chrysler. And while new hires took large pay cuts, the union boasted “for our active members these tentative changes mean no loss in your base hourly pays, no reduction in your health care, and no reduction in pensions.”
The president decided that taxpayers — most of whom make far less than UAW members — would spend tens of billions of dollars to preserve UAW pay and benefits.
The special treatment extends even to the president’s signature achievement: Unions have also gotten more than half of the waivers from the president’s health-care law.
There’s a larger reason for labor’s love of Obama: The movement has changed dramatically over the past generation.
The AFL-CIO endorsed President John Kennedy’s 1963 tax cut, but now most union members work in government; the Post Office employs twice as many union members as the domestic auto industry. And government unions benefit directly from higher taxes and bigger government — Obama’s solutions to every problem.
It takes a special loyalty to protect union officers who want to hide how they spend members’ money; Obama has given unions that and much more. The AFL-CIO can expect a solid return on the $500 million it plans to spend to re-elect him.
James Sherk is senior policy analyst in labor economics at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in The New York Post