Despite a pledge to spend $100 million dollars in this year’s midterm election, organized labor is coming under some criticism from Democratic Party operatives for not keeping pace with the enormous sums of money the Republican Party is now taking in.
Whether it is a favorable political environment or the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Citizens United that eased corporate contributions, Republicans find themselves awash in campaign money while Democrats are struggling to keep up.
Although organized labor is not the only Democrat interest group behind in meeting party campaign goals, its inclusion on the list of underachieving contributors has raised concerns about a diminishing role labor may play in future elections as it struggles to deal with a string of unexpected setbacks.
By far, the most shocking disappointment was found in the inability of Democrats to pass Card Check, labor’s legislative Holy Grail. With private union membership declining, labor leaders were eager to alter this trend and Card Check seemed the perfect option. Designed to change how labor organizes by effectively removing the secret ballot from union elections, the policy threatens to open the floodgates of intimidating and coercive tactics, making it far more difficult to resist unionization in the workplace.
Yet somehow on the road to enactment of the full progressive agenda, Card Check never even made it to a vote. While the prospect still remains to pass it during a lame duck session if Democrats lose control of Congress, the odds don’t look good. Even Barack Obama has all but acknowledged its defeat when he recently told a group of supporters, “Frankly, we don’t have 60 votes in the Senate. So the opportunity to actually get this passed right now is not real high.”
Having spent in 2008 over $60 million to elect Obama and more than $70 million on Democrat congressional candidates, the labor movement had thought it had secured its strongest hold on American politics in more than a generation. Allied with Democrat supermajorities in Congress and the most pro labor president in modern times, unions had every right to be giddy about its prominent role at the table, and not without reason.
For generations, organized labor has been the Democratic Party’s loyal cash cow. Election cycle after election cycle it could be counted upon to empty its coffers to fund Democrat campaigns and supply countless workers for get-out-the-vote efforts. In return, Democratic lawmakers at every level of government, from municipalities to state houses to the federal government passed a plethora of laws and regulations designed to benefit organized labor, often at the expense of the US taxpayer.
So, while the failure to pass Card Check may have come as a shock to labor leaders, it fell into line with other signs that labor’s hold on American politics may have finally reached a tipping point. Its cause can be directly traced to the increase in public-sector employees and how this has changed the face of the labor movement: no longer is private sector growth necessary for organized labor success.
While private union membership has been declining over recent years, dropping to 7.3% in 2009, the lowest level since FDR occupied the White House, the opposite can be said of public-sector employees who have seen their ranks swell in the intervening time to now account for more than 50% of all union membership. It’s the first time in American history government workers have comprised the majority union workforce.
It’s not too much of a surprise to have seen private union membership decline as its benefits are driven by market conditions. If a company is too generous with its union benefit package, and as a result can’t compete in the marketplace, the company fails. General Motors was but the largest example of this condition, although its reward was to be bailed out by taxpayers.
Most companies, however, aren’t GM and government bailouts aren’t an option. It’s but one reason why private sector unions are more willing to negotiate with employers. Public unions, however, face no such quandary as their benefits are determined and paid by government, with government default a rarity.
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