Big Labor Play Number 1: The Back Door

The mainstream media is already declaring defeat of the Big Labor agenda during Obama’s first year in office. With the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) dead on arrival, the stalled nomination of SEIU attorney Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board and certain union sweetheart deals now absent from the latest health care bill, the media would have us believe that Big Labor has missed the payback boat. But if you look closely, you’ll see that the battle to regain numbers and financial solvency is far from over.

Like any good business, Big Labor has a plan, and the media smokescreen plays a key role. Big Labor makes hay when the watchdogs are asleep; such was the case with the little-known Executive Order 13502. Announced at the close of business on a Friday last February, the executive order was the president’s way of repaying a major campaign contributor without raising alarms. For the most part, the order escaped public attention–except from the many nonunion construction contractors that realized a pro-union gesture of this magnitude would cut the majority of the industry off at the knees.

Executive Order 13502 encourages the use of project labor agreements (PLAs) on big government contracts, giving union contractors tremendous advantages in the bidding process over competing nonunion companies like mine (Miller & Long). The order advocates PLA-use on federal construction projects exceeding $25 million — almost all large federal jobs – and stifles nonunion competition by forcing participating contractors to replace their existing workforce with an unfamiliar union one, as well as swallow a host of other union-friendly provisions that reduce efficiency and increase taxpayer costs. Right now, this special interest scheme awaits a final rule from the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Council; however, Big Labor is tending other pet projects in the meantime.

EFCA, referred to as Card Check, is another component of Big Labor’s backdoor approach. Failing to make it out of committee this fall, EFCA’s attempts to take away employees’ right to vote by secret ballot and give a government arbiter the authority to set wages binding for two years were too radical — even for a democratic supermajority. Unfortunately, to the detriment of the struggling construction industry, where one-in-four workers is unemployed, we can expect to see Card Check rise from the dead this year in some watered-down form.

EFCA is dangerous because requiring employees to vote publicly on whether to unionize subjects them to union intimidation. Through coerced unionization, Big Labor has devised a quick means to address one of its fastest-growing concerns: dwindling membership.

According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data, last year union membership saw its smallest numbers since 1995 – a mere 15.3 million U.S. members. At 770,000 fewer pension fund contributors than in 2008, Big Labor is being forced to look for funding outside of current membership.

A number of private industry union membership losses are a result of the elimination of jobs in a weak economy, or of jobs sent overseas where labor costs are lower. But unions are seeing growth in the public sector by organizing government employees, a shift Heritage Foundation labor policy expert James Sherk says hurts the taxpayer more than ever: “Representing government employees has changed the union movement’s priorities. Unions now campaign for higher taxes on Americans to fund more government spending.”

Still, citing the failure of health care reform carrying indiscrete handouts, the media argues that the predicted flood of pro-labor paybacks never came. It points to promises to eliminate Sen. Merkley’s small construction business-killing amendment and Big Labor’s exemption from the original tax on Cadillac plans via reconciliation when, in truth, such deals have only mutated. Rather than disappearing from the president’s most recent health care reboot, the Cadillac tax on Big Labor plans has only been delayed and the cost threshold defining them tweaked so that some don’t qualify.

Initial defeat of such deals only masks the cozy relationship Obama’s union patrons still enjoy with their indebted candidate. White House visitor logs made public in the administration’s early “open government” days reveal more than 20 visits from SEIU Chief Andy Stern in just a matter of months. At the Department of Labor, Secretary Solis has requested an additional 298 full-time Wage and Hour inspectors to investigate the union-inspired theory of “widespread ‘wage theft’” by the multitudes of unscrupulous employers out there. No doubt, the scrutiny will be fierce when she increases the inspection headcount by 23.4 percent in the face of 9.7 percent unemployment.

Up next is the Protecting America’s Worker Act (S. 1580 and H.R. 2067), which, among other things, would expand the list of incidents for which a small business owner can be held feloniously liable. The list could go on and on, but this should be enough to explain why employers aren’t hiring. Why would anybody take the personal risks required to be successful in such a climate?

That’s exactly the conclusion Big Labor would have me reach because its agenda won’t be done until it either acquires my company or puts me out of business.

Brett McMahon is vice president of Miller & Long, a concrete construction subcontractor based in Bethesda, Md., and a member of Associated Builders and Contractors.

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