Key Congressman Warns that Unions See 2008 as Pivotal Year

Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon of California is the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Education and Labor. As much as any member of Congress, he is attuned to what organized labor is seeking for 2008 and beyond – and the lengths to which unions are prepared to achieve them. He recently shared his thoughts in an exclusive interview for Labor Watch, a monthly publication of a Washington, D.C. nonprofit monitoring group, the Capital Research Center. The unions are pulling out the stops, he noted, and they mean to persuade what remains of the 110th Congress to make good on its legislative pledges, especially the Employee Free Choice Act, which would mandate employers to recognize the results of a simple-majority union card check, thus overriding any possibility of holding a secret-ballot election afterward.     


Congressman McKeon explained to Bryan O’Keefe, associate director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for College Affordability, that union positions on the issues are virtually identical to those of the Democratic Party. “One needs to look no further than the 2007 labor legislative record to see how closely the priorities of congressional Democrats track with those of their labor union allies. On one bill after another, Democrats have sought ways to increase the number of dues-paying union members while giving labor bosses a greater level of control over workers, businesses and entire communities.” The proposed reforms and the way unions fight for them, McKeon notes, are more aggressive now than during the Clinton era. “I think the environment today is far different than that under President Clinton,” he said. “Then, you saw a Democratic President seeking incremental changes with a Republican congressional majority focused intently on maintaining balance and fairness.” He cited the Employee Free Choice Act, the RESPECT Act, and the recent grilling of sitting members of the National Labor Relations Board before a joint House-Senate hearing as examples of organized labor’s escalating power grab.

The AFL-CIO has stated publicly that it plans to spend more than $200 million during the 2008 election cycle, and hire more than 200,000 volunteers. If the unions manage to put Democrats in the White House and give them a clear majority in both houses of Congress this November, the party will have major IOUs. And they’ll be in a position to get almost all of what they want, knowing a presidential veto would be virtually inconceivable. O’Keefe’s companion article in Labor Watch, “A Union Revival?: Unions Look to Democrats to Enact Sweeping Legislative Agenda,” summarizes what organized labor wants out of lawmakers. Union members currently account for about 12 percent of all workers in this country, a union-density rate less than two-fifths what it was 50 years ago. As the unions see it, a green light from Congress for aggressive organizing tactics is the best way to raise that figure. They’re preparing for a monster showdown. (Labor Watch, 2/08).