October 7, 2002
By Stefan Gleason, Vice President
National Right to Work
As the Senate considers denying President George W. Bush managerial flexibility at the proposed Department of Homeland Security, the union brass are proving again that reports of their political demise are greatly exaggerated. Union officials have managed to convince Senate Democrats to make a risky political bet by voting against the president on a vital national security issue — and just one month before an election.
But the real sticking point in the debate over the homeland security bill is over expansion of union coercive privileges — not civil service protections, as union spokesmen have claimed. The union hierarchy wants to require the president of the United States to get their permission before implementing personnel decisions necessary to cut through crippling bureaucracy and improve national security. Such a requirement would change existing policy and bog down the administration in protracted union negotiations over petty matters.
Sadly, union officials have employed this strategy of reaching for power during previous periods of national crisis as well. Take their spectacular successes during World War II.
Big labor’s World War II power-grab began in 1941, when the federal government became more deeply involved in key defense-related industries. Realizing that their leverage would increase due to the national crisis, union officials instigated a series of 13,000 often violent and crippling strikes.
In one of the most notorious of these strikes, mineworkers union bosses shut down the coal mines owned by steel firms (steel was, of course, vital to the war effort). Union officials’ chief demand was that all mining employees be forced to pay union dues as a condition of employment. When a federal agency recommended a settlement that did not include this requirement, President Franklin D. Roosevelt turned the matter over to an arbitrator who ruled in the union’s favor.
As more U.S. industries became enmeshed in war production, the Roosevelt administration repeatedly used so-called “labor peace” as an excuse to rope hundreds of thousands more individuals into compulsory unionism.
Toward that end, Roosevelt created the National War Labor Board (NWLB) and gave it authority over just about every industry in wartime America. In July 1942, the NWLB revealed its loyalty to the union hierarchy when it ruled that workers may not resign their union memberships for the entire length of a union’s collective bargaining contract. Before World War II, only 20 percent of unionized employees were governed by contracts that required forced union dues payments as a job condition. By 1947, that percentage shot up to 78 percent — where it remains today.
In spite of all the efforts to placate Big Labor, however, “labor peace” never did develop during the war. The number of strikes rose 26 percent in 1943, and 32 percent in 1944, and declined by only 4 percent in 1945.
Labor expert Donald R. Richberg, in his 1957 book, “Labor Union Monopoly: A Clear And Present Danger,” detailed the “exasperation with which a war-stricken people had watched the unions take advantage of war necessities to force unreasonable demands on private industry and government.” This was, in Mr. Richberg’s words, “a disgraceful record for ‘patriotic’ labor.”
True to form, union officials have also used the horrifying attacks of September 11 as cover for their march for increased government-granted privileges.
Only two days after al Qaeda toppled the World Trade Center towers, for example, Democrat Sens. Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton rammed a bill that one union dubbed “the largest expansion of labor [union] rights considered by Congress in decades” through a closed-door Senate committee without a single word of testimony or even a recorded vote. Later, they tried to sneak it through the Senate by unanimous consent. And in November, union-allied senators attempted to push through the legislation via an amendment to a “must pass” appropriations bill.
Through these shameless maneuvers, Mr. Kennedy and Mrs. Clinton sought to federally mandate that all state and local governments anoint union officials as the monopoly bargaining agents for local police, firefighters, paramedics, and other public safety officers — even in jurisdictions that have wisely banned this form of compulsory unionism.
Fortunately for the many dedicated public servants who don’t want union officials and crippling workplace rules to disrupt their important work, some senators spoke out against the proposed expansion of union coercive power. “We appreciate our firemen and we appreciate our policemen, but forcing people to pay union dues is not a way to show appreciation,” said Sen. Phil Gramm.
Now, during the debate over union privileges inserted by Senate Democrats into the Homeland Security bill, union bosses are adopting a tone of outraged innocence while loudly proclaiming their dedication to national security. But their actions prove otherwise, and their long record of exploiting national crises to increase their power should stiffen the resolve of right-minded senators to stand with the president.
Stefan Gleason is vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation, a Springfield, Va.-based organization.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, assists thousands of employees in more than 250 cases nationwide per year.