Unchecked Barack offers pay-back to union bigs

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So-called "Free Choice" would force disinterested workers into unions without a secret-ballot election

With Sen. Barack Obama pulling ahead in the national polls, talk has begun to center on the length of his coat tails if he does manage to hold on and win the presidency less than a month from now. Of particular interest is the Senate, where a feisty Republican minority has been able to frustrate Democrats' plans again and again by blocking legislation with filibusters, just as Democrats did when they were in the minority between 2002 and 2006. Democrats have high hopes that they will be able to capture a filibuster-proof majority of 60 seats with gains in this year's election. Together with an Obama victory and expected gains in the House, that would give Democrats virtually unchecked power to enact their agenda.

One of the first items on Democrats' list is legislation to pay back a key constituency, organized labor, for its loyalty and campaign contributions. Unions are expected to spend as much as $300 million dollars to elect Democrats this year, and Democrats, including Sen. Obama are eager to repay them with legislation. The bill in question is the rather inappropriately named Employee Free Choice Act, and it aims to increase union membership nationwide by changing the way employees elect join unions.

Under current law in most states, employees vote in secret ballot elections for union representation or no union representation. But under a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Obama, and backed by Congressional Democrats, the secret ballots would be done away with in favor of employee signatures on sign up cards. The so-called "card check" provision would undo the process of secret election ballots. Instead of a free and fair election, a simple majority of employee signatures would obligate employers to allow worker to organize and bargain collectively. That would potentially expose unwilling employees to intimidation by union organizers and fellow employees.

The bill would almost certainly increase union membership, which has fallen to roughly 12% of the American workforce; and would fatten the wallets of union bosses with new membership dollars that they would continue to lavish on Democrat election campaigns. It would be a quid pro quo potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars to both labor and the Democratic Party.

Sen. Obama says that he wants to change politics-as-usual in Washington. But his efforts on behalf of organized labor and the Employee Free Choice Act are quintessentially the stuff of typical Washington wheeling and dealing. And Democrats are growing confident that they will win the seats necessary to begin taking bids on bills for favorite interest groups. Labor will not be the last Democratic constituency to win big favors from a one-party ruled federal government. Historically, the American people have shown an aversion to handing control of Congress and the White House to the same party. Union bosses and Democrats are betting that this year will be different.


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