To No One's Surprise


Lincoln drops card check

By Doug Thompson

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., won’t vote for the Employee Free Choice Act. She announced this Monday. No one was surprised.
Her remark got “end of the world” news coverage anyway. Within 30 minutes, her statement was reported on Politico, a fairly credible Web site, as the biggest setback yet for this major labor legislation.
Big setback? “May be the final nail,” as Politico put it? Oh, please.
Let’s suppose this bill really did depend on the vote of a southern conservative Democrat who’s up for re-election next year.
Then this bill clearly never stood a hope. You can’t set a corpse back.
The bill is very important to labor. No doubt about that. So is air to somebody who’s drowning. Lots of people drown.
The bill would allow a union to be formed if a majority of employees signed forms to set one up rather than go through the current election process. Opponents of the bill call it “card check.”
Alan Hughes, president of the state AFL-CIO, gave Lincoln’s remark the best sum-up of anybody. Lincoln said she didn’t support the bill “in its current form” and that business and labor should reach a compromise. Yet business has never made a serious counter-proposal to employee choice, he pointed out. Nor has Lincoln or anybody else in Congress made a serious, good-faith offer to broker one.
He could have gone on to say that the “current form” is exactly what Lincoln voted for back when George W. Bush was president and she could vote for it safely with the assurance of a presidential veto. He didn’t say that, though. He’s always been polite.
So who, exactly, was dying of suspense on this one?
Not everybody follows this political stuff. I do it for a living so other people can get on with their lives. Still, there is no excuse for the press corps pretending that this thing was ever close, other than to make news stories about it sound more dramatic than they were. The whole issue was overplayed and has been for months.
Suppose I’m wrong. Suppose everything was dangling by a thread called Blanche and that her snapping is a big, fat, hairy deal.
OK. Can we stop treating this issue like there’s some hope here? Can we finally stop doing that?
While we’re on the topic of labor in America, let’s talk about the failure of unions to recruit, which is what employee choice is designed to correct. To hear supporters talk about it, it’s needed to offset those mean Republican union-busters of the last administration.
Folks, the first thing President Bill Clinton, the last Democrat before President Obama, did after getting elected in 1992 was get the North American Free Trade Agreement passed. Every administration since Harry Truman’s has beaten up organized labor, from the steel industry strikes of the Korean War forward.
It’s all a matter of degree.
Then there was the softening of labor itself. At its height, the labor movement left a lot of people behind. The skilled trades, the teamsters and the auto workers got good terms for their members, but a combination of mounting business resistance and a justified level of satisfaction in labor stymied further progress.
By the mid-1990s, you’d be hard-pressed to get a strike vote for fear among the members of missing a payment on their bass boats. They — we — were bought off by health plans, retirement plans, wages that were enough to make a house payment, home equity loans that allowed us to live far beyond our means, mutual fund investments where everybody could get a piece of the action and the paper value kept going up, up and up, and so forth.
We remained comfortable as our debts mounted. Then the economy went south. Guess who lost their comfort first?
Now we have a private sector economy where 7 percent of the workers have union representation. If it wasn’t for public sector employees, the labor movement would be dead. Now Detroit’s collapsing, weakening labor more.
We have no right to be surprised.

Categories: Features