Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Big Labor & Presidential Politics

As individuals most union members are great people while unions as organizations, to speak politely, are not great. I say this not lightly and with feeling. From my Labor Economics professor in undergraduate school who was an avowed socialist who never appeared in public without his peace symbol button firmly affixed to his tie, to my first lead role as a management negotiator versus the Teamsters ( the only time I have, coincidentally of course, been shot at - twice), and now seeing how the automotive unions have decimated the American automobile manufacturers, worked to kill Social Security reform, oppose free trade and every other sensible economic reform that is good for this country and the world, to teacher's unions opposing student measurements and school choice, and on and on -- I do not like unions.

So I give you this New York Times 'editorial', "Democrats' Field Creates Pleasant Predicament for Unions":

Union leaders say they are so happy with the Democratic presidential aspirants, though unsure of whom to support, that they are unlikely to endorse any of them before the primaries next year....

“There’s a pretty strong sentiment across the labor movement for Edwards,” Steve Rosenthal, a former political director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said. “But I think some unions are a little leery of endorsing him without more evidence that he can win.”

Another reason many unions are hesitating to endorse a candidate is their overall happiness with the eight hopefuls. Several back universal health coverage, a major union goal. All have endorsed labor’s main legislative priority, a bill that would make it easier to unionize workers.

“This is a pro-worker field of dreams,” said Bruce Raynor, president of Unite Here, which represents hotel, restaurant and apparel workers. “The field is much better from a worker’s standpoint than it was four years ago.” [Note: You should recall Mr. Raynor driving the textile industry out of North Carolina and much of the South and the jobs that went with the firms.]

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama are wooing unions partly to prevent Mr. Edwards’s securing the A.F.L.-C.I.O. endorsement and partly to pick up individual union endorsements for themselves. Mr. Obama has repeatedly campaigned on behalf of a unionization drive at Resurrection Health Care’s nine facilities around Chicago.

The A.F.L.-C.I.O. endorsement is prized because it opens the door to major union contributions and to support from the federation’s political program, which contacted 13 million members of unions and union households in the 2006 campaign.

The political director of the federation, Karen Ackerman, said that thanks largely to the A.F.L.-C.I.O. efforts, 74 percent of union members voted for union-backed candidates in the Congressional elections last year.

Mr. Edwards has been by far the most aggressive in wooing labor. He spent a day in April working alongside a nursing home worker at the behest of the Service Employees International Union, and he has marched alongside striking Goodyear workers.

“If our board voted today, it would be leaning toward Edwards,” Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, said. “He showed up at a Goodyear picket line. He just called and said, ‘I’ll be there.’ That kind of stuff really rings home with our members.”

Mr. Gerard said his union would respect the A.F.L.-C.I.O. policy that its 55 member unions not endorse anyone until the federation decided whether it would make an overall endorsement. The Democratic candidates are scheduled to participate in an A.F.L.-C.I.O.-sponsored debate on Aug. 7 in Chicago. The federation said it was expecting 15,000 union members to attend the debate, at Soldier Field.

The president of the federation, John J. Sweeney, said the earliest it would endorse anyone would be late October. Mr. Sweeney said he doubted that any candidate could muster the requisite two-thirds support.

He cautioned against any rush, saying many unions acted too hastily in endorsing Howard Dean and Richard A. Gephardt in 2004, only to see those candidacies flounder early in the primaries. “There’s merit to delaying, because there are so many good candidates,” Mr. Sweeney said. “We’re seeing a very different attitude this time around. We learned from the last time that we had better be sure that when we endorse we’re supporting the candidate our members want to support. And there’s also an interest in backing a candidate who can win.”

Gerry McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, acknowledges having learned a lesson in endorsing Mr. Dean.

“We made a big error,” Mr. McEntee said. “The error was that to a large extent it was a leadership decision made without a deep enough effort to see how our members really felt.” Mr. Edwards and the other candidates are also seeking the endorsement of Change to Win, a rival federation made up of the service employees, the Teamsters and five other unions that left the A.F.L.-C.I.O.

The president of Change to Win, Anna Burger, said her group would probably not make a pre-primary endorsement. Ms. Burger also counseled against any rush to endorse a particular candidate, saying it might discourage other candidates from speaking out on workers’ issues. “We should give them space” she said.

Andrew L. Stern, the service employees’ president, also suggested that his group was in no hurry to endorse.

“This time, Edwards has done the most to win our support, but Senators Clinton and Obama, they’re not going to let Edwards sneak by them,” Mr. Stern said. “It’s like Roller Derby. We’re waiting for someone to break from the pack. We’re getting closer, but there’s no particular clarity.”

If neither labor federation endorses, that would open the door to individual unions’ endorsements. Union leaders said that the American Federation of Teachers and the Office and Professional Employees International Union were leaning toward Mrs. Clinton and that Unite Here, the Teamsters and the steelworkers were leaning toward Mr. Edwards. A Unite Here endorsement would be a boon in Nevada, because its Las Vegas local has 40,000 members and could dominate that state’s Democratic caucuses.

Two big unions, the service employees and the state, county and municipal employees, might be too torn to endorse anyone. Their locals in Illinois are enthusiastic about Mr. Obama. Several of their locals in New York favor Mrs. Clinton.

“There’s a certain amount of rooting for the home team,” Ms. Burger said.

Just a couple of footnotes here:
Can you draw any obvious correlation between the fact that education and our government is widely perceived to be dysfunctional despite the amount of money devoted to those undertakings and the fact that those employees are almost completely unionized and have almost zero turnover? Dysfunctional and employed for life does not a good combination for performance make.

And right or wrong, when President Reagan broke the air traffic controller's union did not the Republican Party cement and make unmistakable its honest opinion of unions, not union workers as individuals but union tactics?

And see my post "Labor's Impact on Free Trade: Bad Economics, Bad Foreign Policy, Bad for America" here.

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