Sunday, November 09, 2008

Which is David? Which is Goliath?

I raised the question last week of whether the SEIU, in light of numerous critical issues facing the new President and the discomfort many people have in eliminating secret ballot elections in union campaigns, would do Mr. Obama the favor of compromising on this aspect of labor reform legislation. Well, the answer - -"No" -- is very clear in today's New York Times, in a story written by Steven Greenhouse, entitled "After push for Obama, unions seek new rules."

As this issue proceeds through Congress, the SEIU will portray itself as David in Goliath-like struggles to organize hospitals and businesses of all kinds. But, let's look at some clues that indicate otherwise. The Times story notes that the unions spent $450 million in the Presidential race to support Mr. Obama. (Please understand that this is not included in the $600+ million spent by the Obama campaign itself.) This level of spending is indicative of tremendous resources, replenished every month by union dues.

Here in Boston, well before SEIU has even started to organize workers in any particular hospital, it has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertisements of all kinds. This is just the first hint of the marketing ability provided by the reported $20 million it has budgeted to organize hospitals.

That no single hospital or other firm can match this kind of spending should be clear to any observer. Neither can anyone match the many dozens of people SEIU has already hired and the hundreds of workers who will be brought in from other jurisdictions to help in an organizing campaign. So, as you read stories and ads over the coming months, think about who is really Goliath here, and who is really David.

Anyway, back to the legislation. It is clear that the strategy will not be to have the union legislation stand alone. Rather, it will be attached to another bill that has broad support. It will fly through the House of Representatives. Then, a group of Senators will face immense pressure as they attempt a filibuster. They will be supported by many, many business groups, non-profit organizations, and others who find the concept of ending elections to be anathema. But they will be portrayed as holding up progress on the other aspects of the bill. This should be dramatic politics indeed.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

As you know, I have been neutral on the subject of unionization of BIDMC as I am not local, but the tactics of the SEIU are unconscionable, and the card check system of "voting" has intuitively seemed crazy to me. However, a business columnist in the Washington Post whom I respect (Steven Pearlstein), wrote a column about his opinions as to what Obama should do on various issues. Included was the statement that, instead of going straight to card-check, Obama could "try to repair the current system of secret-ballot elections that has been rendered useless by thuggish union-busting techniques".
I emailed him asking for examples but he is out of town at the moment. To what could he be referring? It seems to indicate that someone in the past has been manipulating the secret ballot system. Does anyone have objective evidence/examples either way?

nonlocal

Paul Levy said...

There is a lot written, pro and con, about the current rules and regulations under the National Labor Relations Act and about the relative actions of the NLRB under President Bush compared to other presidents. Use of terms like "thuggish", whether with respect to corporations or unions, is designed to raise emotions and hackles, and, in my opinion, does nothing to help determine the appropriate policy agenda.

If we go back to the topic at hand, it appears that Mr. Perlstein, too, believes that the President-elect would do better to support a bill that does not eliminate elections, focusing on changes that could gain broader support.

Anonymous said...

In the end, Obama will quickly sign it (as opposed to veto it) because it represents no threat to his ambition or his legacy. Humph... NOT the change we need.

Paul Levy said...

Jay Fitzgerald in the Boston Herald, in a story entitled "Unions see Barack Obama presidency as major opportunity," reports:

Most attention has so far focused on Obama’s support of the controversial “Employment Free Choice Act,” which unions are pushing for and which a Democratic-controlled Congress is expected to address next year. The so-called “card-check” act would allow unions to organize workers without holding secret ballot votes.

There’s currently talk of a possible compromise plan to avoid a potentially bitter and protracted fight over the “card-check” plan.

http://www.bostonherald.com/business/general/view.bg?articleid=1131221&format=text

Anonymous said...

Its funny how pro-Obama, anti Republican executives are now looking to Republicans to bail them out on this card check legislation. There will be no fight in the House and all will hinge on Republicans to philibuster the bill in the Senate.

Anonymous said...

Well, here's another related article. With both sides staking out extreme positions, a compromise seems inevitable - but what kind?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/09/AR2008110900853.html

nonlocal

Anonymous said...

I think it should be noted that on a number of occasions SEIU has been flexible on the issue of what method workers use to form a union.

My understanding is that there are instances where that union has agreed to a process that culminates in a secret ballot election but also includes other safeguards to foster a fair and open process, similar to those advocated by Steven Pearlstein in the Washington Post and former NLRB chairman William Gould.

(In fact, I believe that in Boston SEIU is advocating for a process for hospital workers that includes a ballot.)


Nonlocal--

Here's a short roundup of the sorts of abuses that I imagine Pearlstein was referring to:
http://hrw.org/english/docs/2000/08/31/usdom722.htm

Paul Levy said...

Ah, dear Nonlocal,

You have fallen into the rhetorical trap of "free and fair elections" as espoused by the SEIU. Its approach does not permit a true fair exchange of information among all participants. Our Board has adopted a code of conduct that would permit such an exchange and would enable to all to participate in a way that would help to avoid abuses.

Anonymous said...

Paul;

What??!!! I beg to differ - anon 6:11's comment was not written BY me but TO me. But no insult intended, none taken.
I am still waiting to hear from Pearlstein - if he does not answer, I will send him your comments about "thuggish" to charge him up to respond. (:

nonlocal

Paul Levy said...

Oops, sorry, I was thrown off by the format of the comment. I thought you signed it and then added another thought.

This whole blogging thing would be easier if the SEIU commenters would just use their names or at least tell us they work for the union!