Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

AFL-CIO Issues Wish List to Obama

Tonight President Obama will give his State of the Union address, and some of his deepest-pocketed backers at the AFL-CIO have outlined their hoped-for initiatives from the President’s speech. Along with an immigration reform bill and more public sector union make-work spending, the nation’s largest union federation asked for two very specific favors: a minimum wage increase and more efforts to aid unionization.

We’ve noted that some unions have self-interested contract provisions that increase with statutory minimum wage increases. The Service Employees International Union, the union pushing the fast food protests, has several that are publicly identifiable. AFL-CIO member unions have these provisions too: We found publicly available UNITE-HERE and UFCW contracts that also peg to the minimum wage or get automatically renegotiated if it changes. When we pointed it out, the UFCW bragged about them, so we assume they’re at least somewhat prevalent.

The AFL-CIO also asked for more support for “strengthening the freedom of workers to organize and collectively bargain.” Translating from union-speak to English, that suggests that the unions want Obama to resurrect the dead “card-check” bill that would take employees’ right to secret ballot votes. After the misleadingly named “Employee Free Choice Act” died amid bipartisan skepticism in Obama’s first term, unions have looked to the National Labor Relations Board to do their dirty work.

However, with the union-backed employee “right” to a higher minimum wage likely to be a top administration priority, it’s more likely that expanding, rather than restricting, employee rights will be on the menu. The Employee Rights Act, which would guarantee a secret ballot to join a union, require opt-ins to union political operation funding, and criminalize union threats (among other things) offers the opportunity to expand, rather than restrict, employee freedoms.


Categories: AFL-CIO