By the calculus organized labor uses to assess the performances of friend and foe alike, President Obama, labor’s nominal “friend” and supporter, appears to have come up short. About $400 million short. That’s the amount labor unions were reported to have donated to Obama’s 2008 election campaign.
In response to this munificent show of loyalty and generosity, President Obama not only expressed his undying gratitude, he pledged to do everything in his power to see that the EFCA (Employee Free Choice Act) became law.
Polls show that even though upwards of 60-percent of working people across the board say they would like to join a union, barely 11-percent are organized. That discrepancy defies reason. Obviously, something is holding them back.
The EFCA would give working people the right to join or form a labor union simply by signing a card (“card check”) saying they wish to do so, thus avoiding the bureaucratic morass and management game-playing involved in an NLRB certification election. With the EFCA in place, if the majority of employees said they wanted to be union members, the company could not legally deny them that right.
In March, 2009, the EFCA was introduced to Congress by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and House member George Miller (D-CA). Al Franken, Senator from Minnesota, chose this EFCA bill as the first piece of legislation he would co-sponsor, a proud moment for him.
Yet if one were looking for morbid symbolism, they need look no further than Franken’s co-sponsorship. So phony and hypocritical was administration’s support of the bill, it took a professional comedian to sponsor it.
Although there were only 41 Republican senators at the time (July of 2009), it was the Democrats themselves who eventually sunk the bill. Nelson of Nebraska, Specter of Pennsylvania, McCaskill of Missouri, Lincoln of Arkansas, Carper of Delaware, and Feinstein of California—all senators and all Democrats—were the ones who orchestrated the bill’s defeat.
If Obama had made it clear that this EFCA bill was not only an important piece of legislation, it was a White House “must have,” a genuine priority item, this mutiny would never have occurred, not with a newly elected and still wildly popular president, and not with the leader of the Democratic Party calling on the leadership to demonstrate solidarity.
Many stories circulated as to what torpedoed the bill. Some reported that Obama, who was philosophically in favor the bill, became gun-shy. He didn’t anticipate the torrent of opposition he encountered both from the business community and timid members of his own party, and was unwilling to embark on a protracted battle this early in his term of office.
Others reported that it was his arrogant and profane chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who queered the deal. Emanuel insisted the president back away from it, having convinced him that, bad news or not, labor had no choice but to stay loyal to the Democrats. In classic Emanuel fashion, he was quoted as saying, “If labor’s upset with it, fuck ‘em. Let ‘em vote Republican and see how they like it.”
But we now hear rumors that this “lame duck” president, who came into office amid so much noble rhetoric and high expectations, may be looking to gild his lily by issuing a number of ambitious Executive Orders.
In the countdown to the end of his second term of office this president may actually want to do something meaningful. But instead of having to kowtow to pompous Republicans and hold the hands of gutless Democrats, his weapon of choice will be the Executive Order. Instead of going to the mat, all he has to do is “order” things to get done. What could be simpler?
In the name of old-fashioned “prairie democracy,” what if President Obama were to issue an EO instructing the NLRB to recognize as union members any majority of workers who voted to join a union? What’s the very worst thing that could happen? What are they going to do to him? Impeach him?
Even though they date back to George Washington, the legal boundaries of Executive Orders remain murky at best. Most likely Obama’s decision would wind up in federal court, which would be fine because even if his EO were eventually struck down, it would take months for that to happen, and in the meantime, the labor movement would have been reinvigorated as thousands of workplaces had their consciousness raised.
Do it, Mr. President. Granted, it won’t turn you from an ineffectual president into a heroic one, but there will be Brownie points. Turn the tables on those anti-union, anti-worker, anti-middleclass bastards. Force them to play defense for a change. Do it, Mr. President.