Apparently, the Bush administration is having money troubles. In order to shovel $624 billion to the military and maintain generous tax cuts, the White House has to skimp on a few other items, like Medicaid and Medicare.
No departments actually lost money, though, except two—the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Labor. One can understand why Bush would want to defund that pesky EPA, what with its rules to clean this and clean that. But why Labor? Secretary Elaine Chao, the only cabinet official who’s been in place since the beginning of Bush’s first term, has spent the last six years sitting quietly—maybe motionlessly—in her office doing as close to nothing as possible. It seems unfair that Bush would cut DOL’s budget by 9 percent. Away go the remaining worker assistance programs and Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s intrusive inspections. Better to spend the money on immigration raids than enforcing worker safety. Cut, cut, cut.
But wait! Some thrifty little gnome in the Office of Management and Budget has found an unused $11 million, and put it to help our nation’s working people. Didn’t see it? It’s under the Protecting Workers section, an increase for the Office of Labor Management Standards “to ensure the proper, legal, and transparent use of union members’ dues and assets.” It’s called "paycheck protection" and it could be the sleaziest gambit that greedy employers and their stooges on the far right have ever cooked up.
Paycheck protection has been around for a while, and has appeared on the ballot in a number of states, where it is usually defeated. But despite this popular rejection, Bush is determined to proudly display it in the 2008 budget, like a stick in the eye to the new Congress. It’s a nasty piece of work.
Although unions, like every other human endeavor, are prone to misuse of power, and theft certainly occurs, that is not what this paycheck protection is about. The people who devised this ploy could not care less about how much a worker takes home, as long as it’s as little as possible. No, this is about keeping money out of the hands of unions, who might use it to influence elections. Unions, you see, often back things like raising the minimum wage, workplace safety, paid family leave and other progressive measures that much of the business community despises.
To minimize labor’s political muscle, paycheck protection requires unions to get written permission from workers before spending worker dues for political purposes. In this case, political purposes are, in the words of Public Citizen, “any lobbying, communicating to and mobilizing members, and paying administrative expenses of union PACs.” In short, pretty much anything.
The problem is paycheck protection can sound rather fair on first glance. After all, unions aren’t wholly voluntary organizations; the employer picks the members, not the union. So, why should a staunch Republican have his or her dues used to support the usually liberal politics that unions endorse?
First reason? It’s called democracy. The union follows the course that a majority of the members choose, to be implemented by their elected leaders. The majority wins, kind of like the United States. In truth, many of us would prefer our taxes were spent some other way, but I haven’t noticed the Bush administration asking our written permission before buying, for instance, a $40 billion-and-counting Joint Strike Fighter that doesn’t yet fly. But that’s not how a democracy works.
The other reason is that employers use our money for political purposes without even the pretence of democracy. For instance, tenants pay rent to commercial landlords who routinely use that money to fight rent stabilization laws, mandatory tenant protections and anything else that gets in the way of a profit. So, do drug manufacturers, restaurant owners and every other group at the top of the money chain. Even though business outspends labor by some 10 to one overall, that’s apparently not enough of an advantage for George Bush and his rich friends. You see, unions bring more than money to a campaign, they bring people. People to door-knock, to phone-bank, to pass out leaflets, to do all the grunt work of politics.
That’s why the right wing wants unions out of the political picture altogether. If they could just ban unions, they would, but that was impossible even when the Republicans controlled all three branches, and it certainly won’t happen now. So they continue trying to whittle away at worker power a bit at a time. Like this act. The plain-spoken Texan president, friend-of-the-common-man-and-woman, added $11 million for union harassment to a deficit-busting, program-slashing, friend-enriching budget. He should be ashamed, and instead his office trumpets the increase.
Can he go any lower? He has two years to do it, and it wouldn’t surprise me.
| Tuesday, February 6, 2007 10:38 AM