The Obama administration's budget is full of proposals that threaten to weaken our staggering economy. Higher taxes on high earners and reduced deductions for their charitable contributions and mortgage interests. A cap-and-trade system that will impose higher costs on everyone who uses electricity. A national health insurance program that will take $600 billion or so out of the private-sector economy.
But the most grievous threat to future prosperity may be off-budget -- the inaptly named Employee Free Choice Act. Also known as card check, the legislation would effectively abolish secret ballots in unionization elections. It provides that once a majority of employees had filled out sign-up cards circulated by union organizers, the employer would have to recognize and bargain with the union. And if the two sides didn't reach agreement in a short term, federal arbitrators would impose one. Wages, fringe benefits and work rules would all be imposed by the federal government.
It's not difficult to see why union leaders want this. Union membership has fallen from more than 30 percent of the private-sector workforce in the 1950s to about 8 percent today. Union leaders would like to see that go up. So would most Democratic politicians, since some portion of union dues -- unions try to conceal how much -- goes directly or indirectly to support Democratic candidates. The unions and the Democrats want to put up a tollgate on as much of the private sector as they can, to extract money from consumers of goods and services.
They have already set up such tollgates on much of the public sector. In the 1950s, very few public-sector workers were union members. Today, nearly half of all union members are public-sector employees. In many states and central cities -- think California and New York City -- public-sector unions channel vast flows of money, all of it originating from taxpayers, to themselves and to Democratic politicians. The unions use that money to promote some public policies that are not obviously in the interests of public-sector employees -- restrictive trade regulations, for example, which appeal to nostalgic union leaders who would like to see millions of unionized autoworkers and steelworkers once again.