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There was a lot of interesting discussion around my angry post about the FAA reauthorization bill screwing over unions, especially the Communication Workers of America. If you didn’t watch CWA President Larry Cohen’s rant yesterday, here it is.

Mike Elk has a more in-depth discussion of how precisely the FAA bill is bad for labor:

Under the “compromise bill” passed by Senate Democrats, CWA would need not only 50 percent of the 9,000 passenger service workers currently working for American in order to file for an election, but 50 percent of those workers and the 2,000 laid off employees combined; many of these laid-off employees will not return to American Airlines and are difficult for union organizers to track down to sign union petitions since they no longer worker there.

In addition, the “compromise bill” would strip the rights of unionized airline or railway employees when their company merges with a nonunion company. Currently, under the Railway Labor Act, when a unionized company merges with a nonunionized company , a union election is automatically triggered to see if the workers in the new merged company want a union (as long as the previously unionized workforce represents 35 percent of the workforce).

Under the new rules, workers in a unionized company would be immediately stripped of their union rights as soon as their company merges with a nonunion company if those workers represent a minority of workers in a workplace.

Hopefully, that helps answer some questions.

I want to address a larger point though. Our valued commenter Brien Jackson brought up something well worth thinking about in the comments:

Maybe I’m missing something here, but isn’t this just another case of the Democrats getting screwed over by their need to be the adults in the room? I mean, I’m certainly supportive of the unions position, but if Republicans are really willing to kill re-authorization of the FAA over the provision, your hands are tied just a little bit if you actually care about good government, no?

This is at the core of the paradox Democrats face. They are by and large grownups. A functioning FAA is a very important thing. So it makes sense to compromise to keep the government functioning. But Democrats do this on every issue. Republicans know this will happen. So they take extreme positions, win major concessions, consolidate their gains, and do the same thing the next day.

Where does this stop? For those who fundamentally believe in being the grown-ups here, what is the endgame? Where do we see labor (or any number of other progressive issues) 15 years from now? Does this strategy pay off? Are we buying time until sanity returns to the Republican Party?

I’m not advocating for the shutdown of the FAA necessarily. But I am asking for people to articulate where they see labor in 2020 or 2025. Is it better to compromise constantly and be destroyed over a 20 year period or to go down fighting? Maybe the latter, after all another two decades of worker protections, limited as they might be, is better than nothing. But the end result is about the same.

What should CWA do here? I’m a bit reticent to suggest a lot of particular policy proposals, or at least to push for any one. But should a union support a politician who votes for a bill inimical to its interest? I would argue no. Should CWA put its considerable resources into promoting the individual politicians who supports its position? I know CWA effort could make a major difference in Ohio, where Sherrod Brown is a top Republican target. Same in Missouri for Claire McCaskill. And in many House races. Should the CWA contribute to the reelection campaigns of those who don’t support their agenda? I would argue probably not. Moreover, I would guess that the very real threat of this would scare some of those Democrats who voted for this bill to change their minds pretty quick.

Labor is not totally powerless here, but it does have to decide whether its strategy of supporting the Democratic Party in elections regardless of the policies of the individual politician is particularly effective. President Obama naming people to the NLRB that will uphold the laws is important. But as Cohen says in the linked video, the next Republican president will change any rules Obama makes and name horrible people to the NLRB. And whether in 2012, 2016, or 2020, a Republican president will take office. What matters more than rules and NLRB appointments to Cohen is legislation that puts protections on the books. And on this key issue, unions have been very disappointed in the administration. The votes certainly weren’t there for EFCA, but holding the line at what things were like during the Bush Administration does not seem an unreasonable expectation.

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  • Labor in 20-25 years will be not only bigger and stronger than it is right now, it will have won more concessions for American workers.

    Why do I think this?

    Mitt Romney. His recents ankle-biting over his wealth put a face on the 1%ers, and in the general, count on Obama (or his surrogates) to fling that face up on every single Occupy protest they can advise.

    As people blanch at the terrible wealth inequities in America, and seethe over how much corporate America has gotten away with in terms of screwing the workers in this country (worse, how it’s now impacting the public sector,) alternatives will be sought that can stand toe-to-toe with the behemoths that make up American business.

    There’s really only one possibility: unions. They may not resemble the unions we grew up with– for one thing, I think the concept of a centralized union is a thing of the past– but they will exist and will serve as surrogate government enforcement of the fiduciary duty businesses have to the American public at large.

  • Where does this stop?

    This, the hostage-taking efforts by the Republicans, stops when they are sufficiently punished for it at the ballot box. They decided they were rewarded for it in 2010, so now they’re sticking with the plan, and will do so as long as they meet with electoral success.

    In other words, it stops at the same place that the use of “You want to surrender to terrorists!” stopped.

    When they pay a sufficient price at the ballot box, there will be defections from the hard line and they will eventually operate as a junior partner in governing, like they used to, meaning laying off tactics like blocking authorization bills. The thing to do is to beat them badly enough that they decide they need to change course.

    • TT

      The Republicans do not accept the legal, political, and moral legitimacy of the Democratic Party and its pillars of support, and haven’t since really the mid-’70s in the wake of Nixon being driven from office. Many Republicans, particularly the Southerners whom Nixon brought into the Party en masse, considered his resignation the outrageous (and illegitimate) result of a partisan liberal effort to overturn two elections; the investigations into the endless malfeasance and then criminal conduct (Iran-contra) during Reagan’s presidency throughout the ’80s only confirmed this siege mentality and sense of and victimhood. The drive to impeach Clinton was a direct outgrowth of this mania, the thirst for payback.

      So in one sense I agree with you: only through repeated and decisive failure at the ballot box will some–and only some–quarters of the GOP begin to reassess their parachute-less base jump off of the Cliffs of conservative Insanity. But hatred of organized labor has a pedigree within the GOP far older and deeper than either anti-tax mania or the dogged refusal to grant any kind of legitimacy to the Democratic Party. It has been the sine qua non of Republican politics for well over a century. It forms the whole basis of their reputation as the party of business. My belief is that they will agree to raise the top marginal tax rate to 92% before they abandon their drive to destroy organized labor. Which means it will happen sometime around never.

      • +1 for going back to Watergate.

        It cannot be overstated how directly the modern Republican attitude goes back to their sense of injustice over that episode.

        • David M. Nieporent

          It goes without saying that Joe from Lowell has tremendous insight, from his perch with his head firmly up Obama’s ass, into what Republicans think and why.

      • david mizner

        Well, sure, but maybe meantime can we have much more pro-labor Democratic Party. Probably not.

        • foley

          Sure, as soon as you elect a Democratic President as well as 68 Democratic Senators and 295 Democratic Congressmen.

    • DrDick

      This will only stop when the Democrats learn how to pin the consequences of their actions on them. At present, they are too busy being “reasonable grown ups” to do that well. I think that they should have rejected this bill and then screamed at the top of their voices that the Republicans would rather kill everyone who flies than to see workers get a fair deal.

      • axel

        Perhaps, the Democrats could also promote pro-worker and pro-labor policies when they have the opportunity.

      • And I continue to think that this wildly overestimates the degree to which the average person pays attention to political messaging.

    • Njorl

      I think Democrats will need to be willing to kill the filibuster.

      Democrats lost in 2010 because they controlled everything and didn’t do enough to fix the economy. But they didn’t really control everything. Republicans still managed to be obstructionist, without being labelled as obstructionist. The Republicans reaped the benefit of obstructionism without paying any price because of the filibuster.

  • homunq

    What to do? Pick a very public fight with an anti-labor democrat, and win. It would be great if it were a primary fight. Choose your battle, and throw everything that you have at it, and put the fear of god into all the rest.

    • andrewsomething

      +1 I think that this is the only real option. The conversion above about when Republicans will stop being crazy is really just a tangent.

    • Mark Centz

      +10. One isn’t enough, unless it’s a high profile target. Plenty of better Democrats in NY, say.

    • Rarely Posts

      Yeah, find a Donna Edwards to take out Wynn. That made moderate Democrats feel some fear about selling out the poor & middle class to finance (only some fear, but some is better than none).

  • homunq

    ps. You have to be absolutely unapologetic for being arbitrary. “That other guy who betrayed us in exactly the same way? We’re still feeling friendly towards him. Today. I don’t know why, couldn’t explain it, that’s just the way we roll.”

  • david mizner

    Wow — go, Larry. That’s my union (local 1180).

  • Epicurus

    There is ultimately only one way to solve this problem. Stop. Electing. Republicans. That is all…

    • RI has a 6-1 Dem majority in the legislature and it passed a bill last fall gutting the state pension plan over major objections by labor.

      It’s not that simple.

      • TT

        I don’t study this as closely as I should, but are some state parties better on labor issues than others? Has the RI Democratic Party specifically had it in for labor for quite some time? These same RI Dems also passed a voter ID law–much to the delight of the loathsome Kris Kobach, who cites RI Dems at every opportunity in order to claim that “voter fraud” is not a partisan issue.

        (The national media is also strongly anti-labor, in keeping with its predilection for holding the social views of Dianne Feinstein and the economic views of Paul Ryan. That has to filter down to some extent.)

        • The short of it is that RI is such a 1-party dominated state that anyone with political ambitions in most of the state has to be a Democrat. But that doesn’t mean they really hold values of the mainstream Democratic Party. This is a state where labor needs to spearhead some serious primary efforts to get rid of these people. And I think some of that is going to happen this year, to what success I don’t know.

      • John

        That’s not at all the same thing as gutting the right to organize. Public officials have to negotiate with public employee unions, and it doesn’t seem to me that it’s a good idea for one of the political parties to be so beholden to those unions that they constantly give in on contract issues.

        • Hogan

          Public officials have to negotiate with public employee unions

          Not if they can use legislation to override what happens at the bargaining table.

  • David Kaib

    They aren’t doing it out of spite – they are achieving their objectives without cost. It is entirely rational.

    I disagree that overreach in terms of Republican presidential politics will make a difference, or that paying the price at the ballot box will. Republicans have developed mechanisms to ensure that this does not happen. (Hacker and Pierson detail this in Off Center). Part of what that involves is being willing to punish your supposed allies when they don’t live up to your expectations. When Republicans have been defeated, they have simply double down. Democrats have responded with fear and adopting some combination of their rhetoric and policy. In order for elections to work the text book way, Democrats need to deliver for their constituencies, and attack Republicans for their positions and ideology. They have proven unwilling to do that.

    But there is another issue here. We always ask the question at the wrong point. Listen to the rant. The complaint is not ‘the Dems caved at this moment.’ It’s a series of complaints about how this was handled. Democrats could have spent time attacking the Republicans for being anti-worker, pro-unemployment, and threatening safety. They did not. They could have tried to enact pro-worker policies. They did not. They could have done numerous things through executive action to protect labor rights (beyond simply appointing those willing to enforce the law to the NLRB). They did not. They could have used the same tactic – adding pro-worker policies to must pass bill. They did not. Let’s not ask ‘what should they have done right now?’ Rather it’s ‘what did they do before that put them in this untenable place?’

    Some say that Republicans are willing to burn the house down no matter what. But the only evidence will be that they did so knowing the Dems would cave – i.e. without consequence. Some say that Republicans aren’t afraid of Democratic attacks. But their increasing talk about inequality in response to Occupy and their gripping fear over being attacked for the Ryan plan show this isn’t true. They are only not afraid of Democratic attacks because they know they will be weak and not sustained.

    If indiscriminately supporting Democrats leads to this sort of policy, I think it’s fair to say we need a new strategy. (This of course does not mean the answer is a third party, or rejecting electoral politics, FWIW).

    • david mizner

      Well said, David.

    • bobbyp

      Seconded. You have expressed exactly my dismay at those who claim the dem leadership “did the best it could” and dismiss all criticism as “unrealistic”.

      It is one thing to pretend to listen to a vital constituency and otherwise ignore them (GOP viz some of the cultural warriors, which see). It is another to actively participate in their demise.

      Again, well said. Many thanks.

  • Alex


    Your previous post described the 35 % as a showing to get an election, but did not highlight that this was where a merger between represented and non-represented units occurred. That is why commentors responded by pointing out that unions do not file a petition for an election unless they have obtained a much higher percentage than even 50%.

    This move from 35% represented in a merger does represent a loss for unions — the loss of an automatic election. But if the union was popular in the merged company obtaining a showing of interest should not be difficult. And the change brings the RLA into conformity with the NLRA, where a majority of employees in a merger must be represented in order to continue the presumption of represention in a merged unit.

    • bobbyp

      And the change brings the RLA into conformity with the NLRA, where a majority of employees in a merger must be represented in order to continue the presumption of represention in a merged unit.

      This is unecessary, but if you desire ‘conformity’ you might reacquaint yourself with the stated goal of the NLRA, i.e., the promotion, AS NATIONAL POLICY, of the practice of collective bargaining in the workplace. The presumption of a union shop under the circumstances of such a merger is very much “in conformance” with that goal.

      It would seem that many present day liberals have utterly forgotten this.

      • Anonymous

        You might want to acquaint yourself with the law before offering opinions on it and avoid a condescending tone when you have no fucking clue what you are talking about.

        Under the NLRA, the presumption of majority support and continuance of represented status in a merger occurs only when at least 50% of the employees were represented prior to the merger. NLRB v. Burns Int’l Security Svcs., Inc., 406 U.S. 272 (1972)

        The presumption of a union shop under the circumstances of such a merger is very much “in conformance” with that goal.

        Not when the majority of employees in the merged shop come were unrepresented prior to merger.

        It would seem that many present day liberals have utterly forgotten this.

        I have probably forgotten more labor law than you ever knew, but your comment is vapid braggadacio.

        • Haha, that was amusing.

          • Alex

            Incompetent pedants annoy me.

  • Njorl

    This is at the core of the paradox Democrats face. They are by and large grownups. A functioning FAA is a very important thing. So it makes sense to compromise to keep the government functioning. But Democrats do this on every issue. Republicans know this will happen. So they take extreme positions, win major concessions, consolidate their gains, and do the same thing the next day.

    Where does this stop?

    It can’t stop at the FAA.

    The place to take a stand is the budget. Democrats need to force a showdown which would shut down the government, not the FAA. make the Repubicans follow through on their tantrum when it screws everyone.

    Shutting down the FAA to help a few thousand workers makes the Democrats look bad. Shutting down the government to help over 100 million beneficiaries of government programs makes the Democrats look good. The next time the Republicans threaten to shut down the government, the Democrats should not just shoot for a reasonable compromise. They should try to win something significant.

  • thebewilderness

    When it gets to the point where there is a certification election mandated every year that requires a super majority and all non votes are considered no votes perhaps the Dems will wake up to having shot themselves in the foot. There have been times over the years when I wondered why the eff I should be busting my butt to GOTV for these painfully stupid doods. This is one of them.

  • Thanks for the follow up! This makes more sense as a loss.

    I think the question of overall strategy is a good one, but this new info still doesn’t address the issue that the Senate Demo did get some useful concessions.

    As for where labor is going…tricky. It seems like there’s some opportunity to push back on Republican overreach but this requires not just a legislative/political strategy but an organizing strategy. Fatuous, I know, but true.

    It’s hard to overestimate how much politicians really don’t like unions. Look at the UK, where Ed Millisuck is going out of his way, as head of the freaking Labour party, to piss off the unions. There hasn’t been a strike he hasn’t tutted; a march he hasn’t bemoaned.

  • Honorable Bob

    This is at the core of the paradox Democrats face. They are by and large grownups.

    If this is true, perhaps you can tell us all why the Democrats simply REFUSE to pass a budget for the last three years.

    The House, controlled by the Republicans, have at least offered up a budget. Not only did the Senate Democrats quash those, but failed to offer up an alternative budget.

    They have passed NOTHING in the last almost THREE YEARS.

    I’d really like to see how anyone can defend that and still call them the “Adults in the room”.

    • Malaclypse

      They have passed NOTHING in the last almost THREE YEARS.

      You do realize that this simply false, right? And that it is not even sort of plausible, right? Can you actually be so stupid as to find this believable? At long last, are you really that fucking dumb?

      • Alex

        To answer your questions on behalf of HB: No, no, yes and yes.

      • chris

        Well, considering he apparently thinks “the Democrats don’t have enough votes to get their budget past a party-line filibuster” equivalent to “the Democrats simply REFUSE to pass a budget”, yeah, I think he can be as stupid as he needs to be, if not more so.

        • thebewilderness

          Absolutely no limit to the stupid going down there, none.

          • Marek

            It’s stupid, all the way down.

  • I’m not sure this is an accurate assessment of the problem though, Erik, and in retrospect I regret the use of “grown ups” because I don’t think it was the right frame. The problem is less that Democrats are mature, or that Republicans take extreme positions, but more that Republicans have a genuinely crazy worldview and, as such, are by and large okay with doing crazy things like shutting down the FAA to achieve their goals. In fact, to a large segment of their constituency shutting down the FAA would be gravy on top of rolling back union rights.

    What’s the answer to that? I’m not sure that there is one when they actually have real power. And, unfortunately, our governing system creates numerous situations ripe for hostage taking, where inaction creates catastrophe. Of course, if you’re willing to create a catastrophe, that just means it’s an opportunity for you, and this is why the GOP thrives on this, because they’re ultimately a mix of psychotics and sociopaths who aren’t only willing to shoot the hostage, but many of whom think that’s in everyone’s best interests.

    Sticking with the asymmetrical playing field theme, it’s worth pointing out that there isn’t an even disbursement of this phenomenon because, by and large, the right doesn’t really care about as many things as the left does. The corporate wing of the party is nothing but parasites, concerned with nothing but sucking every bit of value they can out of society. And then the teabaggers, evangelicals, etc. have a fundamental need to play the victim which, in a way, makes losing almost as emotionally satisfying as winning, as it feeds that mindset that the world has victimized them. TO that end, there just aren’t many issues on which the Democrats can engage in credible hostage taking. In fact, about the only thing I can think of maybe working is threatening upper bracket tax cuts. Past that, I’m not sure there’s anything Republicans would compromise in order to achieve.

    Is there an answer for this problem? In the long run, probably not, at least when Republicans can win elections. And that, really, is the rub here: Republicans won the last election, and that means liberals are going to have to expect some rather shitty outcomes. The best you can likely hope for is making progress where you can exploit the system and limiting the shittiness as much as possible everywhere else.

    • So to ask you to build on this a little bit, if this scenario doesn’t change much, and I’m less optimistic than a lot of people here that it will, where does this leave, say, organized labor in 20 years? Even with Democratic control of the Senate and the presidency, they still lose today. So is there anything left of the century of progressive economic legislation in 20 years if this basic calculus stays the same?

      • Well it certainly won’t get any better if Republicans continue to win elections, but that should go without saying, I would think.

        Beyond that, it seems to me that the most obvious thing for unions and progressive interests at large to do is to rally together around the mantle of reforming the rules of the Senate so that it’s at least possible to pass pro-union legislation when Democrats control the government, instead of allowing 40 Republicans plus one anti-labor Democrat to stifle labor’s goals.

        • jeer9

          Ding ding ding ding! Except that the Senate Dems have absolutely no interest in such a reform – and unions/progressives have very few tools with which coax them in the right, er left, direction. Rebuilding the patient’s spine would of course help but he resists any talk of intrusive surgery and insists that, though his movements have become increasingly limited, he has never felt better in his life.

          • Well on the plus side, opinions on rules reform seems to mostly break down on a young Senator/old Senator basis, so it could well change naturally over a little bit of time with a real push from Democratic interest groups in that direction. It’s also the sort of thing Democrats could trick Republicans into doing for them.

  • LosGatosCA

    Let’s think about the Negotiating 101 and then take a real life example.

    Negotiating 101 – if one party is willing to walk away from a negotiation and another party is not, the party willing to walk away holds the stronger hand and is likely to get more of what they want. Or in the stock market there are market makers (who set their price) and market takers (get whatever is the clearing price today, as set by the makers).

    Being the ‘adult’ does not mean tolerating endless tantrums from children (ask any parent) or not being willing to make the hard decisions with short term pain for long term gain. That’s just capitulation.

    Examples: Reagan fired the air traffic controllers. Democrats on the other hand won’t even game the use of reconciliation the way Bush/Cheney did. Collateral damage distracts Democrats endlessly but it usually only bothers Republicans in hindsight – if it does at all.

    In the defense of the Democrats, their base wants compromise while the Republican base wants blood. Polling consistently shows this to be the case. So the parties reflect the expectations of their constituencies. And the results are directly attributable to lack of will in the rank and file across the Democratic base.

    You want better Democrats elected you need more committed, to the same ideal, Democratic voters.

    • chris

      Commitment to ignoring “collateral damage” to the American people and the institutions of government is not the kind of commitment I want to see from Democratic voters *or* politicians. That’s not just struggling with monsters until you become a monster, it’s destroying the country in order to save it.

      • It’s also another example of how so-called leftists have pretty much the exact same views about the nature of domestic politics that neo-conservatives have about the nature of foreign policy, a truly bizarre phenomenon.

        • David Kaib

          Yes, because blowing up a country is the same as using reconciliation.

          • I meant the belief that the fundamental driving force of positive outcomes is having sufficient willpower.

            • David Kaib

              I was confused because I didn’t read LosGatosCA to be suggesting such a thing – only that lack of sufficient willpower can ensure a lack of positive outcomes.

    • And again, this analysis seems fundamentally wrong because it rejects the implications of Republicans being evil sociopaths. The invocation of collateral damage, in particular, is wrong-headed because causing pain and suffering is a feature of modern conservative ideas, not a bug.

    • David Kaib

      In the defense of the Democrats, their base wants compromise while the Republican base wants blood. Polling consistently shows this to be the case.

      I think you have the causation backwards. Democratic elites endlessly extol the benefits of bipartisanship and compromise, Republican elites endlessly extol the benefits of fighting. In polls, their supporters echo these sentiments. In general, the assumption that public polls equals public demands which causes elite action is not a useful one. That said, you’re remedy is spot on – Democratic voters (and activists) demand something different, and will likely get it.

  • Tom

    Why do you mention Senator Brown as an example in your article. He voted against this Bill. He’s the type of Rep. that CWA should be spending money on.
    The RLA has been gaming the system against workers
    forever. Cooling off periods, the ability for the company to add irrelevant workers to labor groups like United Airline added several thousand secretaries to the aircraft mechanic’s group. Telling the secretaries that a mechanics’ union would do nothing for them and assuring that they would vote as management desired. When Northwest mechanics went on strike, not only did the other unions not support them but it turned out the the airline had been training scabs for a year to replace the mechanics. The RLA really made sure the the company entered into that negotiation in good faith.

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