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Joe Biden vowed to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen” and is quickly making good on that promise. Is it working for him politically?
No, it is not. Working-class Americans are more concerned about high inflation, open borders, rising crime and vaccine mandates than they are about the declining fortunes of Big Labor.
In a recent CNN poll, only 15 percent of respondents indicated strong approval of the job Biden is doing. The economy was cited as the nation’s number one issue, followed by the coronavirus and immigration. Labor unions did not make the cut. Tellingly, 58 percent said Biden was not paying attention to the country’s biggest concerns.
Joe doesn’t seem to care. He and his party are desperate to win back blue-collar voters who defected to Donald Trump in 2016 and again in 2020. In the pivotal states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, exit polls showed a majority of union households backed the Republican candidate, even as those traditional Democratic allies turned out for Biden in Wisconsin and Michigan, helping him to win the election.
They are also desperate to hold onto the union honey pot that doled out hundreds of millions of dollars to Democrats in 2020.
Biden has decided the way to woo middle class voters, and keep the money flowing, is to push a Big Labor agenda that includes organizing efforts, handing out favors to unions and trying to stifle right-to-work laws.
There are signs that his timing is good. Gallup released a poll in late August showing that approval of labor unions had risen to 68 percent nation-wide, the highest since 1965. Democrat enthusiasm for Big Labor was 90 percent, one of the highest readings on record.
In addition, young people between the ages of 18 and 34 (77 percent) and those with annual household incomes under $40,000 (72 percent) gave unions a thumbs-up.
Unhappily for Biden, a recent Economist/YouGov poll shows only 40 percent of younger voters have a “very” or “somewhat” favorable view of the president, the lowest of any age group. Similarly, only 45 percent of people earning less than $50,000 are positive on the president.
That suggests the Big Labor campaign isn’t swaying voters.
Just recently, Biden’s National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) decided on flimsy grounds that the 71 percent of workers in an Amazon plant in Alabama who voted against joining a union had got it all wrong, and ordered them to do it over.
The Alabama defeat was a serious embarrassment for Biden. Before the April vote, union officials had told the White House that the organizing push against Amazon was a critical win, and begged the president to step in. Consequently, Biden posted a video on Twitter talking up union membership and encouraging Alabama workers (but without mentioning Amazon) to organize.
Biden concluded his pitch by saying, “It’s your right…so make your voice heard.”
The warehouse workers made their voices heard, but Biden is not listening.
Amazon’s employees correctly determined that the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union was unlikely to improve their wages and benefits, but that they would in any event collect dues which, the workers decided, would mean a loss of income.
In fact, the employees at the Bessemer facility, largely female and Black, are paid twice Alabama’s minimum wage; they know a good thing when they see it.
The do-over move by the NLRB is the most public evidence to date of a radical shift in the makeup of that board. In recent months, Biden has appointed two labor lawyers to its ranks, giving Democrats a distinctly pro-union majority.
Behind the scenes, the board has moved quickly to undo policies adopted under President Trump that weakened union power, like those that define independent contractors and stipulate work rules. There will be more to come.
The NLRB is only one part of Biden’s plan. His signature Build Back Better (BBB) plan is chock full of handouts to Democrat-friendly unions, including a provision that would make $250 of union dues deductible from income taxes, putting U.S. taxpayers on the hook to fund organized labor. A deduction which may, actually, be illegal as the dues go to organizations that lobby for favorable legislation.
One of the more controversial measures in BBB is the provision of tax credits for electric vehicles (EV), which can amount to as much as $12,500, but $4,500 of which is available only to buyers of cars made at union plants such as those operated by General Motors (GM) and Ford. This is an affront to non-unionized Tesla, the most innovative and successful EV maker to date.
It is also an affront to common sense. As CNBC’s Andrew Sorkin pointed out recently in an interview with Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, Tesla pays its factory workers more per hour than GM does. Barra disputed his calculations but also responded that her company’s employees receive health benefits in addition to their hourly pay.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk chimed in, noting that his plant workers also receive health benefits, as well as stock in Tesla.
There are numerous reasons that Democrats will struggle to build back the union movement, including America’s ongoing shift to a service economy and the rapid growth of gig businesses. That won’t keep them from trying.
Rather than trying to Build Back Better Big Labor, Joe Biden would be better off addressing Americans’ main concerns, which include inflation and labor shortages. He might even try closing up the southern border, which saw 1.66 million people enter illegally over the past year; only 6 percent of white men and women strongly approve of Biden’s immigration policy. The numbers aren’t much better among minorities.
Perhaps the most damning poll is this: Fewer than 15 percent of white men and women lacking college degrees think Biden cares about them “a lot,” despite his insistence on supporting unions. Guess what? They are correct.
Liz Peek is a former partner of major bracket Wall Street firm Wertheim & Company. Follow her on Twitter @lizpeek.