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April 10, 2013 / Paul Levy

Which is David? Which is Goliath?

Sunday, November 9, 2008, 4:40pm

I raised the question last week of whether the SEIU, in light of numerous critical issues facing the new President and the discomfort many people have in eliminating secret ballot elections in union campaigns, would do Mr. Obama the favor of compromising on this aspect of labor reform legislation. Well, the answer – -“No” — is very clear in today’s New York Times, in a story written by Steven Greenhouse, entitled “After push for Obama, unions seek new rules.”

As this issue proceeds through Congress, the SEIU will portray itself as David in Goliath-like struggles to organize hospitals and businesses of all kinds. But, let’s look at some clues that indicate otherwise. The Times story notes that the unions spent $450 million in the Presidential race to support Mr. Obama. (Please understand that this is not included in the $600+ million spent by the Obama campaign itself.) This level of spending is indicative of tremendous resources, replenished every month by union dues.

Here in Boston, well before SEIU has even started to organize workers in any particular hospital, it has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertisements of all kinds. This is just the first hint of the marketing ability provided by the reported $20 million it has budgeted to organize hospitals.

That no single hospital or other firm can match this kind of spending should be clear to any observer. Neither can anyone match the many dozens of people SEIU has already hired and the hundreds of workers who will be brought in from other jurisdictions to help in an organizing campaign. So, as you read stories and ads over the coming months, think about who is really Goliath here, and who is really David.

Anyway, back to the legislation. It is clear that the strategy will not be to have the union legislation stand alone. Rather, it will be attached to another bill that has broad support. It will fly through the House of Representatives. Then, a group of Senators will face immense pressure as they attempt a filibuster. They will be supported by many, many business groups, non-profit organizations, and others who find the concept of ending elections to be anathema. But they will be portrayed as holding up progress on the other aspects of the bill. This should be dramatic politics indeed.

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