The American Bar Association is meeting this week in Puerto Rico while the AFL-CIO holds its mid-winter meetings in Orlando.  EFCA and the state of union organizing have drawn the attention of both groups.

Fred Feinstein, former General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, spoke at the Bar Association meeting.  He thinks EFCA in a compromised form is still a possibility.  Card check is gone but mandatory arbitration and increased penalties might remain, along with expedited elections.

Mr. Feinstein attributed the delay for passage of EFCA to more pressing items, such as health care, having to take priority.  Since the health care legislation appears to be coming to a climax, it seems that the “health care” rationale for delaying an EFCA vote will no longer justify inaction. EFCA, at least in some form, will have to be brought up for a vote or buried.

The AFL-CIO leadership has been aggressive in their comments about the political environment.  Gerald McEntee, the chair of the Executive Council’s Political Education Committee, told reporters that it is “time to draw a line in the sand” regarding political candidates who generally do not support labor.

As Mr. McEntee said, “If you are not with us, then you are against us.”

The first candidate to feel Labor’s anger is Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.  She has been one of the Democratic Senators who has expressed concerns over EFCA.  She also joined the Republican filibuster against Craig Becker as a potential appointee to the National Labor Relations Board.

Another Democrat has emerged to challenge Senator Lincoln in an upcoming Arkansas primary, which is a prelude to the Senator’s reelection bid in November.  A variety of unions have already pledged $3 million to Senator Lincoln’s opponent.

The AFL-CIO is planning on surpassing the $53 million they spent in 2008 this coming November.  They are focusing on six states, California, New York, Illinois, Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, for major political activity, especially around Senate candidates like Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

We cannot help but wonder where all of this money comes from.  Organized labor has lost another 840,000 members since last year.  Yet the money flows, somehow, from the pockets of union members to their union officials for candidates the AFL-CIO support.

Terry Madonna of Pennsylvania’s Franklin & Marshall College conducted a poll in January.  Mr. Madonna said, “We have seen a decline in support among union members for both Obama and the Democrats…part of it is that unemployment brings low job performance ratings, no matter what the party.  And less enthusiasm means that union members are less likely to vote.”

This has to be of considerable concern to politicians who count on labor not only for financial support but also for the active involvement of union members in their campaigns.  Perhaps this is why Vice President Joe Biden appeared earlier this week at the AFL-CIO meeting in Orlando.  He, too, kept EFCA in play, saying that the Administration was still committed to its passage, at least in some form.  Secretary Solis gave the audience reason to expect a recess appointment for Mr. Becker, perhaps as soon as the end of March.

But privately, labor officials have to question whether any legislative change to the National Labor Relations Act is still possible.  After all, if the Senate will not approve Craig Becker as a member of the National Labor Relations Board, the probability that EFCA proponents can muster sufficient support to amend the National Labor Relations Act must be considered remote.

Robert Haynes, the president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, said, “We are demoralized…we are not happy about anything.”

We admire Mr. Haynes for his candor.

Another reason for labor’s demoralized status should be that the public’s opinion of unions is declining.  The Pew Research Center for the People, in a poll released on February 23, said that only 41% of those responding had a favorable view of unions, down from 58% in 2007.  A 17% plummet in approval ratings over a two-year period should trouble any thoughtful individual.  

But the Administration presses on.  Last Friday, the New York Times reported that different departments within the Administration are preparing regulations for federal government contractors that could boost the fortunes of unions.  While the specifics have not been released, some reports suggest that high-paying contractors (such as those with union contracts) will be given an edge, while contractors with labor and environmental violations will be disfavored.  Unions have been urging the Administration to utilize its procurement power to enhance labor’s position.  We will monitor those developments carefully and be closely involved in efforts to check any unwarranted uses of government power in this regard.

And what is Andy Stern up to these days, you may ask?  The President has named him as a member of the Deficit Reduction Panel.  Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) believes the appointment is “irresponsible.”  Representative Issa’s House and Oversight and Government Reform Committee has just issued an extensive report detailing the relationship between the SEIU and ACORN.  In what direction does Mr. Stern hope to take the Deficit Commission?  Perhaps he discussed this with Administration officials during one of his 28 visits to the White House since the current Administration took office.