The Ugly Face of Progressive Corporatism

Just two days ago, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) stood with about 240 union members inside the shuttered factory of Republic Doors and Windows. The company had closed the factory before providing its 240 workers their due severance pay and accrued vacation time. Blagojevich was determined to bring the full power of the governor’s office to bear to make sure the union members got paid. Blagojevich threatened to stop the state of Illinois from doing all business with Republic’s creditor, Bank of America, if it did not help the laid-off workers at Republic. Yesterday, after Blagojevich was arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and solicitation to commit bribery, the nation discovered that Blagojevich’s threats not only fit his well-established pattern of behavior, but also exposed the inherently corrupting influence of organized labor.

Blagojevich’s links to organized labor are long-standing and deep. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, when Blagojevich last raised money as a congressman, three out of his top five donors were organized labor groups, and combining unions from all sectors, no industry gave more to Blagojevich than labor did. The Chicago Tribune reports that as governor, organized labor was “his strongest political supporter.”

During his first year in office, Blagojevich helped pass ethics legislation adding new inspectors to investigate corruption, restricting gifts from lobbyists and limiting taxpayer-funded public service announcements that feature politicians. But Blagojevich’s arrest yesterday exposed all these efforts as a fraud. According to reports about the complaint filed against him:

[Blagojevich] discussed the possibility of trying to get [President-elect Barack] Obama to get his wife appointed to a corporate board that paid a substantial salary or working out a deal where Blagojevich would obtain a high-paid position with a political action group affiliated with the Service Employees International Union. Prosecutors also allege Blagojevich threatened to withhold $100 million in state assistance for the financing or sale of Wrigley Field if the team’s owner, the Tribune Co., didn’t fire members of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board who had been critical of Blagojevich.

Unfortunately, this shakedown mentality is all too common to the Service Employees International Union’s way of doing business. A Democratic source confirms that SEIU President Andy Stern is the “SEIU official” referred to in the federal complaint against Blagojevich. Since taking his union out of the AFL-CIO and forming the Change to Win federation in 2005, Stern has sought to assert his union’s influence over private equity firms, centralize his authority within the union by forcing various locals to merge, and negotiate large deals with employers without member participation.

All of this union-related corruption comes at a crucial point in U.S. public policy. Organized labor has a tall wish list for Obama’s administration, including the abolition of secret ballot voting in union organizing elections and ensuring that as much of the $1 trillion Obama plans to spend to stimulate the economy goes to Davis-Bacon compliant jobs. Our economy simply cannot afford organized labor’s priorities to be placed above strong economic growth.

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