Monday, February 22, 2021


President Biden’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline has destroyed tens of thousands of jobs, and angered some of his strongest supporters. One of them, AFL-CIO boss Richard Trumka, was so upset he let the world know in an interview with Axios.

Given the fact that Presidential candidate Joe Biden had clearly promised to cancel the pipeline if he won the election, it raises the obvious question – was Mr. Trumka the Judas goat of the labor movement, deliberately leading his followers to slaughter? 

That Mr. Trumka is unhappy is not in doubt. “I wish he hadn’t done that on the first day,” he told Axios. “I wish he had paired that more carefully with the thing that he did second, by saying here’s where we’re creating jobs.” 

Then presidential candidate Mr. Biden promised to cancel the pipeline. Last year, Mr. Biden doubled down on the promise: “I’ve been against Keystone from the beginning. It is tar sands that we don’t need – that in fact is very, very high pollutant,” he said. “We’re gonna transition gradually to get to a clean economy.” 

There wasn’t any doubt, either, that labor leaders saw the pipeline as a major jobs producer. More than nine years ago – on January 18, 2012, to be specific – Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) General President Terry O’Sullivan responded to the Obama-Biden Administration’s decision to shut down the pipeline by calling the decision “politics at its worst,” and going on to say, “The score is Job-Killers, two; American workers, zero.” 

The half-million or so members of LIUNA make up more than four percent of the AFL-CIO’s roughly 12 million members. For an umbrella labor organization that peaked during the Carter Administration and which has been dwindling in size (and influence) for the last 40 years, that’s not an insignificant number, and Mr. Trumka knows LIUNA is not a union to be trifled with. 

Yet, President Biden didn’t even wait a month before he hurt them. And then he got Mr. Trumka to support him: “Joe Biden has surrounded himself with people that are worker-friendly, so that in the multitude of decisions that are made every day without the president being involved, they’re going to think about the impact it has on workers … That’s a significant difference and a beneficial one for workers in this country,” said Trumka. “And it’s one of our reasons for optimism and hope.” 

“Optimism and hope?” From a politician who just shafted your union members? Really? 

Here’s what Mr. Trumka doesn’t want you to know: He’s playing a losing hand. Four decades ago, one in five American workers was represented by a labor union; today, that number is one in ten. Private sector unions continue to shrink, while the only growth in the union sector comes from public sector employees – government bureaucrats.  

The last two Democrat presidents turned their backs on Big Labor: Bill Clinton signed NAFTA into law (which Big Labor and, interestingly, many Trump supporters continue to believe cost America jobs), and Barack Obama failed to push labor’s top priority, card check, in his first term, and negotiated the TransPacific Partnership agreement in his second. 

Even worse, Mr. Trumka doesn’t even control the most significant asset any political leader can hold in his arsenal – the votes of his organization’s members. According to the exit polls from the November election, Biden only beat Trump among union households by 56-40 percent. That’s not even as good as Obama did. And why should union members vote for Democrat candidates, anyway? It’s clear Democrat leaders have made their choice – they’re going with the environmentalists, even at the cost of union jobs. 

Yet Mr. Trumka continues to mouth a pro-Biden line, cheerfully declaring his belief that President Biden will be “the best union president we ever had.” On the first test of the Biden Administration – the Keystone XL pipeline, a big test – Mr. Trumka has lost, and everybody knows it.  

The good news is, union members have another option. Our third president, Thomas Jefferson, famously wrote that “to compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” Two centuries later, that thought became the basis for the Supreme Court decision in Communications Workers of America v. Beck, which established the principle that union members are not obligated to have their dues used in support of ideas and candidates they oppose. They can request a refund of that portion of their dues that are used for non-collective bargaining (read: political) purposes – and they have been doing so ever since.  

The Biden Administration has just given them a taste of what’s to come. It will be interesting to see over the coming months how many union members avail themselves of their “Beck rights” and demand refunds of large portions of their dues. 

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