The customer is always right.
As Ben Smith reported at Politico last week, several large labor unions are questioning investment fund managers about their stance on the Employee Free Choice Act:
"Has your company made any public statements in support or opposition to EFCA?" asks one of nine pointed questions in a polite, detailed four-page questionnaire.
"If 'Yes,' please explain."
The detailed questionnaire has three parts. The first asks about fund managers' public positions, lobbying and political contributions. The second asks managers to "disclose any relationships during the past five years between your company and any organization(s) opposing the passage" of EFCA. The form lists 14 organizations, from anti-EFCA organizations like the Workforce Fairness Institute to trade groups that oppose it, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Roundtable.
Here's a pdf file of the questionnaire. More on the whining after the jump.
Investment firms like collecting fees for managing union pension funds, and they like lobbying for corporate America's agenda, but they sure are touchy when asked about it:
"The fact that union bosses would try and shake down financial institutions by asking that they disclose information" about the bill "is beyond outrageous," said an aide to one trade organization, who - like other industry officials rattled by the letters - refused to speak on the record. He also called it "troubling that Big Labor would use their pension plans as the bargaining chip."
Look, the EFCA is one of organized labor's top legislative priorities (click here for a long list of arguments for the bill). The current system allows companies to routinely punish and intimidate workers who are trying to form a union.
It takes real chutzpah to call a customer's request for disclosure "outrageous" when your company is lobbying against the interests of that very customer.
When you don't want to defend your own behavior, attack a straw man:
"We're happy to openly debate the merits of any issue," said a top lobbyist for the Roundtable, Scott Talbott. "What's not up for debate is our Constitutional right to petition our government.
No one's challenging your right to petition the government, Mr. Talbott. If your political activism costs you business, that's your problem. Why do you think so many people who work in sales leave political bumper stickers off their cars?
"It's entirely appropriate for the labor movement to say, basically, 'Look, if you are working to kill our No. 1 legislative priority, we're not going to help you make a buck by profiting from our investments, investments that come from the hard-earned money of union members,'" said Jonathan Tasini, the executive director of the pro-union Labor Research Association.
Getting back to the EFCA, Senator Tom Harkin has been working on a compromise bill that could gain the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster. Several Democratic senators who voted for the EFCA two years ago, safe in the knowledge President Bush would veto it, have withdrawn their support under heavy lobbying from corporate interests. Harkin is warning them that if they don't get behind a compromise, he'll put the original bill up for a floor vote. (These gutless wonders would prefer not to go on record voting against labor.) I'm glad Harkin is willing to force them to take a stand in broad daylight. Maybe we'll get 60 votes for a decent compromise after all.