With reports coming out that the House version of SB 5 does nothing to fix the parts of the bill that opponents dislike, and in fact adds some clearly political restrictions on how unions can collect money that could potentially make it even less popular among Senate members, one might wonder what they’re thinking. Modern, in his piece linked to above, offers the opinion that eliminating voluntary payroll deductions for union PACs is a “nuclear” issue, and that the referendum vote will be easier for SB 5 opponents with this version than with the last version.

I disagree.

In October of 2010, The National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation commissioned infamous Republican pollster/messaging expert Frank Luntz to poll union members on a variety of issues regarding the November election, government policies, unions, and union activities. Many of the results won’t surprise you: On every single policy issued polled, from fair labor laws to the economy to immigration, union members trusted and favored Democrats over Republicans. When asked if being in a union had helped or hurt their careers, “helped” beat “hurt” 3 to 1. But…

When asked if it was reasonable that “union leaders across America can spend your union dues on politics without getting your approval?” the sample overwhelmingly (66% to 14%) said “unreasonable” compared to “reasonable.”

There are two parts to that question, and Luntz is trying to assess the effects of doubling up. You see, he finds that overall, union members have a negative view of union leaders (perhaps not their own leaders, but “union leaders” in general), and he tests lots of different ways of tapping into that attitude. He also finds that the majority of union members disapprove of union dues being used to impact elections. Once again, the degree of disapproval depends on the way that the question is worded, but it is especially strong when the lead-in mentions a figure that includes both PAC spending and general treasury spending, but the actual question asks about approval of spending dues on elections.

And finally, in a result I actually find pretty stunning, the report shows that 80% of union workers agreed with the following statement, while 14% disagreed:

“Workers should have the right to decide whether to join a union. They should never be forced or coerced to join or pay dues to a union as a condition of employment.”

So, to recap: Both union members and the public at large support the right to collectively bargain for salaries. Union members agree that being in the union has been good for their careers and salaries. Union members believe that Democrats are much better than the Republicans on the issues, including labor issues. This is part of why SB 5 has been such a disaster for the GOP so far. The other part has been that they have utterly failed in convincing the public that this bill is about the budget and not really about breaking labor. So how do they win a referendum? By pretending the bill has nothing to do with collective bargaining or limiting the power of unions, AND abandoning the budget argument for one that they think will be a political winner:

A vote to repeal SB 5 is a vote to give labor bosses more money to try to buy elections, and forcing people not even in the union to fork over money to the union leaders. In fact, Big Labor has already spent X millions of dollars trying to buy this election. Don’t let the fat-cat union officials continue to waste the money of hard-working union members on politics when they should be working with governments to create more jobs.

It doesn’t really matter if you believe these poll results, because they do. And they are going to pretend that the bill was always about these things that they added at the last minute so that they could campaign on them, and pretend that it’s not about destroying the wages and benefits of the middle class. They’re going to tell people that union bosses treat union members unfairly, and try to distract them from the fact that letting local officials decide if the contract they offered is more reasonable than the one employees asked for is, in the words of Republican Bill Seitz, “the most incomprehensible and unfair thing I have ever heard of.”

The attack is predictable, will be well-funded, and Luntz has a successful track record of getting people to oppose things they previously supported by framing them in a light more favorable to the GOP. Will they convince voters that a vote for SB 5 is actually (do not finish reading this sentence if you have a weak stomach)…
a vote for “fairness?”

Well, they might have a bigger problem than they anticipate. The GOP has spent lots of time and lots of effort chipping away at Democratic support among rank-and-file union members. 20-25% of union members said in October that there was no real difference between the major parties on each of the issues polled, including labor issues, and another 15-25% “leaned” Republican. These people are extremely likely to be among those who said that their unions really shouldn’t be spending money on getting Dems elected. As of this month, I think you’d be hard-pressed in Ohio to find a union member who thinks there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to fair labor laws. We’ve heard many, many union members say that they voted for Republicans, and would never have believed that they would do the things they’ve done to hurt their professions. And there’s one group of people in the poll who are less popular than union officials, and that’s legislators.

SB 5 has given unions the best argument for spending money on elections that they’ve ever had. If they could have gotten one more Dem senator elected, SB 5 wouldn’t have passed. And with increased PAC donations, they can make sure it never takes effect. People who never believed that labor had a legitimate interest in electoral politics (may) now see how wrong they’ve been. We may be seeing the principle of “that which does not kill us makes us stronger” in action.

As long as we make sure we don’t let it kill us.