InstaPundit, OverLawyered, and Coyote point to the Obama transition site, which says:
The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation's challenges. President-Elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps. Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year. Obama will encourage retiring Americans to serve by improving programs available for individuals over age 55, while at the same time promoting youth programs such as Youth Build and Head Start.
This sounds like mandatory community service ("require") for millions of 12-to-20-something-year-olds, but whether it's mandatory or voluntary, I'm curious: How would unions react to this? I take it this means somewhat fewer jobs and less overtime for their members, especially since many government organizations of the sort in which these community servants will serve are unionized workplaces.
If, for instance, college students help out in schools, I take it there'd be fewer jobs for teacher's aides. Moreover, the loss of such possible union jobs will be roughly proportional to the public value that the community servants will provide: If the college students require more supervision than they provide value, that might mean more union jobs, but it will also mean that they won't do much good to the institution they're supposedly serving.
Is this a political difficulty that has already been resolved with past community service proposals? Is there some obvious way of finessing it, for instance by making sure that the community servants will only go to institutions that unions are for some reason not interested in organizing? (For instance, say what you will about mandatory military service, it's unlikely to run into this sort of particular obstacle, at least so long as the military sticks with military service and doesn't take over traditionally unionized civilian programs.)
I should stress that this need not be a normative argument against the propriety of mandatory community service (though I'm certainly open to such normative arguments), but only a question about the likely politics of the matter. I should also stress that these questions really are just questions — I'm not remotely expert on the subject, and it might well be that there are very simple and satisfactory answers to them that I just haven't thought of.
UPDATE: After I posted this, the site was changed to read, in relevant part, "Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free." This might or might not mean the service isn't mandatory -- but, as I said, the question about likely union reaction seems to me to be relevant even when the service isn't mandatory.