By Richard Larsen
Published – Idaho State Journal, 03/22/2009
It’s impossible to be a student of history and not value the contributions that labor unions have made. Horrendous working conditions, miniscule compensation, child labor, seven-day work weeks, and 18 hour work days were redressed largely with the assistance of organized labor.
While unions have done much to improve the quality of life historically, they may have outlived their usefulness. Unions’ primary role currently seems to be political, rather than serving the collective interests of those they claim to represent. I wish I had a dollar for every union member I have talked with over the years who has appreciated union benefits but detested the political posturing, pressure, and tactics of their union, much of which have had little to do with labor related issues.
In this age of globalized interdependent economies, high salaries and benefits negotiated in behalf of organized workers have made many companies simply uncompetitive. United Auto Workers agreements with Detroit’s Big Three (now, Little Three) automobile manufacturers adds 50% more in labor costs than the domestic non-unionized foreign manufacturers. While UAW controlled shops are on the verge of bankruptcy and requesting massive cash infusions from Washington to even allow them to survive, foreign manufacturers in the U.S. are weathering the current economic storm with greater facility.
Now the Congress, in its infinite wisdom, wants to make it easier for unions to make American corporations even less competitive by introducing the not-surprisingly misnamed “Employee Free Choice Act,” frequently referred to as “card check.” This legislation will abolish the employee’s right to a secret ballot on union membership. Yes, you read correctly. That bastion of democracy, the secret ballot, is vanquished with this bill. It further allows greater peer-pressure from pro-union supporters and allows union organizers to extend the recruitment period ad infinitum rather than a straight up or down secret ballot vote.
Noted economist Dr. Anne Layne-Farrar, in a study titled, “An Empirical Assessment of the Employee Free Choice Act: The Economic Implications,” concluded that one job will be eliminated for every three workers who are pressured into joining a union. Well, since Obama wants to be compared to FDR, a doubling of our unemployment ranks to 17% would grant him another point of comparison.
There seems to be a dominant mentality among some of us that government is a panacea, or the “cure-all” for all society’s ailments. For some reason, it’s assumed that the government, which is increasingly insulated from complaints and customer (or taxpayer) expectations, will somehow be more responsive to our needs than the private sector. If government is the elixir to all that ails America, why do government employees have a union? If government is as beneficent as some seem to think, there should be no need for government employees to be so organized.
You’ll recall the problems disclosed at Walter Reed Medical facility a few years back. The problems were not the medical care by the doctors, surgeons, and the nursing staff that suffers. By all accounts, the actual medical care is outstanding. Good enough, in fact, to provide medical care to the President and the Vice President for their regular checkups and more complex medical procedures.
Aside from the bureaucratic blunders, the biggest problems apparently had to do with the physical facilities, maintenance, and sanitation. Problems with rodents and mold don’t rest with doctors and nurses; they are supposed to be dealt with by those in maintenance. Regrettably, these maintenance workers are covered by civil service rules that prevent government employees from being fired. Currently those working at the hospital, and elsewhere throughout the government, are protected by the most complicated set of job protection rules in the country.
If companies are to compete in this globalized economy, they need to be able to streamline, manage their costs, and terminate non-productive employees. This card-check legislation is nothing more than a payback by the controlling party in D.C. for the $61 million that unions donated to their party races in the 2008 election cycle The proof is in Joe Biden’s comments to the AFL-CIO two weeks ago when he said, “You all brought me to the dance…it’s time we start dancing.” Card check is not good for America, and not good for the American worker.