Labor Is Noble; Unions Are Ignoble

labordayBy George Noga


If you believe ignoble, as in scurvy, base and villainous, is too harsh, think again. Many folks have an exalted and inaccurate image of labor unions based on perceived evils of capitalism dating back to Dickensian England when, in their jaundiced view, children toiled in factories 12 hours a day for cruel and greedy masters.

The truth is bien entendu, i.e. workers gladly traded the 16 hours of daily farm drudgery they suffered their entire lives for a better life in the factories and mills – dank and vile as they were.

“Private sector union membership has fallen to 7% of
the workforce – down from nearly 50% after WWII.”

This Labor Day posting is entirely about the present and not the often colorful and violent past of organized labor in the USA. Even if you believe labor unions played a constructive role during the industrialization of America, today’s reality is far, far different.

Let’s begin with some facts. In the private sector the share of unionized workers has fallen from nearly 50% at the end of WWII to under 7% in 2012 and the rate continues to shrink. There is only one plausible explanation – workers have concluded the value proposition unions offer is no good.

This year the number of public sector union members forbodingly surpassed private sector membership for the first time. This is wreaking serious damage on our country. It had been long understood that public sector unions were incompatible with a free, democratic system of government. FDR famously said: “All government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management.

It is important to understand the reasons that underlie FDR’s statement. Market forces serve as a counterbalance to private sector unions. If union pay and/or benefits get too far out of line, companies lose money and eventually go out of business. Private sector unions’ interests are closely aligned with the companies they organize; they even lobby Congress for laws that benefit their companies. Such unions are strong supporters of private enterprise including lower taxes.

All this goes out the window with public sector unions which turn the public servant into the public master. They use the government’s own spending to take control of the government. They are against markets and private enterprise and have become the principal agitprop force for higher taxes at the federal, state and local levels. They are bankrupting America.

“The NEA is the modern day Bull Conner – fire hoses and all.”

Perhaps ignoble may be too tame of a term to describe the damage wrought by public sector unions; I would not quarrel with anyone who chose to use malevolent or even worse. Consider just the following five ineluctable and ignoble  aspects of unionism today.

  1. An unmitigated evil, perpetrated by public sector unions, is against our schools. Teachers unions and the NEA are primarily to blame for our failing and dismal educational system. They stand in the schoolhouse door blocking inner city children from leaving. They have turned education into nothing more than a jobs program for adults. School choice is the civil rights issue of our time and the NEA is the new Bull Conner – fire hoses and all.
  2. Economists characterize unions as “rent seekers“, i.e. they acquire economic benefit via manipulation and exploitation rather than through production of added value. In short, they extort uncompensated value from others in the form of higher prices or taxes. The higher pay of union jobs represents nothing more than an unfair tax on consumers.
  3. Remember the $4 million meter reader I previously have written about and documented? One active meter reader position can cost taxpayers $4 million per year due to public sector union exacted benefits including lifetime pensions at age 47 with 90% of final year salary inflated by massive overtime spiking, fraudulent tax-free disability, retiree medical benefits, joint life payments, generous indexing for inflation, ad infinitum.
  4. Public sector unions literally are bankrupting cities across America and several states are teetering on the brink. There is enormous pressure for higher taxes to fund unsustainable pensions and benefits. Public employees make about twice as much in salary and benefits as comparable jobs in the private sector. Many public budgets are so larded with employee costs that public safety is jeopardized.
  5. Unions even harm their own members. Over time, unions destroy jobs in the companies they organize; 75% of union manufacturing jobs have disappeared while non union jobs have increased. Union workers get stuck in their jobs with little or no chance for advancement. Union bosses even refuse to let members receive individual raises. Senator Rubio introduced a bill recently that would permit employers to pay union members more (but never less) than specified in the union contract. At big labor’s insistence, Rubio’s bill was voted down 55-45 on a party line vote.

Recently an employer gave its best employees $100 gift cards for Christmas. Aghast, the union went to the NLRB to obtain a cease and desist order. Why, you may wonder, would unions oppose such benefits? Good employees don’t need  unions – and neither does America.

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