- 12 June 2011 by Author 0 Comments
By Richard Larsen
Published – Idaho State Journal, 06/12/11
Some things just outlive their usefulness. Except for the eccentric few among us, car starter cranks, buggy whips, and 8-track tape players come to mind. Add unions to that list.
One cannot be a student of history without recognizing the tremendous contributions unions made to the emergence of the middle class in early to mid 20th century America. They forced improved working conditions, workweek hours, and compensation levels. But they have become primarily political entities, with forced union dues used heavily for amassing power in the political arena. Even Bob Chanin, former top lawyer for the National Education Association, admitted that in a moment of unabashed frankness in his farewell speech two years ago, when he said, “It’s not about the kids…it’s about power.”
In a local union gathering this week in Pocatello, organizers lectured to a compliant small crowd that “Attacks on unions is (sic) an attack on the middle class.” Actually they are not. The Department of Labor classifies 55% of Americans as middle class. Union membership constitutes a fraction of those households as union membership has dropped to 70-year lows at 11.9% of the working population according to statistics released in January.
Economist Thomas Sowell recapitulated the sentiment brilliantly recently when he wrote, “The biggest myth about labor unions is that unions are for workers. Unions are for unions, just as corporations are for corporations and politicians are for politicians.”
In the public sector, unions have forced several states to the brink of bankruptcy, as brought to light recently in Wisconsin and Ohio. The Investor’s Business Daily phrased this verity in stark terms recently when it stated, “Public-sector unions serve no legitimate function except to feed at the public trough of governments that have gone broke seeking their political support.”
Former AFL-CIO president George Meany once said, “The main function of American trade unions is collective bargaining. It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.” They’ve obviously figured out how to do it, and to do it well, since the public sector is the only growing area of union membership.
There is a fundamental problem with unions’ collective bargaining with governmental entities, which invariably results in unions being represented on both sides of the negotiating table since the government officials representing tax-payers interests are largely bought and paid for by union campaign contributions. This places the taxpayer in the unenviable position of not truly being represented at the negotiation table. After all, politicians are unlikely to “bite the hand that feeds them.” The result is imbalanced and irreconcilable budgets, as evidenced by the fact that the ten states with the most budgetary red ink are those where organized labor hold the states hostage to their negotiated entitlements.
A friend of mine who used to be a local union president told me recently, “Unions, at least in my opinion, did valuable work in the ‘30s when employees were being abused. Now, unions are destroying the very industries they work for. Huge labor union leadership is woefully out of touch with its rank and file membership. It truly is all about power and money.”
In the private sector, there is overwhelming evidence that unions have outlived their usefulness, not least of which is the way the United Auto Workers contracts nearly destroyed the U.S. auto industry. But the data are indisputable that unions in the private sector severely restrict economic growth and output.
Idaho is a “right-to-work” state. That means that workers can have a right to work without being forced to join a union and pay union dues. This actually makes Idaho, and the other 22 right-to-work states compliant with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which says in article 20, “No one may be compelled to belong to an association.” After all, there is no logical reason to require workers to join partisan political organizations as a condition of their employment. The only possible reason to force political organization membership is for the aggrandizement of the organization itself.
The Investor’s Business Daily analyzed data from the National Institute for Labor Relations Research recently and the results were revelatory. From 1999 to 2009, real personal income in right-to-work states grew 28.3% versus 14.7% in forced-union states. That’s almost twice the growth. Disposable income in right-to-work states stood at $35,543 per capita in 2009 vs. $33,389, and growth in real manufacturing GDP jumped 20.9% compared with 6.5% in non right-to-work states. IBD also points out from Bureau of Labor Statistics data that right-to-work states added 1.5 million private-sector jobs from 1999 to 2009 for a 3.7% increase; states that are not right-to-work lost 1.8 million jobs over the same period, a decline of 2.3%.
Clearly unions in the public sector are budget-busters, and impede growth in the private sector. Their obsolescence is indubitable.
AP award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.