Human Events Blog

Unions are very unhappy about declining membership

Organized labor is losing ground rapidly as states tired of capital flight and high unemployment implement right-to-work laws, according to a report in the Washington Free Beacon:

Union members represented 11.3 percent of the American workforce in 2012, a drop from 2011’s 11.8 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Labor unions have declined in size for years as the trade and manufacturing industries that supported union jobs have receded.

The public sector, which has the highest rate of unionization in the country at nearly 36 percent of the workforce, was not able to avoid the impact of the fiscal crisis. States, overburdened by rising costs and smaller tax revenue, are beginning to lay off government employees.

The loss of jobs in labor-friendly sectors has been coupled with the retirement of aging members. Compounding the problem for labor unions is the fact that young people are joining unions at a lower rate than previous generations. Nearly 15 percent of workers aged 55 to 64 belong to labor unions, more than triple the rate of workers aged 16 to 24.

The rise of right-to-work laws, which prohibit forced unionism, in traditional labor strongholds in the Midwest could speed the decline of labor unions, experts say.

Anti-business policies hurting crucial trade and manufacturing industries?  Public revenue coming up short even as taxes rise across the land?  Permanent high unemployment under Obamanomics driving the spread of right-to-work laws?  Maybe union bosses’ monolithic, unthinking support for Democrats wasn’t such a hot idea after all.

One place the connection between right-to-work and union decline has particularly irked union bosses is Michigan.  Another Free Beacon article illustrates just how grumpy they have become:

The president of Michigan’s largest union is instructing officials to prepare to sue its own members, according to a leaked memo issued after the state adopted right-to-work laws in December.

Steven Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association, circulated an email to local unions officials and staff instructing them to monitor revenue streams in light of the right-to-work laws, which are set to go into effect on March 27, 2013. The law allows workers to opt out of union membership unless they have an existing contract with their employer.

“We will use any legal means at our disposal to collect the dues owed under signed membership forms from any members who withhold dues prior to terminating their membership in August,” Cook wrote.

The tone of the message shocked labor reform activists.

“The level to which the MEA appears to be willing to go after its own members—the same ones whose interest they claim to represent—is amazing,” said Mike Van Beek, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center. “When it comes to their revenue, we know where their priorities stand.”

It’s funny how fast the pious declarations of concern for students and respect for teachers evaporate when there’s cash money on the table, isn’t it?  The unions appear confident they will win these suits, even as they seem prepared to concede defeat on legal challenges to the new Michigan right-to-work law.

Police in New York, meanwhile, are trying to determine if the sabotage of a dozen school bust tires is “related to the strike by Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which has forced 152,000 children and their parents to find other ways to get to school,” as reported by the New York Post.

“Some buses had one flat tire some had multiple. One bus had all four,” said Leon Hasting, a Reliant employee who makes sure the buses are in compliance with safety laws and the company’s contracts.

The punctures on four tires mounted on two buses were no accident.

“They looked like they were stabbed with an ice pick or something … These were stabbed on the side,” Hastings said.

About 60 buses are parked on the lot at 831 Humboldt St. The damaged buses were in a remote part of the lot, out of view of security cameras, authorities said.

Police have been guarding the lot 24 hours a day since the strike began, said sources. It was unclear how officers didn’t see the vandalism in the lot, which is surrounded by a chain-link fence.

It’s interesting that the authorities immediately understood the importance of protecting the lot when the strike began.

The era of the modern labor movement is drawing to a close, because it’s incompatible with economic reality.  The sort of exploitation organized labor was formed to combat has long since been erased, leaving union bosses to wallow in nostalgic sepia-toned photos of strike breakers clubbing heroic labor activists, as if such times are one right-to-work law away from returning.  In reality, the degree of regulatory control the government universally exercises over employment would astound the labor activists of yesteryear.  Today’s worker faces the danger of his job evaporating under the mandated costs imposed by bureaucrats, not ruthless exploitation by sweat-shop ogres offering Third World wages.

Big Labor, as currently constituted, relies upon government-supported anti-competitive measures to survive.  Those measures impose significant costs on a private sector that is already expected to pay the freight for huge non-productive government programs.  When the government doesn’t provide the restricted monopolistic environment unions require, they’ll often try to manufacture anti-competition on their own, but such amateur efforts tend to be messy.

There are still areas where unions can compete by persuading employers that the work product of union members is superior, but otherwise they can only win when the deck is stacked.  Ironically, the kind of stagnant, statist government favored by top union brass leads to a low-growth economy where employers can’t afford to play such games, and employees would rather have more non-union jobs.

In a right-to-work environment, Big Labor has to compete for both jobs and members.  It’s remarkable how quickly its fortunes suffer when neither are guaranteed by law.  But in the long run, these developments can be healthy for the labor movement – it may never be as rich or powerful as it once was, but it can evolve into something leaner, more durable, and more compatible with changing economic realities.  There’s no inherent reason why organized labor has to be economically irrational, or symbiotic with Big Government.  There’s nothing inherently “wrong” with employees joining forces to bargain for better compensation.  In a truly free market, every business entity can do that, including individuals selling their own labor.  The ability of all parties to walk away from such negotiations is what keeps them sane.

As with any other corporation that finds itself competing for profits in a tough economy, labor unions will feel increasing pressure to cut costs, including plush executive compensation and heavy political spending.  It will soon become apparent that those political investments are no longer as lucrative as they once were.  What a happy day that will be for union members, and the employers who hire them!

 

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