Bringing Back the Union Label?

Most Americans these days have little to do with unions. Barely 12% of today's workers belong to a union , compared to over 32% at the high water mark  in 1953-1954. And most union workers today don't work in factories, mines, shipyards, on the railroads or driving trucks like they did in the 1950s. Most of them are federal and state civil servants, policemen and firefighters and public school teachers with a few service workers and airline pilots and attendants thrown in.

Were you around for the steelworkers strike in the early 1980s? The one where wages trumped the steel industry's horrendous competitive disadvantage with Japan and Korea, who enjoyed labor costs less than a third of the US.  The steel industry in the US expired right before our eyes as greedy union leaders enabled by the  rank-and-file,  oblivious to foreign competition,  refused to budge off scorched earth entrenched positions at the bargaining table. By the end of the decade, half a million workers in the steel industry and their vendors had lost their jobs. One by one steel companies closed or sought protection from bankruptcy courts. Hundreds of thousands of pension promises were broken as steel producers had no means to fund their pension plans.

The demise of the textile and shoe industry has been equally devastating to workers, although less damaging to the overall economy. How many union textile or shoe manufacturing jobs still exist anywhere in America? 

Today we may be seeing the final gasp of the US automobile industry. No doubt the managements of the big three bear most of the blame over the last 30 years in losing the customer satisfaction, design and efficiency battles against the Japanese car makers. In the early 1980s US car sales plummeted by one-third over a three year stretch. But the UAW  bears equal culpability as the primary co-conspirator unwilling to bend in wages, health care or pensions. By 1990, the UAW commanded the highest wage and benefit package on earth. And today  GM's cost per vehicle is at least $2,000 higher than Toyota, all attributable to the legacy of the UAW.

In the meantime, one of the strongest Democrat party voting blocks -- industrial union members -- has dwindled in both size and influence. In the 1960s, the endorsement of the AFL-CIO meant something. Today it is nearly as meaningless as the Chamber of Commerce endorsing a Republican.  Democrat lawmakers trolling for voters, unwilling to acknowledge the economic dislocations from global trade and industrialization in the previously under-developed world and still stuck on the living wage notions of the social welfare progressives dating back to the turn of the 20th century, now need to revitalize the union ranks.

Moreover,  the post-modern Democratic Party war of aggression against free markets and private property wouldn't be complete without punishing capital formation and discouraging  competitive job creation by handing over the reins of industry and commerce to the unions. Using a form of confiscation by eminent domain and ignoring due process, here comes HR 800, proposed federal legislation carrying the misleading title "Employee Free Choice Act". It was passed by the House in March 2007, but denied by the Senate.

Undoubtedly this legislation would be resurrected in the first 100 days under a Barack Obama administration and be a slam dunk under veto proof super majorities in both chambers. James Sherk and Paul Kersey writing for the Heritage Foundation have provided a superb summary of the Act and its pernicious effects on both employers and employees. "How the Employee Free Choice Act Takes Away the Rights of Employees"

This legislation invites and virtually guarantees union representation in which a simple card check process, intimidating to workers, denying them a secret ballot vote, and kept secret from employers, once reaching 50% plus one would force an employer to recognize the union with no recourse. Furthermore, HR 800 would give the parties only three months to negotiate; if at impasse after 90 days an arbitrator would hand down the provisions--wages, benefits, working conditions, management rights-- in which the employer would have no right of appeal, and anti-union workers would have no ability to mobilize for a decertification petition.

Certainly before the 2010 midterm Congressional elections, the union ranks would swell by the hundreds of thousands if not millions. And what would be the consequences in addition to more entrenched socialist labor party Democrats easily winning re-election? Higher costs to consumers, companies less globally competitive and more jobs shipped to China. And higher taxes for those who remain to fund more unemployment benefits, free health care, and abstract environmental regulations having little tangible benefit to anyone.

So, how bad is HR 800?  Well the economic burdens it would present are bad enough. But even George McGovern, the aging liberal lion-in-winter writing in the Wall Street Journal, knows the most dangerous consequences from this toxic bill are the assault on free speech and denial of fundamental tenets of a democracy-- access to a secret ballot. We'll see if this generation of McGovern's heirs can return from the abyss to embrace over two centuries of noble principle or will continue to be intoxicated by the prospect of new voters wholly enabled and dependent upon their corrupt largesse.