Tim Dunkin
December 14, 2012
Breaking the union stranglehold
By Tim Dunkin

Michigan has joined the ranks of the Free States — states where workers are no longer forced to join unions and pay dues to fat cat union bosses or else lose their jobs. This past week, over and against the frenzied efforts by union representatives to intimidate and terrorize state legislators, both houses of the Michigan legislature passed right-to-work legislation, which was shortly signed by Governor Rick Snyder, thereby officially becoming the 24th state in this nation to emancipate workers to choose what associations — if any — with which they would like to associate their labor. This move is all the more surprising and delicious because Michigan is traditionally a heavily-union state; indeed, it has been one of the hotbeds of union activity and control. The passage of right-to-work legislation — which is like salt on a slug for labor unions — represents the continuation of a process which has been taking place across the country whereby the decrepit, 19th century labor model reliant upon an outdated picture of labor-management relations that unions have tried to perpetuate is being broken, and worker freedom is coming to the fore.

As one might imagine, the unions in Michigan are extremely unhappy about this legislation. With typical union aplomb, union-led protestors have been resorting to violence and death threats to express their displeasure with the workings of the constitutional legislative process that occurred because the voters (i.e. the people) elected legislators and a governor who would put right-to-work in place. Union thugs have physically assaulted those they disagree with and vandalized the property of individuals and groups on the other side of the aisle. Jimmy Hoffa petulantly intimated that there would be "civil war" as a result of the unions not getting their way on this issue. Aiding and abetting this attack on the constitutional legislative process have been prominent Democrats, who have threatened that "there will be blood."

Have you ever noticed how, for whatever reason, it's not alright for conservatives and Tea Partiers to hold peaceful rallies against government excesses, debt, spending, and taxation, but it's perfectly fine for the Left to subvert the democratic process through violence and intimidation whenever too much freedom threatens to upset their apple cart?

Make no mistake, this is what is really at issue here — freedom. The freedom of workers to be able to not be coerced into joining a union. The freedom of workers to keep more of their own money instead of seeing it siphoned off to the union president's slush fund. The freedom to compete on the labor market outside of the distortion represented by unionized shops forcing workers to join them.

As is typical for those on the Left, The New Republic has a raucous screed in which it tries to grab the "freedom" mantle by proclaiming that "right to work isn't a civil right, but unionizing should be," i.e. misrepresenting what is actually going on and subverting the meaning of words. Nobody has taken away the right of workers to union if they so desire. The right-to-work legislation in Michigan, as well as that in other right-to-work states, does not abolish, or even hinder, labor unions. Any worker who wants to join a union shop that is available is still free to do so. In short, nobody is "outlawing" unions, as some on the Left have been asserting. Instead, unions are being forced to compete in the open marketplace of the labor pool — and competition is something which sclerotic, left-wing institutions absolutely detest.

Obviously, union membership and union organization is safeguarded by the First Amendment protections of the freedom of association. Just as private citizens may freely assemble and associate for the purposes of forming a local church body, a philanthropic society, a political organization, or a junior level baseball league, so may they also organize collectively into unions to advance their interests. However, this same First Amendment should also guarantee their right to not do so, if that is their choice. In states without right-to-work laws, this freedom is trampled when unions can require companies to force their workers to join the union, or pay an "associational fee," or be terminated.

Union supporters will often fall back onto a number of arguments designed to justify forced unionization. One of these is the claim that non-union workers who work for companies with labor contracts with unions are "freeloaders," that these workers enjoy the fruits of union collective bargaining without contributing anything to the pot. The initial reaction of the cynic might be to wonder why the unions and other leftists complain, since in just about every other field of economic activity, the Left is perfectly fine with freeloaders, and even encourages the creation of more of them whenever possible.

However, this argument isn't as powerful as its proponents think, even aside from its implicit hypocrisy. There doesn't seem to be much evidence that non-union workers are really freeloading off of many benefits from paying the dues, since most of the dues money appears to be spent on either political contributions to the Democrats (who are not supported by large percentages of rank-and-file union members) or as "general overhead" (union bosses don't pull down six figure salaries out of nowhere). Only 11%, on average, is spent on "representational activities." Indeed, allowing choice in whether to pay dues or not appears, as it did in Wisconsin, to force unions to clean up their acts to become more competitive.

Speaking of "freeloading," I wonder how the roughly 13,500 non-union workers at Hostess felt about losing their jobs, all because the union, representing 5,000 workers, refused to budge on its wage and pension demands, even when the company was in the midst of bankruptcy.

Another claim is that unions are necessary for workers to earn higher wages. However, this does not seem to be the case. Indeed, as Cooper notes in his study,

"On a nominal basis, wages are lower in Right to Work states, but proponents argue, and this paper confirms, that once the above statistic is adjusted for cost of living, real spending power is at least the same and perhaps higher in Right to Work states. For example, when the National Institute for Labor Relations Research used The Economist Magazine's data to adjust the poverty rate in 2001 for cost of living they found that this adjusted rate was 10.8% in states with Right to Work laws as compared to 12.9% for non-RTW states ('Independent Study')."

Other studies have given similar results, that when wages are adjusted for things like cost of living, any supposed disparity between wages in right-to-work and compulsive-unionization states disappears. At any rate, the steady decline in union membership as a percentage of all labor tends to suggest that workers themselves don't feel the need to join unions to get higher wages. Remember, workers in right-to-work states can still join unions, and can't be punished for doing so — they're just less and less likely to do so now, out of their own choice.

Further, unemployment is generally lower in right-to-work states, job growth is higher, and businesses seem to prefer placing new facilities in these states. In fact, higher growth states like Texas, North Carolina, Arizona, and Nevada — all of which are national leaders in population growth and economic expansion — typically are right-to-work states; forced unionization states tend to be characterized by slower economic growth and stagnant or declining populations, such as seem with New York, California, and Massachusetts.

Another, more emotional appeal, made by the Left is that unions "gave us the middle class." Not true. The middle classes existed long before unions became prominent (in fact, the middle classes were historical made up of the type of people that unions organize themselves against — business owners and merchants). Further, as has been pointed out elsewhere, unions were a byproduct of one particular era of industrial activity — that of the rapidly growing, labor intensive smokestack industries of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Simply put, unions were able to wrangle such sweet deals of high wages and generous benefits out of industries because during that time, the labor market was wildly tilted to benefit labor, rather than management. Companies needed lots of workers to keep up with production, and therefore had to be willing to give workers what they wanted. That economic model, however, is no longer relevant, no matter how much we talk about wanting to restore heavy industry. With the advent of automation, the decentralization of economic activity across a multitude of smaller, leaner companies, and the shifting of the focus of economic productivity towards higher tech, less labor-intensive areas, the conditions that made unions both necessary and beneficial no longer exist. Today, the middle classes exist as they do (for as long as it takes Obama to destroy them, that is) because of broader professional and knowledge-industry based opportunities afforded by the economic freedom of the 1980s and early 1990s.

In closing, while unions had their purposes, like everything else, they eventually become outmoded. The Left, because unions have served for so long as a weapon against economic liberty and capitalistic enterprise, seek to chain the American economy with non-volitional unionism for as long as they can. Passing right-to-work legislation (as well as other efforts at combating union abuses, such as Virginia's imminent overturning of card-check elections in which union members are denied the secret ballot by their union representatives) is a needed means of freeing up the American labor market and introducing greater liberty, as well as flexibility, back into the American economy.

© Tim Dunkin

 

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Tim Dunkin

Tim Dunkin is a pharmaceutical chemist by day, and a freelance author by night, writing about a wide range of topics on religion and politics. He is the author of an online book about Islam entitled Ten Myths About Islam, and is the founder and editor of Conservative Underground, a bi-weekly email newsletter focusing on foundational conservative worldview and philosophy. He is a born-again Christian, and a member of a local, New Testament Baptist church in North Carolina. He can be contacted at tqcincinnatus@yahoo.com. All emails may be monitored by the NSA for quality assurance purposes.

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