Wednesday, August 20, 2008
I am going to preface this posting with the disclaimer that my wife is a longtime Teamster. At times in the past she has been directly involved with the contract negotiations for her co-workers at her company (I would jokingly call her 'Norma Rae' during these periods), and she is both proud and happy to have been a member of the union for the past three and a half decades. As a police officer, we are not allowed to unionize by law, but we have do have an effective labor bargaining unit with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). My wife and I have both always been supporters of unions, both in theory and in practice. Can you sense the 'but' coming here? There is one, and from this point forward it is only my own opinion being expressed. While unions can serve a very valuable purpose, they can and have been a detriment to their membership at times over the years. Early in and on through the 20th century, employees unionized for legitimate reasons, including the need to battle abusive, corrupt, and unfair practices and standards of many employers. They sought to make work conditions safer, and to have workers share more fairly in the economic rewards of a successful business. Basically, they sought to make better the lives of those on their membership rolls. But steadily and rapidly, those membership rolls have declined over the past few decades, and this has been for many reasons. Let's go back to the beginning, perhaps a century ago. Many companies cared only about their 'bottom line' and making profits, and so paid their employees as little as they could get away with in order to maximize those profits. Medical insurance, job-site safety concerns, family leave and the like were all considered to be added costs, so they were out of the question. Those workers revolted ultimately, sometimes peacefully, sometimes not, physically forcing ownership and management to share the profits and improve the lives of workers. Once in power, this 'organized labor' or 'labor unions' would regularly negotiate with management over the terms of compensation and benefits for workers. Companies learned to live with some lesser profits in return for peaceful co-existence with a dedicated labor employee pool. Over a few decades in the early and mid-20th century, power shifted from the companies to the labor thanks largely to the force of 'strikes', in which labor would halt work if ownership did not meet their terms. These strikes, or even just their threat, would often intimidate companies into paying more money or giving more benefits. As professional representatives of the massed employees, union leadership was able to itself work thanks to 'dues' paid by the members. Each member paid a set sum from their paycheck to the union in order that it might represent the employee more professionally and effectively. As the post-WW II work force boomed, so the rolls of labor unions swelled, and their political influence rose along with the rolls. Political candidates saw close relationships and 'endorsements' from labor unions as a key to winning election. When labor gave money, along with the power of thousands of labor member votes at election time, to a candidate then unions themselves gained power when their candidate was elected. Politicians began to 'earmark' special projects for their home districts, creating hundreds and thousands of union jobs, in return for the union election support. However, this entire system began to become corrupted. Some union leaders took their membership dues and supported lavish lifestyles for themselves. Others used cash contributions from member dues to support political candidates whose views did not match those of the majority of membership. Still others made outrageous demands of businesses, causing those businesses to close up entirely. In 1981, air traffic controllers working for the FAA walked out of their jobs in an illegal strike. President Ronald Reagan responded by firing them all, replacing them with new workers. Emboldened by the President's stance, companies began to take similar positions, and in most cases unions were not strong enough to respond effectively. In 1945, more than a third of American workers were in a union. But by 1979 that number would fall to less than a quarter of workers, and by the end of the 1990's would fall under 14% of workers. Union membership and strength declined due to a number of factors including automation at plants, production-based companies moving overseas, service-industry employees becoming part-time and unrepresented, the overall strength of the economy, and a general independence of spirit among younger workers. What cannot be discounted is the role that the unions themselves played in their own decline. They often failed to respond properly to changing conditions in the world and with their workers, clinging to old habits and practices long past their useful point. Today, union membership is at abysmally low levels, and the union leaders want to somehow stem the tide. Their newest tactic is so blatant and obvious that it is hard to believe that it has gotten this far. The new tactic, laughingly called the 'Employee Free Choice Act', would abolish private voting on union membership. If there were a vote on whether a company should unionize or not, the vote would be public, with everyone knowing how each individual had voted. Free choice? Hardly. This would enable unions and their supporters to 'strong arm' or otherwise force or cajole those who did not support the cause into changing their votes. Even the threat of these tactics would be enough for many to vote the way the union wanted. Is it any of my business who you are going to vote for in the November election for the Presidency? No, that is your private decision, right? Then why would anyone think that there is any legitimate reason to support such a bill for union votes. Thankfully, a bill introduced by the unions' Democratic Party lackeys failed, but they are trying again. Unions want to know your secret: the secret that you have a right to keep to yourself. If unions want to get more membership, perhaps they should start by supporting candidates who will take actions that will matter to their membership by lowering taxes, cutting spending, strengthening traditional American values, and securing our Homeland. Unions can't get you to support them on merit, because in many cases their actions don't deserve your support, so they want to return to the bullying tactics of the past. Let's not give in to these 'easy way out' liberal union leaders. Make sure that your vote remains your business alone, and support political candidates who support that position.