Labor unions: relevant or ruinous?

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By The Staff

By Hannah Hayes

A friend recently shared that her grandfather was a union member, and then she said something that really struck me: “That was back when unions were a good thing.” Her comment speaks to the success of management in its long-lived campaign to create a negative image for unions.

Unions have been around for 300 years, striving to improve employment conditions. Unions defined the 40-hour workweek and overtime, grievance procedures to counter discrimination, wage protections, breaks during the workday, protection against child labor, etc. Unions help workers stand up for their rights. When workers are fairly rewarded, they will help fuel our economic recovery and reverse the growing income disparity.

Currently only about 10 percent of workers are members of, or represented by, a union.

The 111th Congress will likely decide the status of the Employee Free Choice Act. Its passage would help spread the unionization of workplaces. EFCA would counter the intimidation that corporations use to keep unions out. It provides: a fair and direct path to join unions through a simple majority sign-up; stiffer penalties for employers who break the rules; and a process for mediation and arbitration that prevents bargaining in bad faith.

In a study by the Center for American Progress called “From Poverty to Prosperity: A National Strategy to Cut Poverty in Half,” EFCA is mentioned as one of the 12 key steps to take to help the one in eight Americans living in poverty.

Employers have no reason to fear unions, according to an Economic Policy Institute study. Workers don’t drive employers out of business. They want to help assure their employers a good return on a capital investment while enjoying a decent life.

Big business plans to spend more than $200 million this year toward defeating EFCA. While business argues that it is undemocratic because EFCA eliminates the secret ballot and intimidates workers, in actuality it restores rights granted in the 1935 Wagner Act and prevents corporate coercion. Today the U.S. enjoys increased worker productivity, but those benefits only accrue to the CEO, not the worker.

Human Rights Watch cited the U.S. for abuses of the freedom of association, and for unfair workplace elections, denying a basic democratic freedom. With decreasing union protection, household incomes have fallen by $2,000 during this decade. Workers need unions to negotiate a fair share in the economy for them. The recession makes it harder to bargain individually. These times demand the collective bargaining that unions can provide.

Both Colorado senators are uncommitted on EFCA. Blaming unions for the loss of jobs is like blaming workers for the loss of profits when executives are claiming the big bucks. Let Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet know you recognize that the employee safety nets unions provide will help secure the economy for all workers.

By Kelly Weist

“The only growth in unions has been in the public sector, where public employee unions have been particularly aggressive in using political leverage to elect politicians, like Gov. Ritter, who give them major concessions. Unions could do the hard work to determine why people don’t seem to want unions anymore, or to figure out how to restructure themselves to be relevant to a fast-moving, innovative and global economy. But it is so much easier and satisfying to hijack the political process.”

I wrote this last October when we were discussing the ballot initiatives in Colorado. Four initiatives had been introduced by unions in retaliation for the Right to Work initiative on the ballot. Right after we wrote that column, certain members of the business community caved and made a deal in which they would work to defeat Right to Work in exchange for the unions pulling the four initiatives. Right to Work failed narrowly.

Now the unions are back with an even more egregious push. Nationally, Democrats won decisively, and the unions believe they made that happen. So, they are calling in the chips. Their No. 1 agenda item is called the Employee Free Choice Act, one of the worst lies ever perpetuated by the left.

The EFCA would eliminate the secret ballot in union elections, for all intents and purposes. Currently, in order to establish a union, union workers need to gather cards from 30 percent of the workforce in order to hold an election. An employer can waive the election, and about 60 percent do. About half of the resulting elections are won by the union. However, this isn’t enough for union bosses. They want a system where if the union gathers cards from more than 50 percent of the workforce, no election can take place. A union would be automatically established. The EFCA would also put Labor Department arbitrators in charge of writing the workplace contract, without much input by the employer. And thirdly, the EFCA ratchets up penalties on employers for opposing union activities.

Proponents are busily engaged in lies in order to get this passed. They claim the law is necessary because of the Bush Labor Department’s practices. But, hey, didn’t that change? In fact, President Obama’s labor secretary, Hilda Solis, has already announced that the anti-corruption measures put into place by the Bush Labor Department would be abandoned. Does anyone doubt she will be on the side of the unions? Scretary was a co-sponsor of EFCA when she was in the House.

Unions stifle innovation and efficiency in a business, and workers know it. The cost of union labor has been a significant factor in Detroit’s decline, and the evidence doesn’t stop there. However, when unions decline, as they have been in the private sector over the past 50 years, union bosses don’t have money to “influence” politicians. There’s the real impetus behind EFCA.

Hayes Rebuttal

Well, whom do we want influencing politicians? Only CEOs and lobbyists? What’s wrong with labor having a say? Not that influence has anything to do with EFCA. This act has to do with reversing vigorous anti-union efforts of employers like Walmart and others.

U.S. workers in manufacturing score 17th in hourly pay among the 20 richest countries, while they rank second for “value added per employee.” They’re not the best paid, but close to the most productive. The evidence from Detroit does not support Kelly’s position.

The blame for business decline has to do with an overvalued dollar that gives trade partners an advantage, the high cost of health care, and overpaid managers. The final blow in Chrysler’s bankruptcy came from rogue hedge funds, not workers. Labor will actually help keep Chrysler operating through a union-backed, employee-run trust.

A positive action to maintain and improve jobs here in the U.S. is to support the United Auto Workers along with many other proud unions and “look for the union label.”

Weist Rebuttal

The Center for American Progress, the Economic Policy Group and Human Rights Watch are all leftist organizations whose mission is to spread misinformation and untruths in order to advance socialist policies. They are not credible sources, and certainly have absolutely no claim to actual economic analysis. All objective economic analysis shows that union presence in a business raises labor costs, which decreases the number of jobs available and increases the cost of the good or service the business offers. This is the very opposite of alleviating poverty. More jobs and lower-priced goods alleviate poverty and allow poor families to be able accumulate wealth and rise out of poverty.

It’s funny to hear union proponents talking about intimidation. It’s quite clear that intimidation is a union specialty. Currently, management does not have the ability to intimidate union organization, but they do have the right to explain the negative effects unionization would have on their businesses and the workers’ jobs. EFCA removes that right and would not allow an employer to even know that cards were being passed out.

Attorney and political activist Kelly Weist has served on the board of directors of the Colorado Federation of Republican Women and is the co-founder of Mountain Republican Women. She is an adjunct professor of political science at Metropolitan State College of Denver.

Hannah B. Hayes is a small-business owner and activist with Evergreen Peace. A recent graduate of Leadership Evergreen with a master’s degree in education, Hayes has remained active in this community through her writing and organizing for 35 years.