Unions Have No One to Blame

In December, Michigan passed a “Right To Work” law, making it the 24th such state to do so. Essentially what this means is that labor unions may no longer force workers to join and pay dues. The big change is that there are no more “closed” shops. Employees now have the option to join, or not. This means that if the unions provide an actual, valuable service, they will survive, but if they don’t, they won’t.

Unions will tell you this is the end of the world and the end of rights for workers but there is nothing in the law that bans collective bargaining and there is nothing that changes any previously codified rights for individual employees. It merely removes the strong-arm tactics of the unions to force employees to join, thereby enabling them to extort employers and squelch competition.

The labor unions will tell you that they are to be thanked for things like healthcare coverage (a dubious claim), the 5 day work week, 40 hour work week, minimum wage and various other things. To all of this I say, in the immortal words of Janet Jackson and Eddie Murphy – “What have you done for me lately”? Very few will argue that there was a time when unions served a vital purpose. Before labor laws, companies ran roughshod over their employees, using them up like cheap fuel. There were plenty more, so why worry about maiming or killing a few poor people? Unions came along and helped change that.

Now we have laws. Laws set minimum wage requirements. Laws set minimum age requirements. Organizations like OSHA ensure that we are (mostly) safe in our jobs. 40 hour weeks are standard, and unions deserve much of the credit for this. However, instead of remaining as organizations whose sole purpose is to advocate for workers – sort of like trade organizations – unions have become political power brokers. They’ve done so much damage to American industry by making it impossible to fire incompetent workers, or by extorting ever higher wages and benefits – that it’s unlikely we will recover without a serious economic adjustment.

Just to be clear – unions didn’t do this by themselves. Greedy corporate bosses in the heady days of the 50s and 60s were certainly complicit by allowing out of control corporate largess to get, well, out of control. But while there was wealth to share, and everyone was sharing it, no one planned for the rainy days to come. Companies were now tied to unions by contract, and union bosses had become fatcats with money and power to protect – there’s no way they were going to back down.

The end result is that our auto industry required a major bailout and a significant overhaul. Hostess is out of business. Many companies have been off-shoring for years. All because the American worker has been made obsolete by his own union. It’s time for the unions to put up or shut up.  If they can provide a value to workers, workers will voluntarily join and pay dues. If they can’t provide a value, or make a compelling case, they will go away. Simple as that.