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Are Labor Unions Obsolete?

Flickr Photo by Bernard Pollack

Some Labor History

On July 5, 1935, FDR and congress passed the National Labor Relations Act. It’s also sometimes referred to as the Wagner Act named after Senator Robert F. Wagner (D-NY). This act became the foundation for all of today’s current labor laws regarding trade unions.

It gave employees the right to organize as a group, engage in collective bargaining with their employers, to improve pay, benefits and improved working conditions. Employees could vote to strike if necessary to encourage employers to bargain in good faith.

The Act does have some limitations for some labor groups. It does not apply to those who are covered by the Railway Labor act, agricultural employees, domestic employees, supervisors, federal, state or local government worker, independent contractors, as well as close relatives of individual employees.

Labor: Then vs. Now

The labor movement often takes credit for many of the working conditions we all enjoy today. The eight-hour workday, overtime pay, pensions, and safety conditions. America, despite its faults, is very good at self-correcting wrongs. It doesn’t always do it in a timely fashion. Slavery was around for 200 years before the Civil War but America self corrected. Women were not allowed to vote; America self corrected. Blacks were not able to attend white schools; America corrected.

I’m confident that America, over time, would have self-corrected working conditions for all employees. The Federal Government passed the Wage & Hour Law, Minimum Wage, created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). All of which corrected many wrongs done to the working men and women of earlier times.

Today’s Unions And Politics

A quick look at the Top Donors To Political Parties 1989 to Present will tell you all you need to know about the influence of unions in the political process. Ten of the top fifteen donors to political parties are unions that donate the bulk of their funds to the Democratic part. In fact you have to go all the way down to #62, the Koch Industries, before you find a major republican donor. What does this have to do with anything you might ask?

Public vs. Private Sector Membership

Most unions started in manufacturing, construction and transportation. Working within the private sector a business was able to either raise prices, cut costs or both to come to a fair compensation package for union members to vote on. If the company was unable to come to terms, like Hostess for example, then the company goes out of business. Some times businesses are able to create new profit centers that will enable the company to offer more competitive and lucrative compensation.

Unfortunately the government, the next target of unions, doesn’t have the luxury of raising prices or creating new profit centers like the private sector can. There is only one place I can get a drivers license or hunting license. There is no competition that would allow for a price increase. In addition, no raises are possible for any employee unless it’s spelled out in the collective bargaining agreement. So where is the incentive to excel and earn more?

The only way to increase the compensation for a public sector worker is to demand more taxes and fees from the general populous. During prosperous times this might be manageable. But looking at our current economy it creates a hardship on taxpayers, workers and city, state and federal officials.

Right to Work

It seems strange to me that with employees taking home less and less in each paycheck, that the prospect of an additional hit of union dues, with all the government programs now available to protect the workers, seems counterproductive to me and my family.

If unions are such a great deal for the working man and woman then why the demonstrations and millions of dollars spent to defeat right-to-work laws. If you do so much for me then show me and I’ll be happy to join. Otherwise don’t prevent me from working unless I join the union.

Some Final Thoughts

It comes down to money as with most things. Whether it’s fat-cat CEOs or fat-cat Union Leaders, they are both cut from the same cloth. Both have found a way to have someone else do the heavy lifting while they supervise from on high.

Everyone deserves fair compensation for their labor, they also deserve safe working conditions. The real question is this — are there enough laws on the books to protect workers and what a union will add to the pot?

Union survival is based on unions finding ways to justify their value to the employee. Does the employee receive an equal amount of benefits to the dues they are paying? If unions can accomplish that then their ranks will grow, even in right-to-work states.

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