Union Discussion (1)

I’m probably going to get myself in trouble with this one. I would like to address the concept of unions in this country. I believe in putting the bottom line up front. That way there is no guessing my point of view. I am not a fan of labor unions. Now, that is my point of view.

Early unions or guilds in America played important parts in the struggle for independence. Just one example is that the “hosts” at the Boston Tea Party were members of the carpenters union. It is natural for us here in America to equate unions with independence.

There are few people who have studied American history would argue that the organized labor movement back in the early to mid 19th century was necessary. Early factories were a hold-over from the sweat-shops of England. Child labor laws and safety regulations were non-existent. In the late 19th century the general attitude was that labor had no rights at all. Anytime there was a strike, it was a mere rubber-stamp exercise to get a federal court injunction to end a strike. If the strike did not end, federal troops were called in to break it.

In 1902, the anthracite coal miners as members of the United Mine Workers struck and closed down all coal mining for the entire summer. The only reason the strike lasted as long as it did was because the mine owners refused to agree to arbitration. President Roosevelt intervened by appointing a board of arbitration. The strike was over in five days.

In those early days, there was no attitude of commonality of effort between labor and management. Management failed to understand that without labor, there was no company. Labor failed to understand that without a profitable business there would be no wages. The battle-lines were drawn and they were inviolate.

Those attitudes, at least on the side of management, have changed. Fifty years ago, I remember my dad, who was a trucking executive tell me of some of the early days of Teamsters organization in the 1940’s. Many of the smaller trucking companies would allow drivers to use company vehicles to and from home. After the Teamsters came in, that perk was not written into the labor contract and the members suffered for it. The trucking company owners/managers had been more like co-workers that bosses. The union forced an antagonistic relationship on all parties.

Looking at unions of today, they are losing membership at unprecedented rates. There are a number of reasons for this, but probably the most significant one is that they have been too successful. The large salaries the unions have negotiated for their members force the retail of those goods produced by union members to become unaffordable to the average purchaser. With extraordinarily high salaries, entire industries are finding it much more cost effective to move manufacturing out of the country, thereby depriving American workers of any salary.

When you go to the department store, or the mega-stores, it is nearly impossible to find American made products. Wal-Mart, which used to pride itself on selling American products, has given up and now sells a very large percentage of merchandise from China, India, and Indonesia because the same American made products just cost too much for their customers.

The United States used to have the corner on the high-tech manufacturing market. This is no longer the case. How many of you have called a Dell Computer representative and spoken to a native American-English speaking technician? If you have, it was a long time ago.

Now the big three auto makers are going to Congress with their collective hands out because they are in serious danger of going under. What are they planning to use the money for, reorganizing, re-tooling, or propping up their union obligations? The extreme success that the unions have had in negotiating wages and retirement benefits has forced the big three to a position of unsupportability. That is not to say the big three front offices have not made their share of mistakes. In addition to routinely caving to the unions, not having the ability to quickly switch manufacturing emphasis based on existing conditions has a devastating effect on profitability.

Staying with the auto industry, the United Auto Workers (UAW) is so powerful and has such a strangle hold on the industry that the front office boys have to go to Congress with their hands out because the UAW wants to make sure their flow of cash continues unabated. Now, Congress is going to give billions of our dollars to the big three and we will be saddled with this enormous debt for the rest of our lives and probably for the rest of my grandchildren’s lives. To paraphrase Everett Dirksen, “A billion here, a billion there and pretty soon you are talking about real money.”

Well friends, we are way past real money here. It is time the unions play by real world rules and not rules for children who have to have everything handed to them. I have been haranguing on the UAW, but that is not the only union in great need of a wake-up call.

Probably the most powerful union in the United States is the National Education Association (NEA). This union has such a strangle hold on the education of our children that parents have little or no say over what goes on in the classroom. However, that is a subject for another posting.

As always, your comments and discussion are welcome.


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