David R. Henderson  

Labor Day is Not Union Day

Is Suburban America the Produc... Boo Alan Blinder...
The present recession has increased private-sector unemployment to over ten percent, and feckless attempts by government to ameliorate the recession have greatly expanded government employment. I predict that BLS data for 2009 will show government unions crossing the 50 percent threshold this year. The union movement is gradually becoming little more than a contest between government employees and taxpayers.

That's from this month's featured Econlib article, by Charles Baird, titled, "Labor Day is Not Union Day."

In the article, Baird traces the decline in private-sector unionism and the increase in government-sector unionism. He also shows how government promotes union monopolies by law.

Baird also writes:

Section 9(a) of the NLRA compels an employer to recognize a union as the monopoly bargaining agent for all non-managerial employees when a majority of them vote for union representation. A majority vote "certifies" a union as the exclusive representative of all workers, including those who voted against the union and those who didn't vote. Individual employees are forbidden to represent themselves. Unions justify this coercion of dissenting workers on the grounds that it is workplace democracy. They argue that since it is legitimate to have majority rule in government elections, it must also be legitimate to have majority rule in workplace elections. But this analogy is inapt.

Read the article and see why the analogy is inapt.

Another article well worth reading is the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics article on Labor Unions by Morgan Reynolds, a former chief economist of the Department of Labor. One of the most striking passages from that article:

Economist Ray Marshall, although a prounion secretary of labor under President Jimmy Carter, made his academic reputation by documenting how unions excluded blacks from membership in the 1930s and 1940s. Marshall also wrote of incidents in which union members assaulted black workers hired to replace them during strikes. During the 1911 strike against the Illinois Central, noted Marshall, whites killed two black strikebreakers and wounded three others at McComb, Mississippi. He also noted that white strikers killed ten black firemen in 1911 because the New Orleans and Texas Pacific Railroad had granted them equal seniority. Not surprisingly, therefore, black leader Booker T. Washington opposed unions all his life, and W. E. B. DuBois called unions the greatest enemy of the black working class. Another interesting fact: the "union label" was started in the 1880s to proclaim that a product was made by white rather than yellow (Chinese) hands.

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CATEGORIES: Labor Market

COMMENTS (5 to date)
mark writes:

Given laws that prescribe, and bureaucracies that enforce, a minimum wage, a maximum work week, family leave, workplace safety, and assuming universal health coverage, I wonder what cost-benefit analysis justifies laws that continue to protect unionization. What incremental benefit do they now provide against that backdrop and what costs do they impose, not merely on employers but in their externalities?

Patrick R. Sullivan writes:

And as the Scrivener notes, according to Gallup, the public is beginning to catch on:

... Gallup records significant increases in ... sentiment that unions have a negative effect on companies where workers are organized ...

There has been an even larger jump in the percentage saying labor unions mostly hurt the U.S. economy, from 36% in 2006 to 51% today. This is the first time since the question was established in 1997 that more Americans have said unions hurt rather than help the economy.

DDI writes:

The sense of entitlement of government employees is incredible. I'm in a non-union federal government office and the world view is interesting. Most feel as if they are underpaid considering what they could make in "industry". So, any talk of not getting the full COLA or eliminating step increases results in a lot of anger. Our salary and benefits and rather are better than at most private businesses in the area. There is almost no acknowledgment that our pay checks come from the taxpayers.

Jeremy, Alabama writes:

1. Baird says "The union movement is gradually becoming little more than a contest between government employees and taxpayers."

Now we have the GM/Chrysler bailout and cash-for-clunkers, we can say that the government and non-government union movements both oppose taxpayers.

This should not be a surprise. As unions bleed their hosts to death, so they need new sources of revenue. Taxpayers are perfect.

2. Baird's description of "Creative Escape" is powerfully reminiscent of Kling's "Exit". Governments, like unions, depend on "capture" - and the US's gigantic mistake is believing that it automatically has capture of its citizens and capital. The enormous transfer of manufacturing from the US to China in only 10 years is proof that entrepreneurs have better options. This makes me believe perhaps more strongly than Kling that "Exit" is real, and happening.

Kurbla writes:

Unions treat capitalist like people treat any natural source of wealth, for example, forest. They do not hunt in time animals breed and discipline those who try to cheat.

Is it coercive? If you catch one deer in the time hunting is forbidden - you prevented me from catching five deers in time hunting is allowed. My kids can die because of that. It appears to be less coercive that I prevent you from catching that one deer. Your kids will probably stay alive.

Unions use same approach on capitalists. Individuals are not allowed to "hunt", i.e. make contracts with capitalist.

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