Most people who read this blog would probably be surprised to learn that I am not anti-union. My dad was a lifelong union member and it is my policy to this day never to cross a picket line. In fact I think they contribute a great deal to a healthy free enterprise system. At least they used to. Sadly, for the most part, they no longer do. Union popularity among private sector workers is now at an all time low.
Of course, unions have been in the news a lot lately - first in Wisconsin, and this week in Michigan. In all the coverage, I have searched in vein for any indication that the unions are asking themselves the questions that any other organization would probably ask at this point: What are we doing wrong? How did we get to this point?
Even though unions are not asking these questions, I believe that they - and the American public need to hear the answers, as I see them. Why are unions in crisis in the US? Here they are, in no particular order:
1) Unions are legal monopolies. Like all monopolies, they are seen as over priced and providing poor service. Unlike other monopolies, workers have a choice. They can choose between the one union that is assigned by big labor to handle the industry they work in, or no union. For instance, truck drivers have one choice: The Teamsters Union. It doesn't matter if the particular union assigned to represent you is corrupt and fails to represent workers well - your choice is still limited to that one union and no union. Given that choice, most workers choose no union.
Why? Having been a non-union worker, in an industry that was being organized, I can tell you that the biggest reason is that most workers today simply do not believe that they will be well represented by a union. They simply do not believe that their time and money buys anything of value. They also view most unions as corrupt organizations that don't really care about them. This is the core problem unions face.
2) Unions have focused on organizing government workers, rather than workers in the private sector. Under the liberal icon and union supporter, FDR, all federal government employee unions were banned. FDR, believed that since unions could both give cash to candidates and provide workers to get out the vote - the result would be that when it came time to negotiate, the unions would effectively be sitting on both sides of the table. Today, 80% of all union workers in the US work for government, and FDR has been proven right. Unionized government workers make more than twice as much in wages and benefits than workers doing similar work in the private sector. Who pays the bulk of the taxes that go to provide the high salaries and benefit packages handed over to the government workers? The very same private workers big labor says they want to organize.
3) Because they represent mostly government workers (less than 7% of private sector workers belong to a union), big labor has a vested interest in an ever expanding government. Since most government workers belong to unions, if the government takes over anything, the chances that the workers will be unionized goes up dramatically. Unlike workers in the private sector, government workers can expect to see a great deal more pay and benefits should the join a union. Is it any wonder that today's unions have moved so strongly in the direction of socialism?
4) Non-union workers do not see unions as democratic institutions that they control. Instead, the see them as organizations that are run from the top down, rather than the bottom up. They tend to see them as either corrupt organizations run for the benefit of bosses, hard left wing political organizations with which they strongly disagree - or both. Is it any wonder that they don't want to sign up?
5) Unions helped to secure rights and legal protection for all American workers - and as a result, the need for union protection is not as acute. The eight hour day, the forty hour week, worker comp, and even protection against being fired for "blowing the whistle" protect all workers.
6) Many companies have wised up. They realize that there is a high price attached to mistreating their workers, union or not. They also realize that most companies that are unionized, not because of low wages, or unsafe conditions - they are unionized because they have treated their employees like dirt. Workers in good companies, where they are paid well and treated well do not believe that they need a union.
So, what can the unions do to turn things around?
1) Stop bashing the free enterprise system and start stressing the valuable role that unions can play in it. Most workers don't hate the companies they work for and they don't see any benefit in tearing down the system. They may very well see a benefit in collective bargaining, because it tends to put the workers on an equal footing with management. Unions need to tell stories about how they have worked with management to increase productivity and wages - and they need to create some new ones.
2) Unions need to become much more responsive to membership. They should strongly consider offering workers a choice of unions. In this way unions would have to compete for the "business" of the workers.
3) Unions need to clean house. They need to deal with corruption head on. They need to be known for their honesty, rather than their dishonesty.
4) Unions also need to cut their ties with the modern Democratic Party - which has done a great deal to harm workers. Why in the world to unions support the party of illegal immigration when it is illegal immigration that has destroyed union jobs in many industries such as construction. They should avoid donations to any party. Locals should be allowed to donate to individual candidates that are in line with their interests - even if they are be Republicans.
While I do not believe any worker should be forced to join a union, I also believe that if someone benefits from collective bargaining they should have to pay the actual cost of collective bargaining and NOTHING MORE. So, I guess that puts me in opposition to "right to work", at least as enacted in Michigan. That said, organized labor is not winning the argument. They would to better to\do work to win the support of private sector workers, something they have neglected for years.