Wednesday, November 12, 2008

As if unions weren't bad enough already

To follow Al's last post about Detroit:

I think it's fair to say that unions have greatly contributed to the Big 3's current situation - excessive wages, pensions, etc.

They've had the same detrimental effect on public education (this is coming from the kid of two teachers no less). The lack of accountability for performance and the difficulty in firing incompetent/criminal teachers is appalling.

So now Obama wants to let unions get more power? He supports the Employee Free Choice Act (complete misnomer) - which makes it easier for unions to organize and increases penalties on employers. Sounds like a great way to jump-start the economy...

Unions had their place 80 years ago. It's time to let them die so they can't continue to hurt business and education.


Al Powell said...

Welcome to the blogosphere, Voodoo. And Amen, brother!

I was trying to think of a successful industry that relies on unionized labor. I came up with pro football, but that is one of the weakest unions out there. The NFLPA doesn't even have guaranteed contracts or an adequate pension program. Baseball and basketball's unions are much more effective, and look how much people like those products.

Vegas casinos are another, but can their recent woes be at least in part due to onerous union contracts? I suspect the answer is yes, though I admit ignorance here.

There is no way American industries with unions tied around their necks can compete globally.

Restless Native said...

Couple things:

1) Pretty much every bill carries a label that is pure marketing and frequently misleading. Examples that come to mind quickly are the Patriot Act and No Child Left Behind. Imagine yourself as a congressman weighing these bills and then thinking about the ads that will be run against you at election time. "Congressman VooDoo voted against Patriots and also wants to leave children behind. Can we afford to support child-hating anti-patriots?" You get the idea.

2) Agree 100% that teachers should not be unionized, in spite of the somewhat monopolistic hold on the labor market in any given area a school district has. Teachers are professionals and almost by definition college graduates. They should be paid better and based on merit (which is not necessarily the same thing as improving standardized test scores).

3) Good on you for at least recognizing the role unions have played in building our country with your allowance that they had their place 80 years ago.

4) A lot of GM's problems are rooted in pension and health-care deals they made 50-some years ago, so let's not needlessly slag off current union employees.

5) Al Powell denigrating baseball makes God cry. Al Powell denigrating professional basketball makes God rejoice. Al Powell is making God a bit bipolar. Al Powell is going to have to cough up some scratch for God's lithium prescription.

6) Unions can still play a vital role in making America great again. Representing the membership while working with management to improve productivity and link members interests to those of the company is a win-win.

VooDoo said...

Concur with Restless on teachers - it should be merit-based, but standardized test scores have to play a role somehow. Every other industry get measured in some capacity - safety incidents, productivity, sales, profit, etc - and like it or not standardized test scores are a part of that.

I would never downplay the roles unions had at the turn of the century in taking care of workers rights. Big business and the Robber Barons held too much influence, and unions were an effective and appropriate mechanism to fix that situation. The problem is that, thanks to unions, there are now laws that provide the same protection and unions are therefore unnecessary. Plus, unions have been unable to adapt to the changes in business, particularly as things went globally, and now hinder our competitiveness.

The basic question is this: What purpose do unions really serve now, when the basic workers rights that they were originally formed to serve are now covered by other mechanisms such as legislation (OSHA, EEO, etc)? Tell me the answer and I might be more understanding.

Acknowledge that legislation naming is lots of political gamesmanship too.

GammaBoy said...

Good posts, although I think there unions per se and the legislation mentioned by Voodoo are two different things. Unions have a role to play even now, but if they were really effective at meeting workers' needs, you would expect union membership to be strong as workers flocked to join unions. But they haven't and union participation as fallen precipitiously. I'm sure there are some unions that are really effective, so I am not going to slam all unions, but legislation that gives unions the ability to bully workers into joining is a terrible idea.

With apologies to Aztec's apoplexy at this statement, this legislation is a blind power grab by the Dems. Unions fund all sorts of Democratic party initiatives, and union dues are non-negotiable. By creating more unions, the Dems guarantee themselves more money. This is not about helping workers. It is about strengthening the Democratic party.

friedmanite said...

Unions are fine, but they need to survive on their own merit, not have laws that guarantee or force their existence. Just like businesses can't collude to price fix a product, laws shouldn't give unions the sole control over labor for a specific industry.

If workers want to join a union, go for it. If they don't, they shouldn't have to. Likewise, if companies want to employee union workers or not, it should be up to them. The government's role should be to ensure there is no coercion or thuggery.

A law forcing the use of union labor is a distortion of the market, which causes unwanted side effects (as all market distortions do). For example, if company A gets $10 of productivity out of the avg worker, but the union forces a wage of $12, then you'll see the company either move to a cheaper labor area or replace workers with machinery, etc. The union worker is out of job, instead of having the option of working for $9.

Restless Native said...


Once again a salient and thoughtful addition to the discourse. Your reasonableness is only surpassed by your gentlemanly demeanor.

Thanks for being there, sincerely.


Yo Gabba Gabba said...

All well said...I'll chime in with Bush's "Clean Skies Act." As one wag noted, well, it will clean the skies of birds....