Unions Bad For Unions?

by Matt Patterson on January 29, 2013

in Economy, Employment, Labor

Hard to believe, but even under the most union-friendly president since FDR, organized labor in America continues to shrink in numbers, popularity and influence.

The latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics are enough to give any union leader a Trumka-sized case of heartburn. Last year, the number of union members plummeted by about 400,000 workers, leaving a mere 14.4 million union members in the American workforce. The percentage of workers who belong to a union dropped from 11.8 to 11.3 percent in 2012, the lowest level in nearly a century.

(The loss hit unions representing workers in both the public and private sectors: the former declined from 37 to 35.9 percent; the latter from 6.9 to 6.6. percent.)

All of this under the watch of Barack Obama, who has labored mightily to repay his money masters with sympathetic appointees to an already labor-friendly National Labor Relations Board (appointments that have now been found unconstitutional), as well government bailouts to unions under the guise of “stimulus.”

And yet, the great union contraction continues. Indeed, as the Manhattan Institute’s Diana Furchtgott-Roth notes, unions have suffered as much erosion under four years of Obama as they did under eight years of George W. Bush.

So what’s going on? Surely, as Ms. Furchtgott-Roth contends, Obama’s anti-growth, high tax economic regime has devastated the labor market, erasing opportunities for all workers, union and non-union alike.

But for a look at the real author of Big Labor’s long and deserved dénouement, union leaders need look no further than the nearest mirror. In the private sector, union-driven collective bargaining agreements have driven companies (so long, Hostess) and, indeed, entire sectors (see: auto industry) to the brink of insolvency, and beyond.

And the same thing is happening to state and local governments. Unions have understandably reacted with fury at the efforts of governors like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Michigan’s Rick Snyder to loosen labor’s grip on the body politic. Union leaders have mobilized their members against such state-level reforms, organizing protests, vilification campaigns and legal challenges to such laws and their makers.

By why, exactly, do these union leaders think states have been forced to take such actions? And let’s face it, it’s not as if Michigan and Wisconsin are bastions of anti-labor sentiment. Indeed, both states can rightly claim to occupy the heart of Union Nation.

In truth, even traditionally Democratic states have been forced to cut at least some of their ties to their unionized workforce precisely because unions have driven up the cost of government, washing the state in red ink (in Walker’s case) or driving the industrial tax base on which the government depends into the ditch (in Snyder’s case).

The labor-reform laws pushed by these brave governors and their allied legislators are having the exact results that their authors hoped (Wisconsin turned a $3.6 billion state deficit into a surplus), and that their detractors feared (Wisconsin’s unionization rate has been decimated in the wake of Walker’s reforms, falling 14 percent in 2012 alone). But these laws would never have been necessary if labor bosses hadn’t been so greedy for so long.

Obama may be on labor’s side, now and forever, but governors like Walker and Snyder have an even more potent ally: Economic reality.

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