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The state of the unions

Posted: November 20, 2009 3:50 p.m.
Updated: November 22, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Organized Labor has a long and storied history in America. Approximately 1 in 10 Americans claim they are a member of one. But as the economy that tanked in late 2007 continues to resist a rebound, Americans are beginning to ask themselves if labor unions are part of the solution or a big part of the problem.

Organized Labor reaches into the paychecks of the workers it purports to represent so it can lavish huge political contributions upon naïve and sometimes corrupt politicians, who will do the bidding of the Big Labor bosses.

Americans are beginning to understand how this financial deal allows Big Labor to essentially choose our leaders.

In this economy, Americans say they want to see more jobs created rather than increased wages on jobs that already exist. It has always been the case that union workers spend fewer hours on the job than their non-union counterparts. It’s great to have a higher wage, but that means little if you’re sitting in the union hiring hall with a ticket that says No. 125 when they just called ticket No. 12.

All relevant data continues to provide evidence that unions are still losing members to the open-shop industries with which they compete. Corporations and small businesses today are savvier about the wants and needs of their employees and move quickly to address concerns before they manifest into a call for unionization.

Furthermore, Americans in general have come to see organized labor as an antiquity for which there is no modernized form. When I talk to folks about their feelings on unions, I am generally treated to the same opening thought each time. Most agree organized labor played an important role in the development of fair wages and a safe working environment during the establishment of industry in America.

But the next thought most folks share about unions is a frustration with their apparent inability to change with the times. Though rarely seen committing actual violence (see: “On The Waterfront” with Marlon Brando), labor bosses come off as bullies who are bent on exacting their will upon those who reject their collectivist message. Recent incidents of violence committed by members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) at health care town hall meetings and conservative “tea party” events are driving this perception that unions are thuggish in thought and deed.

Several policy proposals unions have championed in recent years also give us clues to their decline in the public’s perception.

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and its draconian “card check” provision are a good example of this. Having clearly identified the importance in increasing membership to their survival, Big Labor bosses working with the Democrats drafted the EFCA and passed it successfully through the House of Representatives. The bill, which trades the secret ballot voting process for hand-delivered “card check” votes in the unionization process, died in the Senate but was brought back to the national conversation after President Barack Obama and Democrats sealed their domination of Congress in 2008.

That and a provision that would mandate Federal Binding Arbitration if a union contract could not be approved within 90 days (thus putting the federal government in the driver’s seat in labor negotiations) have consistently polled badly with the American people.

The union-only Project Labor Agreement (PLA) has been around since the 1930s but has recently become the touchstone of the unionized construction industry.

Project labor agreements require all contractors, regardless of union affiliation, to subject themselves and their employees to unionization in order to work on a government-funded construction project.

This provision puts additional burdens, beyond those of prevailing wage laws, on non-union contractors and usually results in fewer bidders on public works construction projects.

President George W. Bush banned the use of PLAs on federal projects, a ban that was overturned by Obama. At least one federal construction project has been put on hold this year as a result of questions regarding the legality of placing union-only requirements on projects funded by taxpayers.

PLAs are also a huge issue for locally and state-funded projects here in California. When told the exact nature of PLAs, people polled on the issue overwhelmingly reject these union sweetheart deals.

Public perception of organized labor continues to decline even as Big Labor bosses and their minions in government continue to attempt to stack the deck in their favor.

This is no coincidence.

The labor movement that once asked America to trust in the worker now takes all Americans for fools.

Kevin D. Korenthal is a Merit Shop construction association leader and lives in Canyon Country. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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