Labor Union Day

Labor Day has become little more than an opportunity for union leaders to puff out their chests and make grandiose statements about the glories of organized labor.

As a way to build their brand, union leaders typically pit management against labor, portraying the worker as David fighting greedy entrepreneurs and corporate Goliaths. This is especially true on Labor Day which, courtesy of organized labor, has morphed into “Labor Union Day.”

No one is better at union puffery than American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, who proclaimed on her union’s website last week, “Unions still matter.” Her Goliaths-du-jour are the Koch brothers and the Waltons, “and the politicians they’ve bought, (who) think they can paint us as the problem, and they’re doing their best to do just that.”

But there is a huge horsefly in her ointment. According to recently released numbers by the Center for Responsive Politics, half of the nation’s top organizational donors in 2014 were unions, with the National Education Association weighing in at #3 and Weingarten’s AFT at #7, while the Koch Brothers were #14. It looks like the unions have traded their slingshots for AK-47s.

Another standard union ploy is to pump themselves up by taking credit for the five-day work week and the eight hour day. But this too is fantasy. The credit for that goes to noted capitalist Henry Ford who, thinking it was a good business move, instituted that change in the 1920s. (The United Auto Workers didn’t come into being until 1935.)

The unions also make sure to take time out the first Monday of September to assure its members that without the union they would be living in Dickensian poverty. Actually there is no truth to this assertion either. Debunking various union claims, Manhattan Institute’s Diana Furchtgott-Roth cited recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data,

Unionized workers are more heavily concentrated in urban and northeast regions, where both the costs of labor and living are higher. BLS data show that 26% of New York workers belong to unions, compared to 3% of South Carolina workers. Yes, New Yorkers earn more, but a nationally averaged $100 bill buys $87 worth of goods in New York and $110 in South Carolina, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Furchtgott-Roth also points out that that union membership has been declining all over the country and this is worrying Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. So worried in fact that the White House will be convening a Summit on Worker Voice on Oct. 7 to, in Perez’s words, “highlight the value of collective bargaining.” I guess not too many workers are seeing that “value” as the share of workers belonging to unions declined from 20 percent in 1983 to 11 percent in 2014. The percent of private-sector union members is now a measly 6.6 percent and union leaders are mum on the issue. Other than worker dissatisfaction with unions, the main reason is that companies can’t bear the bloated salaries and perks that its leaders demand. As a result, unionized companies begin to lose market share to nonunionized firms and then, to stay solvent, move their manufacturing to foreign lands. Using the auto industry as an example, Furchtgott-Roth writes,

In 1987, Volkswagen closed what was then its only assembly plant in America, which was located in New Stanton, Pa. During its 10 years of operation, workers went on strike several times, halting production lines and forcing the company to pay higher wages. Volkswagen moved its production to Mexico and Brazil to take advantage of lower wage rates. Last year, auto workers at the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., voted against joining the United Auto Workers.

My guess is that Weingarten and her cronies never came to understand the simple rudiments of capitalism. Or do they…? As Deroy Murdock points out, when unions become management, they act just like any company trying to protect its bottom line, and the hypocrisy is stunning.

  • For 13 years, Jim Callaghan wrote speeches and newsletter articles for the United Federation of Teachers (Weingarten’s New York City AFT local.) He told the New York Post that when managers sacked one of his colleagues without cause, he decided to organize the UFT’s 12 in-store, non-union writers. He was fired for his efforts.
  • “We’ve got to downsize,” a United Auto Workers source said. As its membership shrank from some 500,000 in 2008 to 431,000 in 2009, the union fired 120 of its own staffers “to balance its budget,” the Detroit News noted.
  • Private companies often complain that union labor is too expensive and it seems that the powerful International Brotherhood of Teamsters agrees. When constructing their union hall in Houston, they refused to employ union workers because they were too costly.

I can only hope that on Labor Days to come, we celebrate the contributions of the American worker, who – along with entrepreneurs and capitalists – made the country what it is. The unions with their colossal hubris, hypocrisy and heavy-handed ways have done nothing to deserve a “Day” of their own.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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