Union Worker Calls for Reforming Unions

Union Worker Calls for Reforming Unions

According to a Chicago Tribune story, the International Association of Machinists (IAM), has filed suit in federal district court in Charleston, South Carolina, seeking an injunction requiring Republican governor Nikki Haley and her State Director of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, Catherine Templeton, to remain neutral on labor-management affairs, particularly with regard to the unionization of the new Boeing 787 assembly plant in Charleston.

As reported by the Associated Press, the lawsuit came after remarks Haley made last month as she nominated Templeton to head the state’s labor agency. She said Templeton’s union-fighting background would be helpful in state fights against the unions, particularly at Boeing. “She is ready for the challenge,” Haley said, “We’re going to fight the unions and I needed a partner to help me do it…”

Templeton said: “In my experience I have found there is not one company that operates more efficiently when you put another layer of bureaucracy in… We will do everything we can to work with Boeing and make sure that their work force is taken care of, that they run efficiently, and that we don’t add anything unnecessarily.”

When asked about the litigation, the governor said, “There’s no secret I don’t like the unions… We are a right-to-work state.  I will do everything I can to defend the fact we are a right-to-work state.  We are pro-business by nature.  I want us to continue to be pro-business.  If they don’t like what I said, I’m sorry.  That’s how I feel.”

As a former assembly line worker in the defense industry, I have seen the IAM in action and I fully understand why Governor Haley would want to keep the union out of South Carolina.

On March 3, 1952, I started my working career as a Sheet Metal Assembler and Riveter at the McDonnell Aircraft Corp. (later McDonnell-Douglas, now Boeing), near St. Louis.  My starting salary was $1.40 an hour, and after an eight month probationary period I received an increase of eight cents per hour – along with an application for membership in Local 837 of the International Association of Machinists.  Union membership was not an option.  The union had a “closed shop” agreement with McDonnell and if you wanted to work there you were obliged to join the union.

From the very first day I had difficulty figuring out exactly what benefit I derived from joining the union because the only time we ever heard from the union or saw them in action was when the foreman tried to fire someone.  I was taught to always give my employer at least eight hours of my best effort in exchange for eight hours pay, so it was a bit of a surprise to learn in my first week on the assembly line that there is an entire subculture in our society within which the principal goal is to receive the maximum amount of pay for the least amount of work.

There were people on the assembly line who would report for work at 7:30 AM, unlock their tool boxes, work for thirty minutes or an hour, disappear to the lavatory, smoke and shoot craps until 11:30, work for a half hour, and go to lunch.  Returning from lunch, they’d work for a half hour or an hour, disappear to the lavatory, shoot craps and tell fish-stories until 3:30, gather up their tools, lock their tool boxes, and be first in line to punch the time clock at the 4:00 o’clock shift change.

Whenever the company tried to fire one of the slackers the union immediately came to his defense, threatening a strike, and he’d be reinstated, with back pay.  And when the union negotiated a new contract the slackers got the same pay increase as those of us who put in a full day’s work, every day.  We were building F-101 Voodoo fighter aircraft for the Air Force, and F-3H2 carrier-based Demon fighters for the Navy.  When I understood the priorities of some of my co-workers I feared for the lives of the men who strapped themselves into the seats of those planes.

The long term impact of the labor movement on the U.S. economy is now becoming clearer with each passing day and it can best be described as an ugly blot on our republic.  What should be evident to all is that widespread unionization of the workforce has not been a positive influence on our economy or on our political institutions.  A quick inventory tells us that labor unions have all but destroyed the steel industry, the auto industry, the movie industry, the teaching profession, the construction trades, and the legal profession and have seriously damaged many others.

According to the Associated Press, IAM spokesman Frank Larkin has said that the South Carolina lawsuit is an attempt to make sure workers’ constitutionally protected rights aren’t harmed by the governor.  “Constitutionally protected rights?”  If Larkin is referring to the right of union members to “peaceably assemble,” that right is guaranteed by the First Amendment and is not under attack by Governor Haley.  But that is the only “constitutionally protected” right his members have as a union.  Beyond that, there is no right to impose a union on an employer and there is no right to strike.

It’s time everyone understood that to interfere with the smooth and efficient operation of an employer’s business is, in the strictest sense of the word, theft; that there are no constitutional protections that allow one man to acquire the property of another through coercion; that there is no right to interfere with or dictate the rules or methods by which an employer conducts his/her business; and that there is no right to cause the property of another to decrease in value through work stoppages or boycotts.  If workers are unhappy with their pay or with the conditions of their employment, they do have another right to rely on… they have a right to find work elsewhere.

In his book, And the Wolf Finally Came: The Decline of the American Steel Industry, John Hoerr, of BusinessWeek, describes what happened to the U.S. Steel industry at the hands of I.W. Abel and the United Steelworkers of America.  Hoerr tells us, “By the early 1980s, American steelworkers were the best-paid industrial workers in the world.  From 1967 to 1979, total hourly employment costs in the steel industry rose 180 percent, or an annual rise of 12.1 percent, while the industry’s productivity grew barely 2 percent a year.  When this cozy, anticompetitive world was punctured by lower-cost foreign steel, the union had only one answer: import barriers.”

Now that once-great industry, the symbol of American economic superiority, is gone, and so are hundreds of thousands of its jobs.  It was strangled to death by the steelworkers union.

What steelworkers have done to the steel industry, autoworkers have done to the auto industry.  As Robert J. Dewar, a former Ford Motor Company general foreman tells us in his book, A Savage Factory: An Eyewitness Account of the Auto Industry’s Self-Destruction, “the UAW arsenal easily outgunned management. Production was sabotaged. Critical employees were absent when high production was most needed. Tools mysteriously disappeared. Bad quality was run purposely.  The weakest, least desirable employees were protected with the full power of the labor contract.  When management and the UAW stood eyeball to eyeball, management always backed down – they had to – productivity and profitability hung in the balance.”

It has happened in industry after industry where union contracts were negotiated time after time with a “gun”… the threat of a protracted strike… held to the heads of management negotiators.  Union negotiators never allowed economic realities such as foreign competition to enter into the equation.  To use an apt metaphor, to place a labor union, with no economic investment in the enterprise, between the employer and the employee makes no more sense than for a wife to bring her mother or a close friend into the family to manage her relationship with her husband.

The only unionized sectors of our economy that have continued to grow and prosper, through good times and bad, are defense-related industries and government bureaucracy… sectors of our economy that are unaffected by the same economic realities that govern decision-making in other sectors of our economy.  But there is little mystery to it.

So long as the world remains a dangerous place for freedom-loving people and the United States must maintain a prohibitive military machine, the amount of money spent to support the defense industry will remain sacrosanct and defense contractors will pay whatever their unions demand.

So long as unions continue to soak their members for hundreds of millions of dollars in dues, they will continue to purchase the loyalty of politicians who will support every uneconomic advantage that unions demand.

So long as politicians continue to expand the size and scope of government, expanding the bloated bureaucracy and creating jobs for hordes of unionized government workers, we have little hope of controlling spending or reducing our national indebtedness.

So long as the unholy alliance exists between labor unions and compliant politicians, and so long as these elected officials continue to put the interests of union bosses ahead of the national interest, our economy will continue to suffer and our nation will continue on the decline.

So long as the docile American taxpayer remains willing to pick up the tab for this incestuous relationship, and so long as unions are allowed to function as if they have no responsibility for the national interests, we have little chance of leaving anything of value for future generations.  Unless we bring labor unions under control, as Governor Haley is attempting to do in South Carolina, the epitaph on our national tombstone will read, “Dead by the hand of labor.”

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