Joe Biden likes to talk about how “unions built this country.” And, up to a point, he’s right. From FDR to Nixon, the American labor movement held considerable sway over the nation’s economic destiny.
Since the 70s, a decade marked by economic extremes Biden’s policies are causing us to revisit, unions have been in decline. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports participation in the labor movement to be down across the board. Unionized private sector workers represent just 6.1 percent of the labor force, an all-time low, while the total number of those in unions dropped last year by almost a quarter of a million.
The labor movement has lost a lot of its clout. What remains comes because the rank and file are held captive by the union bosses who extract political contributions from them to what remains of its political influence. To put it another way, it’s the number of dollars they provide to the politicians, not the number of members who can vote that account for what influence remains.
The union bosses would have you believe membership is down because it’s too hard to organize. They want the politicians who are still in their hip pockets to let them boost their numbers by resetting the clock to the days when people had to join a union as a condition of their employment whether they wanted to or not.
It’s an interesting theory but it doesn’t fit the facts. America’s workers no longer need union representation as they once did. Employers in the post-industrial era are smarter, offer better pay and benefits, greater flexibility on the job site, and more input into operations than many union shops allow.
The unions, of course, would argue against this. But what do they have to show in the way of success? The high-profile 2021 effort to organize workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama failed when then voted against 2 to 1.
The federal government gave the unions a do-over on that vote, but we’ll see if it changes the outcome. It’s not likely. The continuing decline is evident. Even strikes are becoming problematic as in Colorado, where members of a United Food and Commercial Workers local found themselves betrayed by their president, Kim Cordova, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Throughout the month of January, negotiations over a new contract between the King Soopers supermarket chain and UFCW Local 7 became tense amid a strike that restricted access to food and dealt a devastating blow to area residents. All this on top of a Biden economy that has inflation is eating away at rising wages like it hasn’t in decades.
Hours before the strike began, the union rejected an offer by King Soopers to bring the minimum starting wage up to $16 per hour and pay increases of up to $4.50 per hour for its members. For ten days, members of the union sat at home or marched on a picket line while Local 7 President Kim Cordova continued to collect her $200,000+ annual salary while promising she would get a better deal.
The offer eventually a majority of Local 7 members accepted appears to include many of the same proposals Cordova called “concessionary” days earlier according to theWorld Socialist Web Site. That same week, Senator Bernie Sanders hosted a virtual panel that amounted to little more than “damage control for the union” and praised Cordova’s efforts to get a deal that probably could have been had before the strike. If this doesn’t seem fair, it isn’t. Yet it’s happening repeatedly as union bosses like Cordova choose what’s good for the union and its officials over what’s good for the rank-and-file.
We’ve seen this before. In the 1960s, the New York City newspaper unions let several prominent but marginally profitable dailies shut down rather than make concessions that would have kept them open and their members on the job. During the Obama-led reorganization of General Motors, the unions killed an effort by a private sector entrepreneur who wanted to run the Saturn brand as an independent, non-union company. The union survived. The workers didn’t.
Politicians like Biden and Sanders who say the labor movement is dying need to face up to the fact union leaders like Cordova are killing it. It’s not murder. It’s suicide.
President Joe Biden’s multitrillion-dollar infrastructure proposal includes a major union handout that would overhaul labor law in the United States.
The White House released a fact sheet Wednesday detailing Biden’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure package that includes a call to pass the PRO Act, which is currently languishing in the Senate after passing the House. The law would overturn right-to-work laws in 27 states and expand the ability of the National Labor Relations Board to fine employers that violate employees’ organizing rights.
“[Biden] is calling on Congress to ensure all workers have a free and fair choice to join a union by passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, and guarantee union and bargaining rights for public service workers,” the fact sheet states. The sheet also says that increased union membership can increase worker productivity. The labor overhaul, however, would overturn existing laws in more than half of the states in the country that allow employees to work without requiring union membership.
Biden’s infrastructure plan would also provide a massive handout to the Service Employees International Union by allocating $400 billion for in-home Medicaid health care. In many Democratic-run states, in-home Medicaid health workers are forced to join the SEIU, a major Democratic donor and labor union with nearly two million members.
Critics of the proposal said Biden is using the infrastructure package as “cover” to pass pro-union reform.
“By using his massive infrastructure proposal as cover for denying millions of American workers their right to decide for themselves whether or not to subsidize union activities, President Biden is proving that his top priority is really building the forced-dues empire of his union boss political allies,” Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, said. “The so-called PRO Act will eliminate by federal fiat all 27 state right-to-work laws and give union bosses a whole host of other new coercive tools to force workers into compulsory dues payments and one-size-fits-all union ‘representation.'”
The infrastructure bill, which Democrats have called “must-pass” legislation, may be the best vehicle for advancing the controversial PRO Act. Biden’s strong endorsement of the labor law has not helped it advance through the Democratic-controlled Senate. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) reportedly told AFL-CIO leaders that he would not bring it to the floor without 50 cosponsors, according to the Intercept. Sens. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), Mark Kelly (D., Ariz.), Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.), Mark Warner (D., Va.), and Angus King (I., Maine) have yet to back the package.
Other union watchdogs said the Democratic holdouts are right to be skeptical of the bill. Charlyce Bozzello, communications director at the Center for Union Facts, said the passage of the act could harm workers who are struggling to recover from the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Far from providing a ‘free and fair’ choice for workers, the PRO Act is nothing more than a union wishlist,” Bozzello said. “The bill does little to support American workers who are struggling to get back on their feet after the pandemic. Instead, it would consolidate more control with our country’s labor unions, force more employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment, override the right to a secret ballot election, and threaten the livelihood of countless freelancers.”
Biden unveiled the infrastructure package at a speech in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. He urged quick congressional action on the package, which Democratic lawmakers have said they want to pass by Independence Day. He also said that he wants to include Republicans in negotiations, but other Democratic leaders have indicated that they could push the infrastructure package through via the budget reconciliation process.
The passage of the PRO Act would likely require the elimination of the Senate filibuster, however, which would allow the Senate to move forward on a number of other Democratic legislative initiatives. Manchin and Sinema have said they oppose ending the filibuster.
The Biden administration did not respond to a request for comment.
Has COVID-19 softened Labor/Management relations?
Entrepreneur extraordinaire Mark Cuban has coined the term, “America 2.0” to designate the new realities Americans will face as a result of the COVID-19 quarantine. One of those realities has been the highlighting of the interdependence of labor and management required to attain a successful business. In case after case, we have heard employers and business owners discuss the extreme measures they have undertaken to reduce the burdens on their employees as they face loss of wages and even employment. Their pleas for help have finally penetrated even the hallowed halls of Congress and the Federal Reserve.
Many are learning the lessons that John Mackey discusses in his account of the time when his Whole Foods store would have failed if not saved by the efforts of his loyal employees, suppliers and customers. (Conscious Capitalism, 2013) He discovered that the fate of his business was really in the hands of all those whom he had served so diligently. They had repaid his loyalty to them by proving they were also stakeholders in his company.
This is the prism through which we are looking at the topic of this discussion. Clearly, there are external factors as well. Before the pandemic, we were very close to a labor shortage. We were hearing pleas from recruiters to retirees and other pools of unattached workers to rejoin the workforce. Hiring and retaining a competent workforce was becoming a high priority in some industries, and critical in others. The usual effect of such a situation is an increase of the enticements to candidates or employees to hire or retain their services, including bonuses, higher wages, and enhanced benefits.
The effect of the shutdown on this situation is not clear at the current time. With the ranks of the suddenly unemployed raising to 26 million and the specter of a flood of bankruptcies looming, the US will not be facing a labor shortage overall – at least for some time. But the effect on specific industries may reflect a different picture.
What does seem to have occurred, however, is a renewed realization on the part of many business owners of just how essential good employees are to the functioning of a successful business. The recipients of this concern presumably have a renewed understanding and appreciation of their employer’s evaluation of their services. To the extent that this interdependence has come to the attention of both parties, to that extent this may be an opportunity to promote an enhanced role for workers in the decision-making of American businesses.
The work of the employees has traditionally been undervalued, as the legacy of feudalism and slavery which dominated the world economy until the rise of the middle class in the 18th century – and in many places still does.
Here are five arguments in favor of the re-evaluation of workers’ rights in 21st century USA.
The challenge technological change presents is how to share the leisure as well as the profits of a technology-driven economy. Somebody has to make that decision. There are only two candidates to make those decisions: The Government (Socialism) or the people involved (free-market Capitalism).
The trouble with giving the Government the authority to re-distribute wealth is that Government will not stop taking profits until it takes everything. The safer solution lies with the company itself deciding what is the right formula for distribution of profits as well as leisure times. The new view of capitalism along the lines of the “Conscious Capitalism “movement, makes possible a peaceful and amical development of the re-distribution of both profits and losses. This re-thinking of the entire role of business and the human rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” promised by our Constitution long ago is our best hope for solving the wealth gap and saving our democracy.
It is this prospect which seems perhaps closer to fulfillment today due to the pandemic of 2020.
Their bill won’t pass the Senate, but it tells us what’s coming the next time they’re in charge.
Writing about legislation often feels pointless under divided government, because no partisan bill is going to become law anyway. So it is with the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a labor bill that the Democratic House created and will vote on soon — and that most certainly will not pass the Republican Senate.
These fruitless exercises do give us a sense of what the parties will do when next they seize power, however, and it’s a slow news week, so let’s see what the Big Labor Left has on its mind these days. In short, this is an aggressive bill that doubles down on the coercive unionization system the U.S. already has in place.
A brief primer on that system: Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), private-sector unionization starts with a union trying to get workers to sign cards saying they’d like to join. If half of the workplace signs up, the employer can voluntarily recognize the union (via “card check”); or, far more likely, it can insist on a secret-ballot election. If the union wins, it becomes the workers’ exclusive representative — the business is legally required to negotiate with the union in good faith, and it is illegal for individual workers to negotiate their own deals with the business directly. The law also spells out various “unfair labor practices” ensuring that neither side does anything to interfere with the process. In states without right-to-work, employees unionized this way must support the organization through dues or fees, even if they voted against the union and don’t wish to join it.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the biggest proposed changes:
Bye-bye, right-to-work. Workers everywhere could be forced to financially support unions they don’t want to join, because right-to-work laws would be banned.
Agree to a contract or one shall be imposed upon you. In everyday life, when a contract negotiation fails, the result is that . . . there is no contract. Under the bill, failed negotiations would lead to the business being forced into mediation and eventually binding arbitration with the union.
“Stealth” card check. During the Obama administration, Democrats tried to end secret-ballot elections, so that card check would be the end of the process. This bill isn’t so brazen, but when a union loses an election, the National Labor Relations Board would be able to find the employer guilty of election interference and accept the results of the card check instead of the actual vote.
Better rules for me, worse rules for thee. Struggles between unions and management can get brutal, and much of labor law consists of ground rules for how the two sides fight it out. The bill would shift these rules fundamentally in unions’ favor. Businesses, for example, would face greater liability for their violations and could no longer require workers to sit through anti-union presentations during the workday. Unions, meanwhile, would see restrictions on their behavior lightened, especially regarding strikes: Businesses could no longer discourage strikes by hiring permanent replacement workers, and unions could conduct “secondary” or “sympathy” strikes and boycotts against businesses that aren’t even involved in the negotiations at issue.
Hope you liked Obama’s National Labor Relations Board: I’ve written previously about how the NLRA leaves too much to the discretion of the executive branch, and as a result labor law ping-pongs every time the White House changes hands. The bill would change that, naturally by writing numerous Obama-era rules into the law so no future administration could change them back. It would become harder for businesses to rely on independent contractors rather than full employees; unions could stage “ambush” elections so business owners wouldn’t have much time to make their case; franchise businesses such as McDonald’s would often be considered “joint employers” of people hired by individual franchises, and thus exposed to liability for labor-law violations; etc. I do wish Congress would negotiate an end to these issues and write a compromise into the law, but this is not that.
The time is ripe for a reimagining of labor law. The current system is obviously not serving its purpose, as seen in the enormous decline of private-sector unions in recent decades. There are ways we could make the system more flexible and less coercive (see here for a lot of ideas), giving unions an opportunity to regain a foothold without forcing workers to join. But Democrats appear stuck in the past.
by Bill McMorris • Washington Free Beacon
A federal judge in Texas could strike down another of the Obama administration’s most controversial labor rules.
Judge Amos L. Mazzant from the Eastern District of Texas will rule Tuesday on the Department of Labor’s new overtime regulations. Those regulations would force employers to pay overtime to any white collar worker making less than $913 per week–about $47,000 per year—double the previous threshold of $455. The rule also includes an escalator provision that automatically raises the threshold every three years, similar to how some minimum wage provisions are designed to adjust for inflation.
More than 20 states and dozens of companies and industry trade groups have filed suit to block the regulations from taking effect. Continue reading
The Wisconsin governor has created a template for busting unions
By Matt Patterson • Washington Times
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is clearly running for president.
He may or may not win the nomination; he may or may not win the presidency. Even if he never wins another election, Mr. Walker is already the most consequential Republican politician of the last quarter-century, excepting only George W. Bush.
On March 9, with the stroke of his pen, Mr. Walker pierced the heart of Wisconsin organized labor when he signed right-to-work into law. Right-to-work allows workers to opt out of union dues and is viciously opposed by unions who maintain the level of financial support they do only because many workers are forced by federal labor law to pony up.
Right-to-work changes that. It does not forbid unionization; it does not outlaw unions. Labor unions are perfectly free to organize in right-to-work states. The only difference — in right-to-work states they actually have to earn the dues money they collect.
Right-to-work has traditionally been confined to the deep-red South and West. Wisconsin now follows Michigan as right-to-work advances into the deep-blue Midwest and Upper West. Continue reading
Private sector union membership peaked at nearly 36 percent of the workforce in the mid-1950s. It’s been downhill ever since.
An unprecedented trend is reshaping the contemporary American workplace: U.S. workers are headed in one direction even as union leaders and their bought-and-paid-for politicians and bureaucrats in Washington are going full-gallop in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, this development is rarely if ever mentioned in the news pages of the liberal precincts of the mainstream media. That absence is especially unfortunate because the way Americans work is undergoing fundamental change. Continue reading
It’s official: The United Auto Workers lost the representation vote at the Volkswagen Chattanooga plant. The cleverly named nooga.com has the story. The vote was close: 89 percent of workers voted, and they rejected the union by a 712-626 vote.
What’s remarkable about this is that the company and the union colluded in trying to get the workers to vote for union representation. The reason is that Volkswagen’s German union, IG Metall, which under German law has seats on the company’s board, wanted to install the UAW as the workers’ bargaining representatives. If you want to see evidence of this collusion, click on the link and look at the expressions on the faces of Volkswagen Chattanooga President Frank Fischer and UAW leader Gary Casteel. These are not happy campers. They still hold out of the prospect of some kind of workers’ council on which the union would represent the workers. But they seem to clearly understand that most of the plant’s employees don’t want UAW representation.
Why not? Continue reading
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals joined federal appeals courts in the District of Columbia and Philadelphia in ruling that the Senate wasn’t really in recess when Obama filled vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) during an extended holiday break in January 2012.
On Jan. 4, 2012, President Obama appointed Deputy Labor Secretary Sharon Block, union lawyer Richard Griffin and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) counsel Terence Flynn to fill vacancies on the five-member NLRB, which referees labor-management disputes and oversees union elections. At that time, Obama claimed he was making “recess appointments.” However, since the Senate was not in recess, that claim was disingenuous and unconstitutional as it removed the normal checks and balances on presidential appointments. Continue reading