Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

The Economist: Union leaders sound “jarringly out of touch”

Imagine my slightly-surprised moment when I flipped through the most recent issue of The Economist and noticed that they doppelgangering-ly titled their Lexington article on labor unions “Labour Pains”.  They even had a petite Richard Trumka sitting on President Obama’s shoulder, whispering in his ear.

Here are some highlights:

The lead: “Barack Obama will never satisfy his union backers. Nor should he try.”

After chronicling Obama’s handouts to labor unions, and mentioning that public cash is the unions’ lifeline, the magazine moves onto impact of unions on the American job market…and why the market forces don’t apply to the public sector:

Market forces place a natural check on unionisation at private firms. […]  Such checks do not apply in the public sector. The government cannot easily go bust. When a company pays over the odds for labour, the money comes straight out of its owners’ pockets. They usually object. But when a politician hikes public servants’ pay, he wins votes. If this year’s budget is tight, he can promise lavish pensions, secure in the knowledge that the bill will come due only in the distant future.

Unfortunately, that distant future is now, which is why so many states are in a fiscal pickle. Per hour worked, state and local government workers enjoy 34% higher wages and 70% more benefits than their private-sector counterparts, calculates Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank. […]

And a hearty warning from the Economist about the November elections:

Organised labour is, of course, organised; and that confers political influence. But union bosses can sound jarringly out of touch. “A job is a good job because workers fight to make it one,” says Mr. Trumka. Many other Americans, however, think a job should pay well if you do it well, and grumble that this rule doesn’t seem to apply to unionised public servants. Taxpayers are angry, and itching to vote in November.

Maybe instead of trying to sit on President Obama’s shoulder, union leaders should be looking over theirs.

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