Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

The Steadily Self-Destructing Labor Movement

For years, we’ve contended that laws and other measures said to be “pro-worker” are in reality, only benefiting labor union bosses. It turns out that the last four years were the experiment that proves our hypothesis.

With President Obama in the White House, and pro-union leadership at the Department of Labor and National Labor Relations Board, unions have faced a greater decline than in the eight years of the Bush administration, says Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute. In her opinion piece at Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch, she makes the case that Obama’s first term has been disastrous for organized labor:

The latest data continue a trend of steadily declining union membership over the past 30 years. Yet during Obama’s first term, the decline in union membership has accelerated. The unionization rate declined by 1.2 percentage points, compared to 1.1 percentage points during the eight Bush years. Public sector unionization rates fell by nine-tenths of a percentage point during Obama’s tenure, compared with seven-tenths of a percentage point during Bush’s two terms.

No matter how pro-union a president, an anti-business agenda results in lost jobs for non-union workers and union members alike. While Obama has championed union causes, his tax and regulatory policies have systematically discouraged business investment and job creation in America.

Furchtgott-Roth makes a compelling case that the same politicians that labor unions have supported have helped to accelerate labor’s decline.

So as unionization rates decline, what’s the loss to the average employee? Mark P. Cussen of Investopedia, via the San Francisco Chronicle, asks “Are Labor Unions Effective?” and then provides a roundabout answer. Cussen says that “[o]f course, labor unions were created for the benefit of their members,” but then fails to provide much support for what they’ve been up to since they began. Groups that were formed exclusively to support women’s suffrage were also very effective—the 19th Amendment became law. But if those groups didn’t change their mission, they folded. Likewise, the victories that are attributed to labor unions were won generations ago.

So what have unions been pressing for since they pushed for the five-day work week? Cussen writes:

Unions can convince workers to join them as a means of preserving the unions’ clout in industries (such as the U.S. auto industry). But history shows that this can cripple an industry, especially over time.

The best that Cussen can argue is that unions “will likely continue to impact our industries and other sectors of the economy one way or another for decades to come.” Unions certainly “impact” the economy, but for the worse.

Nonetheless, organized labor will continue to prop itself up. And Democrats, both at the state and federal level, who rely on labor leaders directing political support their way will continue to support unions. But this is blind support: politicians are willing to hear, see, and speak no evil of labor despite tactics that oppose their principles, such as forced association. And as Furchtgott-Roth argues, unions support politicians whose policies inflict greater harm to organized labor.

It’s hard to understand why this cycle continues. Unions are happy to play the political power brokers, but to what end? It certainly hasn’t supported their declining membership. Furchtgott-Roth says that “[u]nion bosses may be doing better under President Obama, but rank-and-file union members are not,” and she’s right. Because labor leadership is benefitting financially from this arrangement, it will continue, for now, even if it isn’t sustainable.

Categories: Center for Union FactsPolitical Money