Union Power and Politics

One can certainly worry about the future of labor and management relations.   The recent scandal of the bailout of GM and Chrysler only highlight the many ramifications of increased union political clout and the use and misuse of public funds, not government funds, public funds.  The government has no funds.  It only has available to it what it takes from the public by taxation.  This is not a polemic about union bashing.  That libertarian streak runs pretty deep and I have no pr0blem with folks banding together to negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment.   They should have that right  and the companies should have the right to say no and individuals should have the right to join or no join a union.  It is not productive to paint either labor or management as the great bogeyman.  Trampling on the rights of either is the problem as is granting unfair advantage through government edict.

My first awareness of unions was with my dad.  After the War he was with the railroad and of course a union man.  You didn’t have a choice if you worked for the railroad.  It was mandatory.  I remember him complaining to my mom when they didn’t think I was listening or paying attention that the local union boss was demanding kickbacks.  That phrase wasn’t used I am sure but the yard union boss was wanting extra money from each member in addition to the union dues paid every month.  Then my dad was really disappointed when a couple of his friends from the old neighborhood who were also working for the railroad wanted him  to help them pilfer boxcars.  I remember that really well.  My dad had told them no way and they were angry with him for not helping.  Dad was in a quandry because he didn’t want to rat out his friends but didn’t like being in the position of knowing anything about their doings.  These guys had played softball with dad on the railroad team.  That was a big deal in that era and there were many excellent teams.   We went to the games often.  My dad was the catcher.  I do know that those guys got caught stealing.   My dad was an outcast at the yard and the pressure was too much and he hated the whole environment.  He moved on with his life and jobs.  That was my introduction to unions.

Now fast forward a couple of decades to law school.  Labor law was one of the course you were expected to take.  The National Labor Relations Board had been in existence since the Roosevelt era.  They had and still have many many pages of laws and regulations regarding how companies must deal with unions.  There is a whole section on unfair labor practices.   Mostly those rules are designed to prevent a company from exercising First Amendment rights to express their views on unions, contract negotiations and the advantages or lack thereof of joining a union.  The professor who taught the course had been  with that board as an enforcer for the Board.  He brought lawsuits against companies for alleged unfair labor practices.  He was very pro union and made those views known. The only acceptable answer to any issue was pro union.  You had better find a way to promote the union position on all exam questions and the response to classroom queries under the Socratic method employed.    His big bug-a-boo then was the right to work states where the employees were allowed to refuse to join unions if they so chose.  He wanted everyone to have to be a member and pay the dues.  He wanted every company to be a “closed shop”. 

There was a case many years ago where a company in the south was faced with a likely vote of its workers to form a union.  That is their right.  The owner of the plant decided he would rather close his operation than deal with union leaders–just go out of business.  The NLRB found however that he couldn’t close his plant because that was an unfair labor practice.  You would think the owner would have had the right to do with his property and money as he pleased. 

The pressing concern of the day with unions is their growth in the public employee sector.  These people only have jobs due to taxes on the tax payers of their state or the Federal government.  They obviously will and do only support the politicians who will vote them powers and raises on a regular basis.  Those receiving tax monies should not be allowed to form unions.  In private industry I have not problem with the union but in the public sector in leads to a corruption of the political process and the direct buying of votes by the politicians and then in turn the votes of the politicians to fund monies to the very people who supported them.  This was not always the way it was.  This worry is especially acute now that approximately half the people pay no income taxes at all. 

Hopefully someday that NLRB and its enabling legislation will be completely reformed.  The only laws we need is to protect the integrity of free elections to form unions.  Neither side should be allowed to intimidate or pollute that process.  After that the parties should be left to their own devices.  The unions can strike and the management can lock them out or simply shut down a plant.  They do have a symbiotic relationship and need each other.  All companies want the highest level of productivity and they sure won’t get that with a disgruntled or unhappy work force.  The unions need a prosperous and well-managed employer with great vision and prospects for the future.  

In reponse to the question of what did unions want, Samuel Gompers the famous union leader replied–“more”.   http://www.olcranky.wordpress.com

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