How to Kiss Your Job Goodbye Print
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by Bradley Harrington   
Thursday, 27 August 2009 08:55

If you want to understand one of the major explanations for unemployment in America, you need only look as far as Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, home of the Mercury Marine company, for the answer: labor unions seeking to extort more than the fair market share for their work from their employers.

According to the Associated Press, "Officials in Wisconsin were working to keep Mercury Marine from moving its manufacturing operations to Oklahoma after union workers rejected a package of wage and benefit concessions the boat engine maker said was necessary. Leaders of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, Local 1947 did not release the tally from Sunday's vote but said it was 'overwhelming' to reject what Mercury Marine called its final offer."

Hard-hit by slumping sales as a result of the recession, Mercury Marine management has, in the past year, frozen salaries, cut spending, and unloaded assets in order to stay afloat. What makes its union employees in Fond du Lac think they should be exempted from downsizing as well?

The same thing that has allowed many unions, historically, to engage in other similar, counterproductive collective-bargaining practices: the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, permitting "closed shops," whereby employees were legally required to join a union whether they wanted to or not. And while the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 outlawed the "closed shop," it still permitted the existence of the "union shop," whereby union membership itself was no longer required as a condition of continued employment -- merely the payment of union dues whether an employee was actually a member of the union or not.

However, one of the provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act, Section 14(b), grants individual states the power to outlaw the "union shop" as well, thereby opening employment opportunities to all seekers. To date, such "right-to-work" (RTW) laws have been passed in 22 of the 50 states, thereby freeing employers in those states from non-market-based union dictates and demands. Wisconsin, as you might imagine, is not on the list -- but Oklahoma sure is. What a surprise.

Should the "officials in Wisconsin" that are "working to keep Mercury Marine from moving its manufacturing operations to Oklahoma" actually be serious in that endeavor, the one single thing they could do to promote that occurrence would be to de-claw their unions by making Wisconsin the 23rd RTW state. Any Wisconsin officials with that goal in mind, of course, will run into a lot of flak from the unions themselves, who virulently oppose any limitations on their monopolistic powers.

The actual statistics, however, are hard to argue with. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy determined, after analyzing a "diverse cross-section of economic data," that from 1970 to 2000: "RTW states' economies grew one half-percent faster annually; RTW states created 1.43 million manufacturing jobs while non-RTW states lost 2.18 million manufacturing jobs; RTW states have greater disposable income growth; RTW states have lower unit labor costs; and RTW states' poverty rates are falling faster." ("The Effect of Right-to-Work Laws on Economic Development," 2002.)

Comparisons within a state of its economic data before and after the passage of a right-to-work law tell much the same story. As Andre Lacy, Indiana's Chamber of Commerce chair, points out: "Oklahoma is an even more recent example. Its law passed in 2001, but was under legal challenge until court rulings in 2004 supported it. According to the National Institute for Labor Relations Research, 'real personal income in Oklahoma between 2003 and 2006 grew by 13.6 percent, more than half again as fast as the national average and more than twice as fast as the overall average in the 28 forced dues (non-RTW) states. ... From 1991 until 2001, the last 10 years prior to the right-to-work law's appeal, Sooners' real personal income grew by 4 percent less than the national average.'"

Instead of recognizing the realities of such interstate competition, however, the short-sighted members of Local 1947 have chosen to reject Mercury Marine's offer, seemingly unaware that the final joke is on them: They have just priced themselves right out of the market.

Meanwhile, the AP article continues, "Oklahoma officials have offered to cover Mercury's moving expenses in return for the jobs and tax revenue brought to their state." And in Wisconsin? Union members can kiss their jobs goodbye, and are now free to go and pick their next job -- if they can find one -- off the tree they seem to think jobs grow on. Too bad for them, but they've got it coming, because the last time I looked, a lower-paying job was better than no job at all.

Bradley Harrington is a former United States Marine and a free-lance writer who lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming.


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