More on Unions

MORE ON UNIONS….We’ve finally found something that Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan agree on: the unalloyed doom facing us if we make it easier for unions to organize in America:

As the Democrats come closer to holding real power in Washington, the threat of unions to economic growth — and to individual liberty — is concentrating a few minds. Jane Galt is on the case, making an argument for secret ballots before unions are formed. What a concept! The usual leftists oppose such essential aspects of liberal democracy. But some of us come from countries where unions once ran affairs. And we remember what damage unions can do, and what bullies they often are.

So now we’re not only stuck in the 70s, we’re stuck in Great Britain in the 70s. Crikey.

There’s a weirdness to this anti-union hysteria that’s genuinely puzzling. I mean, I’m not actually the biggest union sympathizer in the world, and I sort of get the fear of unions that some people have. If it were 1975, I might sympathize more.

But it’s not 1975. We don’t live in an era of corrupt union bosses, inflation-busting contracts in dying industries, or endless strikes that threaten to cripple the economy. We live in an era in which unions are as decently managed as any other similar-sized enterprise, middle-class workers haven’t gotten a raise in three decades, and management locks out workers unless they agree to pay cuts and benefit reductions. If you thought labor had too much power 30 years ago, fine. I’ll let it pass. But today? You must be kidding.

And another thing that’s changed since 1975: The whole issue of union organization today is not primarily aimed at the old line manufacturing industries that unions have long been associated with. It’s aimed at the service sector, things like retail and janitorial services that have low pay, lousy benefits, and aren’t under pressure from globalization. You can’t outsource your window cleaning to India, and paying these kind of people another few bucks an hour has exactly zero impact on our global competitiveness.

But it does have an impact on one thing: the share of wages a company pays its workers. And when that goes up, the share it pays to its executives has no choice but to go down. Considering that stagnant blue-collar wages have allowed executive pay to increase about 10x in the past three decades, tipping the scales a bit in the other direction for a while doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

POSTSCRIPT: It’s worth clicking the link on the Jane Galt post above. In between all the ranting and raving, a few brave souls squeezed in a few actual facts. Unions don’t hurt productivity. Unions don’t cause companies to go out of business. Management does routinely intimidate workers who threaten to organize a union. (For chrissake, Wal-Mart shut down and outsourced its butchering operation in 180 stores in response to one butcher department in one store voting to organize. That’s illegal, of course, but Wal-Mart said the timing was just one of those funny coincidences.)

Bottom line: It’s 2007. Labor’s bargaining power has been reduced to nearly zero. Service workers routinely get paid $8 an hour with no benefits. Meanwhile, the extra cash this generates is used to fund $100 million golden parachutes for corporate CEOs. Seems like maybe the incentives could use a modest amount of rejiggering.