US Labor Unions Suffer Another Huge Blow

The Supreme Court has struck a major blow to American public-sector labor unions and to union power in general. The Court decision is explained further down in this commentary. Meanwhile here are some thoughts about unions, and their unpopularity:

After World War II American labor unions represented 35% of private-sector workers. Today that number is about 8% or about 12 million workers. If it were still 35% it would mean 50 million workers. So you can see the unions’ loss of power clearly.

On the other hand the number of public-sector union members (from school teachers to prison guards to cops to snowplow drivers, etc.) has been rising over the last few decades as some states have even forced their employees to join unions. Today public-sector union membership is about 8 million workers. (The numbers given on the internet about union membership are variable, so these numbers are averages and estimates.)

The Democrat party today is the recipient of virtually all labor union political contributions.

Unions played the central role in the destruction, or the failure to create, tens of millions of good American jobs after the 1970s. Meanwhile today the powerful public-sector unions in states like Illinois, New York and California are literally driving those states into bankruptcy.

When labor unions were very strong in the 1950s and 1960s in the booming post-World War II US economy, union leaders claimed that the high standards of living enjoyed by American workers was a result of union strength and bargaining power.

This is false. The high standard of living was attributable to the thriving American economy which came from the fact that Japan and Europe had suffered widespread destruction in the war at the same time that the US economy was growing by leaps and bounds and taking over much of the world’s manufacturing.

After World War II the United States was producing 50% of the world’s manufactured goods. This gave unprecedented employment and prosperity to America. Unions took a huge slice of that prosperity and once gave much of it to Republicans too.

Today that number has fallen to about 12%, which is why our middle class has shrunk. This is why president Trump is focusing on revitalizing the manufacturing sector.

The prime causes for the loss of US manufacturing jobs were:

*Labor unions, allied with the Democrat party, made manufacturing unaffordable, leading to an exodus of jobs from the US to lower-wage nations. In 2009, for instance, when Chrysler and General Motors got their federal bailout, assembly line workers were earning up to $150,000 per year for wages, benefits and pensions for relatively low-skill jobs. And thus while tens of millions of American indeed benefitted from the unions, ensuing generations found themselves jobless. The railroad and steel industries suffered grievously from the unions.

*Excessive taxes, regulations and “green” laws, also emanating from the Democrats, destroyed the competitive edge of American business in world markets.

*Foreign governments began heavily subsidizing their industries (another socialist idea) and doing other things to give themselves an advantage, like China stealing our technology and manipulating its currency. These nations then ‘dumped’ cheaper products on the American market, undercutting US manufacturers and driving them out of business.

If you grew up in the 1950s in the prosperous Northern Tier of the United States from Illinois to Massachusetts, you remember the story of the unions well.

In my hometown in Massachusetts, the 1950s and 1960s were a time of great prosperity but also a time of constant confrontation. The unions were always on strike, mounting work stoppages and slowdowns, threatening the company, staging wildcat strikes and walkouts, using violence, etc. General Electric warned the unions for decades but the unions persisted. GE closed the plant in my town in 1988, throwing 11,000 workers out of a job in a town of 55,000.

Today as the American economy has moved to the non-union states in the South and the West, workers there are voting against unionizing. They saw what the unions did and want no part of it.

Workers in the non-union states are living very well. They may not earn as much as they would with the unions, but at least they know that their companies – and their jobs – will still be around in 20 years. And they know that their towns and cities and companies will not become centers of union strikes, threats, violence and coercion.

Here is a summary of the Supreme Court ruling released on June 27 as reported on AP:

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that government workers can’t be forced to contribute to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining, dealing a serious financial blow to organized labor.

The court’s conservative majority scrapped a 41-year-old decision that had allowed states to require that public employees pay some fees to unions that represent them, even if the workers choose not to join.

The 5-4 decision fulfills a longtime wish of conservatives to get rid of the so-called fair share fees that non-members pay to unions in roughly two dozen states. Organized labor is a key Democratic constituency.

The court ruled that the laws violate the First Amendment by compelling workers to support unions they may disagree with.

“States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees,” Justice Samuel Alito said in his majority opinion in the latest case in which Justice Neil Gorsuch, an appointee of President Donald Trump, provided a key fifth vote for a conservative outcome.

Trump himself tweeted his approval of the decision while Alito still was reading a summary of it from the bench.

“Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!” Trump said in the tweet.

… The unions say the outcome could affect more than 5 million government workers in about two dozen states and the District of Columbia.

The case involving Illinois state government worker Mark Janus is similar to the one the justices took up in 2016. At that time, the court appeared to be ready to overrule a 1977 high court decision that serves as the legal foundation for the fair share fees. But Scalia’s death left the court tied, and a lower court ruling in favor of the fees remained in place.

The unions argued that so-called fair share fees pay for collective bargaining and other work the union does on behalf of all employees, not just its members. More than half the states already have right-to-work laws banning mandatory fees, but most members of public-employee unions are concentrated in states that don’t, including California, New York and Illinois.

Labor leaders fear that not only will workers who don’t belong to a union stop paying fees, but that some union members might decide to stop paying dues if they could in essence get the union’s representation for free.

A recent study by Frank Manzo of the Illinois Public Policy Institute and Robert Bruno of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign estimated that public-sector unions could lose more than 700,000 members over time as a result of the ruling and that unions also could suffer a loss of political influence that could depress wages as well.

This is all great news not only for Republicans, but for taxpayers who foot the bill for highly-paid unionized public employees.

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