American Elephants

Look for the Union Label, and Look Out for Violence! by The Elephant's Child

The Obama administration has been consistently union-friendly.  The unions were big supporters of Barack Obama’s campaign financially, and turned out their workers to demonstrate and to get- out-the-vote.  Richard Trumka (AFL-CIO) was a regular visitor to the White House, and the White House has really stretched to see that unions have been properly rewarded for their support.

There is nothing new about union violence.  The first labor unions were organized in violence on the part of both labor and management. Many strikes have turned violent over the years. But times have changed, and work rules have changed, and companies value their reputations for fair dealing more than they once did.

Union membership has declined sharply over the years.  In 1945, one-third of employed people belonged to unions.  By 1979, union membership had contracted to 24.1% of employed workers, and by 1998, it had dropped to 15.9 % of workers.  Today it is closer to 7.5% of private sector workers.  In today’s economy with so many unemployed, private sector employment grew by 3.7 % in states with right-to work laws, and declined by 2.8% in states with more favorable organizing laws.  It’s no wonder that unions are desperate to try to get work rules more conducive to union organizing like card check.

Automation has been hard on union membership.  People mistakenly assume that manufacturing is in deep decline in America. That simply isn’t true. We are manufacturing more goods than ever, but doing it with fewer workers.  When the cost of an employee goes up too much — and remember that this includes health care — factories look to technology for ways to keep costs down.

Work rules and regulations that dictate what an employee can do on the job can come from government, management or the union itself.  Unions have attempted to protect jobs by not allowing workers to do tasks outside their specific assignment, thus a worker may need to call in an electrician to change the light bulb, so that he can see.

The country saw plenty of ugly union violence in Wisconsin as public sector unions fought to protect the benefits that states could no longer afford.  In Michigan last week, a non-union business owner was shot outside his home, and the word “SCAB” was scratched into the side of his car. In Virginia, phone and cable lines were slashed, cutting off service to Verizon customers in dozens of neighborhoods. In the case of Verizon, striking members are land-line workers engaged in a fight over benefit payments.  But Verizon is not making money from land-line customers.

Union membership is apt to decline in economic downturns. Add to that the recent failure of the Wisconsin election in spite of vast union money spent, and unions are concerned about their future.  The strong-arm tactics that once scared people into agreeing to union demands, are now recorded on videos that reach everyone, and repulse workers who might consider union membership. The scenes of unionized public school teachers in Wisconsin carrying vulgar signs and screaming obscenities to protect “their union rights,”would surely make many a parent consider home schooling.

Cell phone pictures, recordings, and YouTube videos are changing public perceptions in ways that unions and politicians have yet to realize.  What sounded like a good idea in the union hall may not look so attractive in a video that goes viral.

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