Big Labor Won't Boost Its Appeal To Labor With Politics
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The United Auto Workers Union (UAW) won a significant victory when automaker General Motors agreed to use union labor for their new line of electric cars. However, this is not a complete victory for the unions since manufacturing electric batteries may require fewer workers than it takes to manufacture gas powered vehicles. Therefore, the transition to electric cars could reduce the number of American autoworkers, and thus UAW members.

The transition to electric vehicles is not driven by changing consumer demand. Instead, it is driven by government policies. In fact, the government’s “encouragement” of the transition from gas to electric vehicles is a major part of President Biden’s climate change agenda. Biden and the Democrats in Congress, who benefit from billions (yes, $1.8 billion in 2020) in campaign donations from unions, did not take any actions to protect their union cronies when they made their plans to “transition” to electric vehicles.

The drive to end the use of coal, in order to fight climate change, is another example of Democrats disregarding the interests of union workers.  Many progressives show a callous disregard toward unionized coal workers who will be thrown out of a job if union-backed politicians are successful in phasing out the use of coal. This was exemplified by then-presidential candidate Joe Biden’s statement that displaced coal workers should just “learn to code.” Other climate activists have pointed out that coal mining is a difficult and dangerous job, so coal miners will be better off when the party that they are forced to support—via their union dues—puts them out of work. These progressives show this same lack of concern for offshore drilling workers and workers who construct pipelines.

It is not just unionized workers in the energy sector who are suffering from policies pursued by union-backed politicians. Union workers, like all Americans, are forced to pay more to drive their cars, heat and cool their homes, and put food on the table because of the costs of progressive policies supported by union-backed politicians like lunch-bucket Joe Biden. Workers also suffer when their employers must pay more for electricity and fuel. Increased fuel costs especially harm unionized workers in transportation industries, like air travel and trucking.

Unions and workers are harmed by unions’ promotion of the welfare state. Government run programs like Medicaid and unemployment insurance are very costly and inefficient in delivering quality benefits. This has resulted in a bloated, inefficient, and bankrupt welfare state that is leading the country toward fiscal catastrophe. It is thus inevitable that today’s workers will not enjoy the same Social Security and Medicare benefits as prior generations. Medicaid shows the government’s skill at providing low quality services at high prices…while Obamacare has increased the price of health care, reduced quality, and made more Americans dependent on the government. 

Instead of supporting government-run social programs, unions should have followed the friendly society model. This is where union workers contribute to a union-run fund that provides retirement and health care benefits to union workers and their families. Government could help encourage the growth of friendly societies by providing tax benefits for workers and employer contributions to the funds. A union-led revival of friendly societies could help unions attract workers, thus preventing the decline in membership. 

Unions also damaged themselves, workers, and businesses by supporting the system established by the National Labor Relations Act. This law enshrined a confrontational relationship between labor and management into federal labor law. It forbids unions from working with management to improve working conditions and make the business more efficient. Whether or not this system was appropriate for the 20th century, it is certainly inappropriate for a modern economy. 

Today’s workers want jobs that offer them greater autonomy, flexibility, and a say in their workplace. Unions could attract workers by promoting labor management councils, where workers could provide input on ways to improve their company’s operations to benefit both workers and management. The first step is for unions to put their political clout to use by repealing the laws outlawing this type of operation between unions and management.

Fortunately, union leaders will likely soon have an opportunity to push the reset button. The skyrocketing government debt will eventually force Congress to reform the welfare state. This will give unions and other private institutions an opportunity to assume a greater role in providing a true safety net. The demands by younger workers for a greater say in their workplace will provide an opportunity for unions to promote true cooperation between labor and management. Of course, assuming Congress makes the necessary changes in federal labor law. Workers and unions themselves have been harmed by union leaders’ embrace of big government policies and politicians. If unions can end their dysfunctional relationship with big government-loving politicians, they can increase their appeal to workers and strengthen the economy for the benefit of all.

Norm Singleton is a senior fellow at the Market Institute. 

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