DICK BAYNTON: Union Rules

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Dick Baynton

Union members pay dues to the local and adhere to the rules that are posted and enforced by union representatives, often called, ‘business agents.’ As the relationship extends between the triumvirate of workers, unions and employers, union officials negotiate more generous terms for vacations, sick leave, wages, healthcare and other benefits. Union leaders and company officials negotiate contracts on dates as agreed in advance. The considerations that become more distant from negotiations are company needs for high productivity, excellent quality, reasonable profit and morale.

Union membership tends to shift in both the private sector and public (government) employment. Currently there are 7.2 million public sector workers (33.9% of workers) while in the private sector there are 7.6 million workers representing 6.4% of workers. One of the controlling factors regarding the diminution of private sectors has been ‘Right-to-Work’ laws that have been passed in 28 states. The factor that has influenced the growth of government (public) unions is that they can bargain for prodigious wages and benefits while private unions must base their contracts on corporate profits. Another factor is the corruption and tools of both unions and private companies; the most devastating tool employed by unions is the ‘strike’ that can close down a production line or an entire plant.

Here are some results of union/employer conflicts; Caterpillar closed their locomotive plant in Ontario in 2012 when the union would not agree to changes in wage and benefit structure. The plant moved production to Muncie, IN. In the same year Navistar (trucks) and Ford closed plants in Ontario due to high costs. During 2018 and 2019, seven states sustained teachers strikes; Arizona’s 81,000  teachers strike created 486,000 idle days of school. There were 20 work stoppages nationally in 2018 each of which affected 1,000 or more workers; New York’s state Senate passed a bill to pay benefits to strikers one week after striking (walking off the job).

The ‘underpaid teachers’ mantra may not be representative of teacher’s incomes; the reasons are that teachers are not paid in relationship to student learning and additionally, teacher pensions are higher than retirement benefits in similar private professions. In the 2016 election, the two principal teachers unions (NEA & AFT) gave $32 million to political parties (94% to Democrats). Teachers strikes have nothing to do with funds for education but compensation and benefits for themselves.

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) set a goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions 30% by 2027. One of the first projects was switching to LED lighting in all 23 housing developments. LED lighting reduces power usage and lasts longer. The cost of this change skyrocketed to $33.2 million due mostly to the ‘Project Labor Agreement’ in which electricians receive $81 in hourly pay plus $54 in fringe benefits. The changing of light bulbs cost $135 per hour and $202.50 per hour of overtime. The change per apartment amounted to $1,973; a job that could have been done by a ‘handyman’ for $25 to $50.

Some important considerations; various surveys show that government employees enjoy higher incomes than private sector comparable jobs by about 35% and benefit packages for government workers and retirees are about 48% better. The answer is in the 2nd paragraph above where it is cited that ‘public (government) unions can bargain for prodigious wages and benefits while private unions must base their contracts on corporate profits.’ What is happening is that inept government negotiators give away the reality of competitive earnings and benefits because there is no ‘profit’ limit; only the limitless taxes that government takes from people earning $45,000 to pay government workers who earn $60,000.

Unions have no interest in worker efficiency (productivity) simply because lower productivity requires more dues-paying workers. Both private and public unions spend money on political parties; in the 16 biennial elections since 1990, about 90% of the total contributions of $245.5 million went to Democrats and records of contributions by public (government) unions were 86% to Democrats.

Workers cannot provide equal loyalty to both employer and union; only in a circus performer can ride two horses concurrently. Private industry must be the final arbiter of earnings, benefits and work rules as approved by the NLRB. In public unions, work rules, compensation and benefits must be competitive, not inexhaustible. Unions may be a hindrance to economic expansion.