November 8, 2011 | Commentary on Labor
CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo: “Do you think it’s right that Boeing has to close down that plant in South Carolina because it’s nonunion?”
Rep. Nancy Pelosi: “Yes.”
Amazing. That was the minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, a California Democrat, talking about the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) suing Boeing for opening a plant in South Carolina, a right-to-work state. While she added that she’d rather see the plant unionized than closed down, the message was unmistakable: unions first, jobs second.
That’s quite a set of priorities to have at a time when unemployment remains above 9 percent and the economy is stuck in low gear. But Mrs. Pelosi isn’t alone in putting unions above the concerns of ordinary working Americans. The Obama administration, it seems, would rather propose rules to increase union membership than take steps to reduce unemployment.
One rule, which has already taken effect, permits the creation of “micro-unions.” Rather than all the employees at a specific plant or business joining one big union, there can be one just for cashiers or one just for those who stock shelves. The attraction for union leaders is obvious: They can cherry-pick the groups most interested in joining together for the purpose of collective bargaining, bypassing workers who aren’t interested.
The downside should be obvious, too: If the micro-union decides to strike, and that strike shuts down the business, guess who gets hurt? Everyone. Those who belong to the union, and those who don’t, wind up in the same economic boat. But workers who don’t want to take that risk never get the chance to vote “no.”
This is a clear infringement on the rights of workers who don’t want to unionize. It’s wrong to jeopardize their ability to earn a living, especially in shaky economic times.
Then there’s the burden that dealing with micro-unions places on businesses. “Negotiating dozens of separate collective bargaining agreements would impose immense costs in both time and legal fees,” writes Heritage Foundation labor expert James Sherk. “Fragmented bargaining units would also make shutdowns more likely.”
Consider, too, the proposed rule change on union-organizing elections.
For decades, the standard practice has been this: Union organizers target a particular business and spend months quietly building support among the employees. Once they feel they have enough support, they ask the NLRB to conduct a secret-ballot election.
On average, the election occurs about five weeks later. It’s during that time period that management, now aware of the push for a union, can present any counterarguments and tell employees about the drawbacks to belonging to a union (which, conveniently enough, union organizers tend not to mention). Employees hear both sides and, after time for reflection, cast an informed vote.
So what would the proposed rule change do? Drastically shorten the time before the election. Workers would have as little as 10 days to weigh the pros and cons of joining a union. Employers would have only a week to file any legal challenges to the NLRB’s actions.
This speeded-up timetable has a clear pro-union bias. It allows plenty of time for workers to hear the union tell their side. But they’d learn little about the downsides of unionizing - forced dues, lost wages in strikes, union corruption - until after they voted.
This would hardly help workers or the economy. But it would help unions desperate to stop losing still more members - and to widen their dues-paying base.
Workers can unionize if they want, of course. But government certainly shouldn’t be pushing workers into doing so if they don’t feel they need them.
Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in The Washington Times