Card Check: All the News that Misfits

By March 7, 2007Economy, Labor Unions

The New York Times on Tuesday editorially knocked the National Association of Manufacturers for being “rigidly opposed” to card-check legislation. We’ll wear the Times’ criticism with pride, being, as we are, rigidly opposed to abandoning democratic principles like secret ballots and freedom from coercion.

Otherwise, the Times fails to mount much of an argument, simply describing the current process, asserting that it’s unfair, and contending unions should have an easier time organizing. Why? A union talking point is the Times’ answer.

Labor unions have a role to play in helping to fix today’s economic ills — most notably, worsening income inequality, a problem that’s caused in part by unions’ decline and the workers’ resulting lack of bargaining power.

We’re previously linked to Kanas City newspaper columnist E. Thomas McClanahan’s persuasive piece that explains how labor unions are ill-fitted for the dynamic, innovation-driven modern economy. But the more obvious point is this: Union membership has declined even as America’s prosperity has grown. The Hudson Institute’s Diana Furchtgott-Roth, formerly the chief economist at the Department of Labor, provided the numbers in a New York Sun op-ed, “Intimidating Workers.”

Do unions create, in the words of [Rep. Robert Andrews, D-NY], “the basic underpinnings of middle-class life?” With incomes rising over the past 20 years even as union membership has continued to decline, the correlation, if any, might be said to work the other way.

In 2005, 35% of families made over $75,000. But in 1983, only 22% did, after adjusting for inflation. Real median family income was $56,194 in 2005, 22% higher than in 1983 after inflation.

Furchtgott-Roth adds a few more salient points:

Although nonunion firms also move overseas, they have more flexibility to adapt to changing conditions than do unionized firms. States with laws protecting workers from being compelled to join unions as a condition of employment saw increases in nonagricultural employment of 70% between 1980 and 2005, double the 35% increase in states with no such worker protection.

In a competitive global economy, schemes to get employers to pay artificially high wages, whether through union contracts or higher minimum wages, eventually result in more unemployment and lower economic growth. The Employee Free Choice Act might give workers a freer “choice” of more unemployment, but it won’t succeed in raising American standards of living.

So facts and figures prove to be “rigidly opposed” to a central claim of a New York Times’ editorial. Well, wouldn’t be the first time.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Diana Furchtgott-Roth says:

    the merits of unions can be endlessly debated. But, no matter what people think, a worker’s choice of whether to join should be private. That’s why card check is so insidious–it takes away the worker’s choice to a private ballot. Workers should be able to choose to join a union without fearing that votes will be observed–either be an employer or by union officials.