Economic Outlook: War on unions

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International  |  Dec. 7, 2012 at 9:59 AM
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Right-to-work has a nice ring to it from a sentimental point of view.

After all, who would deny someone the right to work? And why would a union do so? Unions are pro-work. Right?

Right-to-work, however, is a divisive, potentially explosive political move in which states guarantee a qualified worker who does not want to join a union can work in a union shop. If management, in turn, wants to shed itself of an onerous union contract, it can simply hire workers who will take the job without representation. Over time, the union is phased out. So much for collective bargaining.

It is as anti-union as it can get. Invariably, there are workers in every union around the country that have momentary disputes with their union leaders or complaints about having to hand over part of their pay to a union they feel is not serving them well.

These workers go on lunch breaks forced into place by union struggles, take breaks that would otherwise not be in place had labor not organized to fight harsh working conditions, work in safe environments thanks to unions and work in factories that no longer pull children from school to work alongside adults on assembly lines, a practice that was common until unions spoke up.

The list is nearly endless. Job security, pension plans, healthcare benefits, seniority rules, better than minimum wage pay, healthcare after retirement, vacation days, the right to safely file grievances against a supervisor or a work rule -- the very job itself may be available due to collective bargaining.

Needless to say, it required a collective force to bring about so many radical changes to fruition. And yet, certainly, it is human nature to walk into a union shop and grumble about the union dues that could have been spent on clothes for the kids or family vacations.

What a comeuppance in Michigan, however, for state Republicans to declare war on unions with a right-to-work initiative just a month after the Nov. 6 election in which voters turned down a proposal to guarantee collective bargaining rights for workers.

And how embarrassing is it to hear the argument simplified to the idea that unions are standing in the way of higher employment due to their onerous dues and perhaps at the cost of a worker's political freedom by forcing workers to join the union or work somewhere else. Unions are not a subtraction of political freedom any more than allowing women to vote is a subtraction of a woman's political freedom.

And there is certainly no argument about whether union dues are well spent. Take away the union dues and the union itself and see how fast the math works in a company's favor. Union dues are only affordable because the union forced management to pay living wages.

At the very least, a right-to-work law should include a provision that says if a union forced a company to create the job then the union has the right to expect that job will be taken by a dues-paying union member.

Given Republican insistence in Washington that tax rates for the wealthy remain intact it is not surprising that Republicans in Michigan are champing at the bit to wage war on unions. No surprise whatsoever.

In international markets Friday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan fell 0.19 percent while the Shanghai composite index in China rose 1.6 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong lost 0.26 percent while the Sensex in India fell 0.32 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia rose 0.94 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain rose 0.3 percent while the DAX 30 in Germany slipped 0.02 percent. The CAC 40 in France gained 0.35 percent while the Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.29 percent.

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