Posted by: bmeverett | February 11, 2009

Labor Unions and Climate Change

It’s no surprise that democrats, having come up big in the 2008 election, are looking to boost the status of organized labor – one of their biggest supporters. The keystone of the union revival is to be the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). What does pro-union legislation have to do with climate change? Simple. They are both reflections of a troubling and dangerous mind-set on the political left.

The key provision of the EFCA is elimination of the secret ballot in union elections. Under current law, employees can choose to hold a secret ballot election on the issue of unionization under the supervision of the National Labor Relations Board. The unions don’t like this process because workers routinely vote the union down, generally because they recognize that unionization often renders their employer uncompetitive in today’s global market and poisons the working environment with a “grievance culture”. So what do the unions want to do instead? The EFCA would require employers to recognize the union if more than half the employees sign cards indicating a preference for the union. These cards are gathered by union workers standing outside the factory gate or office door and shoving cards in the faces of employees. The employee then must make a public statement of his or her preference. The unions, of course, call unwilling employees “scabs” and generally make it an uncomfortable experience not to sign the card. Having seen some activity by the United Mine Workers in the Wyoming coal industry, I know that union tactics can get pretty heavy-handed.

The unions claim that the EFCA does not eliminate the secret ballot, since employees can sign cards calling for that too if they wish. This argument is ridiculous. The core principle of voting is that secret ballots are the only way to determine people’s true preferences. Anything said in public is subject to all kinds of peer pressures. Should we have to vote to hold secret ballot elections for our public officials?

So why is the “card check” system supposed to be fairer? The union argument is that between the decision to hold an election and the actual election, workers are subject to a barrage of employer propaganda about the consequences of forming a union. Employers can hold anti-union meetings on company time, while the unions can only talk to workers outside company property and working hours. The unions also complain that pro-union workers are harassed and sometimes fired. Here the unions may have a tiny point, since the penalties for employer retaliation are relatively light. Easy to fix – make the penalties more severe.

The real argument, however, has been articulated by President Obama: unions are good and should be promoted, since they raise workers’ wages. True, but they also suppress job formation, limit the access of young people to union jobs and reduce the competitiveness of employers, particularly against non-unionized competition. Look at the Detroit automakers as a clear example.

The basic principle of American labor law is employee choice. In many European countries, workers are required by law to join a union, which then sits on the company’s Board and “helps” to make business decisions. The American right to join a union implies an equally clear right not to join.

The EFCA is often described correctly in the press as a law intended to make it easier for employees to join a union. This is like establishing local election laws that make it easier for employees to elect a democrat. The Soviet Union used to have elections like that. Voters were permitted to choose from a list of candidates (often numbering a total of one) established by the Communist Party.

According to the unions, the real problem with secret ballots is that workers are not smart enough to determine their own interests by listening to the arguments of both the union and the company. If the company is allowed to “get to” the employees, they will make the wrong choice. The law should encourage (in fact force) them to make the right choice – to join a union.

What happens under the EFCA after the union is elected? If the company and the union do not agree on a contract within 90 days, the contract would be subject to compulsory arbitration. In other words, the government would set wages and benefits for that company. What incentive would the union have to negotiate in good faith, knowing that a sympathetic government will step in and give them what they want?

Here’s the tie to climate change. Al Gore and company believe that the American people are not smart enough to make the right choices about climate change and the reduction of carbon emissions. That’s why Gore says. “I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous[climate change] is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are, and how hopeful it is that we are going to solve this crisis.” In other words, lie to people until they figure out what’s right.

Al Gore and the EFCA share a central view: the American people are not capable of governing themselves. They should instead rely on people who are smarter to make critical choices for them. Life would certainly be a lot easier if we didn’t have to vote. We wouldn’t have to wait in line at the polls or stay up late on election night to see who won. Unless, of course, you’re not entirely sure that Greenpeace and the AFL-CIO can be trusted to run your life for you. The Founding Fathers had a simple word for this view: tyranny.


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