The real deal on unions — response to a Journal column

The debate over the merits of unions is often muddled and confused by advocates and detractors alike. The recent article from someone named Tim Taylor that appeared in the Albuquerque Journal is only the most recent case. The article which defends unions has several problems

The author makes the unfortunate mistake of not differentiating between government and private sector unions. Generally, conservatives have no problem with the existence of private sector unions, but there are problems with the mere existence of public sector unions which represent government workers. As long as unions and the companies union members work for must compete in a private sector, the worst that can happen is that the union strangles the host company and makes them uncompetitive (as happened with the domestic auto industry). But, in a free market, consumers can choose to patronize or not patronize union companies. UPS which is heavily unionized, competes against FEDEX as just one example.

The problem, of course, with government unions is that they don’t compete in a free market. Money used to pay them is forcibly taken in the form of taxes and consumers cannot easily choose a competitor. Also, government labor unions are able to organize and contribute to electing their bosses and then sit across a bargaining table from them. Even FDR opposed them.

The author also asks “what is the one democratic institution in the workplace?” I’m not even sure what this means. Yes, unions vote on lots of stuff, but they also take a portion of workers’ paychecks and in New Mexico this is done automatically. In Wisconsin, when Gov. Scott Walker gave public employees the choice of whether or not to pay union dues — as opposed to having them automatically pulled from their paychecks — the number of dues-paying union members shrank rapidly. The state’s second-largest union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, had membership fall to 28,745 in February from 62,818 in March 2011, the Journal said Thursday. The organization’s Afscme Council 24, composed of state workers, fell more than two thirds to 7,100 from 22,300 last year.

So, it would seem that government workers who are given a clear choice on whether to join the union or not, often decide not to join the union. That’s one reason I’m skeptical of “democracy.” Votes are cheap. In New Mexico they can be bought and sold for liquor. What I support is people who are willing to invest or remove their money from a specific company or union based on the value they believe they are getting from it (after all, we spend time working for money). In the case of Wisconsin, apparently workers aren’t buying what their union is selling.