Anyone who understands the origins of labor unions in the United States, realizes that it started as a way to gather persons of a given skill together into a brotherhood where they could stand together to protect their rights against unscrupulous employers.

Labor unions in America started in the early 19th century, however they lacked the numbers to have a significant impact on either work conditions or pay.  It wasn’t until freedom was granted to slaves, they became skilled worked and were drawn into the labor movement that it gained any traction.  Even still, organizing of workers in a industry did not have significant impact until the early 20th century.

Business owners in the 19th and 20th century had a horrible record of worker treatment.  Pay was miserable.  Work conditions were both unsafe and unhealthy.  Work hours were often extremely long and overtime was only a pipe dream.  Wealthy business owners had a terrible reputation that was often well warranted.  Trade unions gave workers the power to improve their work conditions and pay by causing work stoppages or strikes, to hit the employers in their pocket books.

Labor unions had a great impact on the direction of the workforce in America.  It was an important movement to force employers to recognize the welfare of their employees and changed America and the American workplace forever.  Labor unions caused changes to laws to protect workers, not only unionized, but non-union as well.  So, do we need them anymore?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.

An argument can be made that the profit motive of private companies often leads to hardships for their employees.  The temptation to push “the pain” down to the daily worker is too hard to resist when management and ownership is driven by meeting the demands of shareholders.  One could say this is sufficient to warrant labor unions remain as the representatives of the working class.

The argument against is that labor unions have done such a good job at improving compensation and working conditions that they have destroyed manufacturing in the United States.  It’s not debatable that we’ve lost most of our manufacturing to countries that produce goods at a price acceptable to the consumer.  Products made in America are often not competitive in the global market.  Does it make sense to pay someone $55.00/hour to assemble a motorcycle when the same motorcycle can be assembled in Asia for $8.00/hour?  Perhaps this is why Harley Davidson, the prototypical American brand, is building a plant in India.  The unions are, in effect, putting themselves out of business.  Union membership has been reduced drastically in the last two decades and appears it will continue to shrink as we lose blue-collar jobs to foreign workers.

You may not believe this, but I’m a strong supporter of unions.  I’ve been a member of a union and they came to my aid on more than one occasion.  They do serve a purpose, but unfortunately all too often that purpose becomes muddied by making money for union officials and hijacked by a political agenda.  The union movement was always intended to protect workers from greedy employers.  It was never intended to represent federal or state workers from their employers, which are the American public.  There is no history of federal or state workers being abused by the public.  Federal employees didn’t even have the right to union representation and/or collective bargaining until President Kennedy enacted a law giving them that right.  And the effect is that federal and state employee wages and benefits, that were known to be less than their commercial counterparts, have changed dramatically.  Fifty years ago, people went to work for the government for the sake of public service and to trade off pay today for a very generous retirement program.  You accepted a cut in pay to work for the government so that twenty or thirty years later you’d enjoy a very comfortable retirement.  No so any more.  Or, more accurately, you get your cake and eat it too.

No one expects government employees to work for less than their non-government equals.  But fairness should come into play.  We now have a situation that pay and benefits for government employees are often far greater than their commercial counterparts.  In many cases more than double what non-government employees earn.

The greed of employers has been replaced by greed of public employee unions and employees.  The recent events in Wisconsin are a testimony to this.  An interview with a Wisconsin employee went along these lines, “if the Governor has his way, it’ll cost my family $500.00 more per month for our benefits.”  On minor fact was left out of the statement, and that is that the employee in question was receiving his family’s healthcare insurance paid completely by the citizens of Wisconsin.  I don’t know what my readers pay for their family health insurance per month, but $500.00 per month doesn’t sound too far off.  In fact, it’s probably less than in most cases.  The Wisconsin teacher was grumbling because he’d have to pay what everyone working outside the government was paying.  Furthermore, when you dig in a little farther, you find that he and other teachers in Wisconsin receive a raft of benefits most workers could only dream of: more than double the number of sick days per year (something they’re abusing right now,) an extremely generous pension program that would cost the average person thousands of dollars in contributions to a 401K, if they even had one offered to them, and they don’t contribute a dime!

So, even if you buy into the argument that commercial workers still require union representation to protect them against the profit motive of employers, you can’t possibly find a reason that government workers need collective bargaining.  Well, actually you can make a decent argument.  Unions donate more money to the Democrats than any other sector of the economy.  As long as the public keeps stuffing money into their pockets, they’ll gladly keep pushing some of it back into the corrupt politicians on the left.  Shocking…Not!