7/29/08

Why don't workers want unions?

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EFCA would force unwanted unions on workers

Alabama, Tennessee and Michigan were under recent consideration as prospective locations for a new manufacturing facility to be built by VW ("Volkswagen mulls Southern plant," Business section, July 8). Since that article ran, Tennessee was announced as the site of the new plant, and Alabama would have been the second choice, because both are "right-to-work" states and Michigan isn't. Southern workers are much less likely to unionize than are workers in Michigan, a state with the highest unemployment rate.

Why don't companies want unions? The major reason is survival in the global economy. Manufacturers and employees must work together, maintaining high levels of production and quality, with minimum levels of waste, in order to compete. They must also be able to react quickly to changes in the marketplace, retaining flexibility to modify products to meet evolving customer demand. Unions present obstacles to such goals, creating impediments to teamwork, flexibility and efficiency.

Unions foster an adversarial atmosphere of us versus them, encouraging conflict between management and employees. Additionally, they oppose concepts that make companies competitive, such as promotion of superior workers into jobs on the basis of demonstrated skills and performance, rather than seniority; termination of slackers with poor work ethics or attendance; incentive programs, and timely modification of processes or products. Such resistance adds appreciable costs to employers, making them less competitive.

Southerners are not ignorant -- elitist views notwithstanding -- and they've observed the historical effect of unionization in formerly industrialized Northeastern and Midwestern states. Understanding that true job security comes from working for a profitable employer, rather than from union protection, they've resisted union attempts to replace declining membership elsewhere with Southern workers.

Unions won 97 percent of representation elections in 1935 and, by 1945, represented 35.5 percent of all workers in the U.S. private sector. Today, they lose as many elections as they win, with representation at just 8 percent of the private workforce (4 percent in Virginia). They argue this decline is due to companies' unfairly resisting unionization.

Under the National Labor Relations Act, employees may request a representation election by signing cards authorizing a union to represent them. If one-third of covered workers sign such cards, an election may be held, but unions usually won't ask for one unless they have cards signed by more than 50 percent of affected workers. They know that many who have signed cards won't actually vote for union representation.

Why is that? First, because cards are often signed under duress, with employees badgered, harassed or intimidated into signing them by militant union pushers, sometimes family members or friends. Second, because companies may hold meetings with employees before election dates, informing them about negative aspects and fallacies of unionization that proponents haven't shared with them.

Unions think this process is unfair.

Catering to their special-interest group, the AFL-CIO, Democrats have sponsored "The Employee Free Choice Act" (HR 800), an Orwellian misnomer if ever there was one. Instead of allowing employees to accept or reject a union in a federally supervised secret ballot election, this bill would require unionization based solely upon having a majority of employees sign authorization cards. Whatever happened to the Democrats' alleged credo of "every vote counts"? Nancy Pelosi's House passed this undemocratic aberration on to the Senate in 2007, where only a Republican-led refusal to vote for cloture prevented it being pushed to a vote.

Where does Barack Obama stand on this blatant elimination of basic rights for American workers? As president, would he sign such a bill, should one be passed by a more heavily Democratic House and Senate next year? If so, isn't he being hypocritical to rail against employers fleeing this country, while threatening to raise corporate taxes -- at 35 percent, already second highest among industrialized nations -- and making it more difficult for them to be competitive here by forcing increased unionization though this sort of contrived legislation?

Let's see: Denying workers their basic right to vote in order to solicit votes from Big Labor in national elections. That doesn't seem like the sort of "change we can believe in" to me.

- Trevor Roe, of Ferrum, is a retired corporate human resources director for Trinity Packaging Corp. in Rocky Mount.

(roanoke.com)

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