Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Items in the news: Three examples of labor unions behaving badly

By James H. Shott

Private sector labor unions have all-time low membership, which results from the fact that workers see a relatively low value in belonging to a union. Despite the lack of necessity for their continued efforts on the part of employees, unions nevertheless continue interceding to “improve” conditions that are already good enough for the vast majority of workers, a condition which threatens the continued existence of unions and thus threatens their leaders’ political influence and high pay levels.

The total compensation of some labor leaders places them firmly among President Barack Obama’s 1 percent of people making more than the $250,000 threshold that he believes should pay higher taxes, such as: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka – $293,750; United Food and Commercial Workers President Joseph Hansen – $361,124; National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel – $460,060; and American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees President Gerald McEntee – $512,489.

In our still mostly-free country, if workers want to join a union they certainly may do so. But when you look closely, you see much union activity that does more harm than good, except for the relatively few workers that gain excessive benefits that hurt the businesses they work for and, of course, union leadership and the politicians with whom they are incestuously involved.

In one example from Thanksgiving week, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union was a party in a dispute that resulted in the closing of Hostess Brands, an 85 year-old company that made Wonder Bread, Twinkies, and 28 other products.

The company had 372 separate bargaining contracts for workers, 42 multiemployer pension plans, 5,500 separate delivery routes and a vast production system.

Hostess has had financial problems for several years and had previously gotten concessions from the 12 different unions that represent its workers, but in this last round the Bakery Workers, which represents about 5,000 employees, refused concessions, even after management said if concessions were not accepted, the company would shut down.

The union claims that vulture capitalists sucked out hundreds of millions of dollars by leveraging up the company, and that management had given itself millions in pay raises while demanding worker cuts.

Actually, Ripplewood Holdings injected $150 million in three rounds of investment as the company’s troubles grew, and lost every dollar. The raises were a tiny portion of the company’s losses of nearly $500,000,000 in two years, but Ripplewood rescinded the raises and made each executive work for a dollar per year.

Hostess paid out almost $100 million in health benefits for retirees last year, but over half of it covered workers who never had worked at Hostess. You see, the Teamsters’ “multi-employer pension plan” transfers the pension obligations of a bankrupt company to surviving rivals, speeding up the collapse of troubled companies.

Union rules designed to create more union jobs forced Hostess to run separate truck fleets for delivering bread and its sweet products. Instead of one driver delivering to each of Hostess’ thousands of customers, union rules required two, one for sweets and one for bread. Union restrictions on distribution routes made it unprofitable to serve tiny outlets, yet the union barred Hostess from using non-union distributors.

Workers were asked to take an 8 percent pay cut and pay 17 percent of their health-care costs, like most other workers do, instead of zero. In return, the union would have received 25 percent ownership of Hostess plus $100 million of debt to be paid back to the unions.

Instead, the union made a decision that closed the company, and nearly 18,500 workers will lose their jobs as the company shuts 33 bakeries and 565 distribution centers, and 570 outlet stores.

And then there is the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) that was voted out at Aviation Safeguards at Los Angeles International Airport by company workers who wanted out of the SEIU. In response the union brought in 1,000 members who weren’t employees of the company to block entrances to the airport, inconveniencing hundreds of innocent travelers.

“We petitioned to leave the SEIU almost a year ago, and the contract ended,” Frederick McNeil of Aviation Safeguards said. “And now they’re bringing in outsiders to block travelers who are just trying to get home for the holidays. It’s ridiculous.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers organized Black Friday protests against Wal-Mart, and the National Labor Relations Board refused to respond in a timely manner to a Nov. 17 Wal-Mart petition to prohibit the protest, saying the request would be dealt with the week after Thanksgiving.

Relatively few Wal-Mart employees participated, and one protester carried a sign that said: “I’m getting paid $5.50 an hour by the union to protest Wal-Mart paying $9.50 an hour.”

In the 1920s renowned union leader Samuel Gompers was asked what organized labor wanted, and reportedly answered, “More,” a philosophy that endures today. Unions raise employee costs beyond the competitive level, increasing prices to consumers and putting negative economic pressure on businesses. If unions are to survive, they must cease being enemies of business and become partners with them, working for the mutual success of companies and their workers.

Cross-posted from Observations

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