Leftist Labor Unions Losing Clout

Leftist Labor Unions Losing Clout
by JBS President Emeritus John F. McManus

During August 4-5, voting for or against unionization was heavy at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi. After lengthy campaigns waged by both sides that attracted national attention, the verdict rendered by Nissan’s 3,500 employees showed that more than 60 percent wanted nothing to do with the bid of the United Auto Workers (UAW) to be their bargaining agent. As expected, UAW president Dennis Williams accused the company of “intense scare tactics, misinformation and intimidation.” Company officials promptly denied each charge. Union organizers don’t like to lose. But losing has become their frequent fate, most prominently in the southeastern portion of the United States.

Image from Wikimedia Commons by Ralph Chaplin, public domain.

Earlier this year in a 3-to-1 vote, workers at a Boeing plant in South Carolina rejected a bid by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers to unionize that facility. In 2014, the UAW narrowly lost out in its drive to represent workers at a Tennessee Volkswagen plant. Unionization did triumph in a few smaller plants but, generally, it has failed to capture the lucrative larger prizes.

Only days before the recent Nissan vote, opponents of unionization publicized the case of a Fiat-Chrysler official who was accused of pocketing millions taken from a union training facility for himself and a past UAW colleague. That bombshell has been credited with swaying some Nissan fence sitters to vote against the union.

However, most of the Nissan workers had already sung the praises of the company. Paint technician Marvin Cooke previously held a position at a restaurant where he wasn’t able to “have a 401(k) and only have one week of vacation.” Hired by Nissan 14 years ago, he said, “Now I have four weeks of vacation. I’m off on every holiday. Nissan has provided a great living for me.” Working at the Nissan plant has been a joy for many other area residents.

Nationally, the UAW and labor unions in general have seen membership decline precipitously over the past 50 years – down from one-third of workers in the manufacturing sector to 10 percent of workers in all fields. Many automobile and heavy manufacturing companies have chosen to build plants in Southern states where “right to work” legislation has been enacted. These laws bar compulsory union membership in any facility where a majority of workers may have already chosen unionization.

Where labor unions originally won acceptance at manufacturing plants, today’s union membership includes government employees (e.g. postal workers) and many employed in service industries (e.g. hotel and restaurant workers). But gains for the unions in those fields haven’t been enough to overcome losses in manufacturing, the former citadel of labor power.

One consequence of declining labor union membership is the loss of financial and voting power for the Democrat Party. Big Labor, not just the UAW, could always be counted on to swing leftward presidential and congressional elections and even state races. The days of UAW Founder Walter Reuther’s prominence as a Democratic Party kingpin using UAW to push hard for admittedly socialist goals are over. In 1958, Senator Barry Goldwater publicly characterized Reuther as a “more dangerous menace than anything Soviet Russia might do to America.”

Reuther died in a plane crash in 1970, and the parade of his successors as UAW leader and Democratic Party mogul has been just as leftist leaning. So the declining membership and waning political clout of unions is good for America.

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McManus_2Mr. McManus served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the late 1950s and joined the staff of The John Birch Society in August 1966. He has served various roles for the organization including Field Coordinator, Director of Public Affairs, and President. Mr. McManus has appeared on hundreds of radio and television programs and is also author of a number of educational DVDs and books. Now President Emeritus, he continues his involvement with the Society through public speaking and writing for this blog, the JBS Bulletin, and The New American.

Compulsory Union Funding Threatened

Compulsory Union Funding Threatened
by JBS President Emeritus John F. McManus

In 26 states, individuals employed in what are termed “public sector” jobs (teachers, firefighters, etc.) are compelled to pay the equivalent of union membership fees even if they decline to join the union. This arrangement is now being challenged in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The Supreme Court has accepted the case and is expected to deliver a ruling before its mid-2016 break.


Plantiff Rebecca Friedrichs, a veteran teacher in a California public school, speaks at a supporting rally. Image from Center for Individual Rights Facebook page.

The plaintiff in this case is Rebecca Friedrichs, a veteran teacher in a California public school. She is joined in the suit by nine others who also believe they are being treated unjustly when forced to pay for something they don’t want. Ms. Friedrichs argues, “I never asked the union to represent me.” Speaking for herself and the other plaintiffs who resent the taking by their union of approximately $1,000 per year, she adds, “We’re asking that teachers be able to decide for ourselves, without fear or coercion, whether or not to join a union. It’s that simple.” The amounts obtained by a union from these non-union workers totals hundreds of millions in revenue.

Union representatives claim that their negotiation skills for salary, benefits, and working conditions help all workers (union member or not) and, therefore, all should pay for such a service. Terming the non-union workers “free riders,” they point to a check-off box on the union membership form given to all employees where each can indicate an unwillingness to join the union. Doing so, however, lowers the amount of salary taken by the union each year by a mere $20, the amount the union says is devoted to its political agenda. Estimates place the number of so-called “free riding” teachers who decline to join the union at 34 percent.

Part of the complaint claimed by Ms. Friedrichs and others points to union political activity that favors candidates and issues with which they disagree. The power possessed by well-funded labor unions in the political arena is no secret. It enables unions to flex their muscles with the war chests they obtain from members and non-members alike. In this particular case, the union is even using funds taken in member dues to fund their court battle. Ms. Friedrichs and her fellow plaintiffs are receiving help from the Center for Individual Rights, a private libertarian-minded group that obtains funding from non-government sources.

The very matter in question came before the high court nearly four decades ago. In 1977, the Supreme Court ruled in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that states could indeed require employees to pay dues to a public-sector union even if the employee doesn’t join. Should the Friedrichs challenge prevail, the Abood decision would be overturned.

Approximately two centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson offered his opinion about a similar matter. He stated: “To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” Substitute the word “dues” for taxes in his statement and the decision the Supreme Court should reach seems obvious.

One of our nation’s highly touted fundamental freedoms, guaranteed to all, is being tested in this case. The verdict should favor Ms. Friedrichs and her colleagues.

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McManus_2Mr. McManus served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the late 1950s and joined the staff of The John Birch Society in August 1966. He has served various roles for the organization including Field Coordinator, Director of Public Affairs, and President. Mr. McManus has appeared on hundreds of radio and television programs and is also author of a number of educational DVDs and books. Now President Emeritus, he continues his involvement with the Society through public speaking and writing for this blog, the JBS Bulletin, and The New American.

Gains in Right to Work Legislation

Gains in Right to Work Legislation
by JBS President John F. McManus

With both houses of its legislature approving a measure calling for an end to a labor union monopoly, and Governor Scott Walker signing it, Wisconsin recently joined 24 other states and became a “right-to-work” state. This means that Wisconsin has banned what is termed a “closed shop,” where an employee must join a union (or pay union dues even without formal union membership) if the labor union has been chosen as the agent for more than half of the employees in a particular site.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signs right-to-work legislation on March 9 (Image from Flickr by Gage Skidmore, Some rights reserved).

In recent years, both Michigan and Indiana preceded Wisconsin’s decision. Labor union power continues to decline. In the 1950s, approximately 35 percent of workers nationally paid dues to a labor union. By the end of the 1980s, that percentage had shrunk to less than half that percentage. And it has continued to recede. Part of the reason for the decline is traceable to factories closing down and fleeing overseas, encouraged to do so by NAFTA and other so-called trade agreements. When a factory closes, it hardly matters whether a labor union represents workers; they are no longer working. Some who lost their jobs have correctly figured out that liberals who support compulsory unionism are the very same individuals who supported the trade agreements, such as NAFTA, that cost them their employment.

During a heyday of union power in the immediate post-World War II years, Congress passed the important Taft-Hartley labor law. President Truman vetoed the measure but Congress successfully overrode his veto. Section 14 (b) of this law, always fought against by labor union leaders, authorized states to adopt right-to-work legislation. This provision permitted an employee to refuse union membership as a matter of choice. In states that never passed such legislation, an employee in a unionized place could refuse union membership, but he or she still had to pay union dues. Labor unions have traditionally been huge supporters – both organizationally and financially – of liberal politicians and causes. Forcing workers to pay union dues would mean that some who personally supported conservatives and their causes were being forced to support what they abhorred. Not much freedom there.

Labor unions certainly have a right to exist. If working conditions are intolerable, or pay rates are deemed too low, a person has two choices: a) quit that job and find another, or b) invite labor organizers to come and generate support for a labor union. But forcing people to join a labor union as a condition of employment, which remains the practice in half the states, should never be allowed. In some states, the right-to-work provision (the cancellation of compulsory union membership) exists as part of the state’s constitution. Other states, as in Wisconsin, don’t have such a provision in their constitutions and legislation has to be enacted to do away with compulsory unionism.

The state where union membership is least is North Carolina (2.9 percent) with Arkansas a close second. The state with the highest number of union members in its workforce is New York (23.2 percent) with Alaska a close second. The area of the nation where right to work prevails is the southeast. And this is where large corporations are building new plants and creating new jobs. Also, unemployment rates are lower in right-to-work states. Especially is this the case with automobile manufacturers who have established new plants in right-to-work states.

The issue boils down to compulsion versus freedom. In the United States, freedom is supposed to prevail. Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and 22 other states have shown themselves partisans for freedom.

Mr. McManus joined the staff of The John Birch Society in August 1966 and has served various roles for the organization including Field Coordinator, Director of Public Affairs, and now President. He remains the Society’s chief media representative throughout the nation and has appeared on hundreds of radio and television programs. Mr. McManus is also Publisher of The New American magazine and author of a number of educational DVDs and books.

An Opportunity To Abolish Compulsory Unionism

An Opportunity To Abolish Compulsory Unionism
By JBS President John F. McManus

As far back as 1786, Thomas Jefferson stated an elementary principle much in need of restating today. He said, “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical.” Are any Americans being forced to finance what they abhor? They certainly are.

Labor unions extract dues amounting to approximately $8 billion annually from 11 million workers who are forced by federal law into their grasp as a condition of employment. Huge unions then spend more than a billion dollars each election cycle to finance candidates for political office who will support their big government agenda. Many workers oppose both the politicians financed by the unions and the left-wing causes that fill Big Labor’s agenda.

This process gained acceptance in 1935 with the passage of the National Labor Relations Act (often referred to as the Wagner Act because its chief sponsor was New York Senator Robert Wagner). The law effectively made union membership a condition of employment wherever the union was certified as the employees’ exclusive bargaining agent. Although it was dubbed “the Magna Carta of Labor” by some, it was a gross denial of freedom. Labor unions should never have been awarded power to compel membership.

In 1947, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act intending to correct the process of forcing workers into unions. It succeeded only partially. But it did allow states to pass what is called a “right to work” statute that voids compulsory union membership within its jurisdiction. There are currently 22 states where compelling a person to join a union as a condition of employment isn’t permitted. In the remaining 28 states, workers, many of whom don’t support labor-backed politicians and measures, are nevertheless forced via existing federal legislation to finance what they oppose.

Currently a measure sits on the Senate legislative calendar that would amend the Wagner Act and do away with the power of labor unions to compel membership. Introduced by Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), S.204 has gained 26 Senate co-sponsors (all Republicans). Prominent Democrats Harry Reid (Nev.), Charles Schumer, (N.Y.), Diane Feinstein (Calif.), are among the strongest opponents of S.204 as its passage would result in a severe drop in labor union funding of their candidacies, those of their Democratic colleagues, and the left-wing causes they and the unions favor.

No one who opposes compulsory unionism opposes labor unions per se. If workers want to form a union, they should be able to do so. But forcing anyone to join, thereby compelling them to finance the wishes of union leaders can never be considered just. S. 204 should be enacted, sent to the House for its approval, and even backed sufficiently to overcome a certain veto from the current occupant of the White House.

For more about right to work, read The New American article “Right to Work Works!”