Union Flashback: Big Labor's Long Decline
From the Wall Street Journal (9/27/2007):
"The problem with unions is not all that dissimilar to that posed by entrenched management: Once they win comfortable contracts, they often become impediments to the kind of innovation and flexibility essential to success in today's economy. So in the name of "job security," they undermine a company's -- or a nation's -- competitiveness. The result, over time, is less job security for everyone, especially the union workforce. There's no better example of this than GM, where the UAW now represents about 74,000 hourly workers, compared to 246,000 in 1994. Some security."
This is basic ECON 101:
For a time, unionized workers can enjoy higher-than-market compensation, and job security. To the extent that union labor costs are higher and therefore the profits of unionized firms are lower (GM, Ford), investment expenditures will flow into the nonunion sector (Toyota, Honda, Nissan, see CD post on Honda's new Indiana plant) and away from unionized firms. As a result, the growth of productivity and employment, as well as market share, will tend to lag in the unionized sector (from 90% market share in the 1960s for the Big 3, to 47% today).
The larger the wage premium of unionized firms and the greater the guarantees of job stability, the greater the incentive to shift production toward nonunion operations (Honda, Toyota). Empirical evidence shows that industries and companies with the largest union wage premiums and greatest guarantees of job stability (Big Three) are precisely the industries and companies with the largest declines in the employment of unionized workers.
Bottom Line: Gains in the short run of higher-than-market wages and benefits, and greater job security, eventually undermine the companies employing unionized workers, destroying hundreds of thousands of union jobs in the long run (172,000 UAW jobs lost at GM alone). The more success a union has in the short-run, the greater the failure in the long run. The discipline of the market eventually dominates and prevails.
Originally posted on September 29, 2007.