Monday, August 15, 2011

Michael Barone on Adversarial Unionism

AEI fellow Michael Barone, "The Fall of the Midwest Economic Model" in Tuesday's WSJ:

"Adversarial unionism is one reason the Midwest slumped. It turns out that the 1970 assembly line, with union shop stewards always poised to shut it down, was not the highest stage of human economic development. When you make labor more expensive, you create incentives to invent new machines and create new jobs elsewhere. Foreign auto manufacturers built plants in a South recently freed from state-imposed racial segregation. With no adversarial unions, management and labor could collaborate and achieve quality levels the Big Three took decades to match.

One thing that those romantic about Midwestern farms and factories tend to forget is that people hated working in those unionized factories. That's why the UAW negotiated "30 and out"—retirement after 30 years—with GM in 1970. With workers retiring well before Medicare age, the next union demand was the billions in retiree health-care benefits that more than anything else bankrupted the Big Three."

14 Comments:

At 8/16/2011 2:08 AM, OpenID American Delight said...

But Michael, Prince Obama and all his court jesters have told us that unions created prosperity! You're not getting invited to the next royal ball!

 
At 8/16/2011 7:41 AM, Blogger Walt G. said...

The main reason 30-and-out was negotiated was because the factory jobs could not be done by 50- and 60-year-olds in the 1970s. After 30 years, your body was simply worn out, and new workers were needed. The 30-and-out retirement plan still saves the autoworkers a lot of workers’ compensation cases. People hurt and they leave to keep from having to go through the long legal process.

My first job in 1973 was picking 60 pound frame rails off the floor and hanging them on a traveling hook 4 feet above my head. Production for this job was 400 pieces per hour for a 12-hour day. Not counting a 22-minute break, that was 288,000 pounds of steel lifted and hung per day or 144 tons. Of course, this was a more difficult hire-in job, and we do not allow that type of job anymore with ergonomics’ representation, but most of the jobs were heavy, dirty, and hot back then. Thank you, thank you, robots!!

I'm not sure how 30-and-out will out work in the 21st century, but the adversarial role of unions will have to change or they will no longer exist.

 
At 8/16/2011 7:47 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

"but the adversarial role of unions will have to change or they will no longer exist."

i hope you are correct, but fear they are going to go the other way and just buy political patronage.

they were unbelievably adversarial in this last round of bailouts, and they managed to come out of it with far more than they were legally entitled by getting political patrons to give them taxpayer money and use extreme coercive force to make other stakeholders cede assets to them in blatant violations of longstanding bankruptcy precedence.

their model seems to be to buy political patronage to avoid being exposed to the market forces required to make your forecast come true.

this is the second time they have successfully done so.

what makes you think they will behave differently in the future as opposed to following the path that has worked twice before?

 
At 8/16/2011 9:22 AM, OpenID sethstorm said...

Given how the South has been hostile to unions, it would be the other way around. To business, the South was a clean slate that they turned adversarial to unions. They saw that as a chance to preempt unions as well as to break them in the North.

This solution has the capability of scaling upward; as one can use the South to break the North, the world is being used (for union and non-unionized alike) to break the US.

Blame it on labor all you want, but don't write your own interests as innocent.

 
At 8/16/2011 10:37 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

seth-

that is such a disturbing misframing i don;t even know where to start.

the south is not "adversarial" to unions.

you're welcome to have one.

you are just not allowed to force people to join or force employers to close their shops to non union workers.

that's defending the basic rights of workers and employers to be free of coercion.

telling a union they cannot force a non member to pay dues or join to be allowed to work at an employer who would have liked to hire them is no more adversarial that telling a bully he can't steal your lunch money every morning is.

you act like it's some radical idea to allow people free choice on whether or not to join a union and offering employers free choice on who to hire.

right to work is normal, it's the closed shop states that are outlandish.

 
At 8/16/2011 11:16 AM, Blogger juandos said...

I've not seen the slightest change in attitude in the airline unions...

Back '87 when I was a shop steward for the IAM I made the suggestion that members start buying a handful of common shares every pay period...

The idea considered heretical in the extreme by the 'elected' leadership...

What was their reasoning?

The union didn't want to negootiate against themselves when the contracts came due...

The union at that time would've rather wallowed in ignorance of how airline's fiscal health was doing instead of trying to save jobs...

 
At 8/16/2011 11:24 AM, OpenID sethstorm said...

Morganovich said...

that is such a disturbing misframing i don't even know where to start.

Yet it is something that has been practiced in that manner. If business has found a region that knows nothing about labor unions, and they turn the people hostile to such, is it not adversarial towards unions?




that's defending the basic rights of workers and employers to be free of coercion.


Defending workers that truly want to say no, or simply those who have been threatened in some manner to not say yes? RTW seems to protect the latter than anything else. If it was as neutral as promoted, votes and support would have no adversarial consequence for either side.

 
At 8/16/2011 11:32 AM, Blogger Brown Trout USA said...

We do, however, tend to forget what the workplace was like before unionization. Uniization was the reaction to exploitive and dangerous working conditions that existed previously.

 
At 8/16/2011 1:45 PM, Blogger Benjamin said...

Last I read, about 7 percent of the USA private-sector labor force was unionized. The right-wing has so few real concerns today they have to get the nostalgia-yarns going.

"Remember when we had enemies? The Soviets and unions and 90 percent top tax rates and even Nixon with his wage-and-price controls?"

The right-wing is ever hate-mongering, looking for someone to kick.

Rick Perry has just picked out a new target:

"Texas Governor Rick Perry, the latest entrant in the fight for the Republican presidential nomination for 2012, said it would be “almost treacherous -- or treasonous” for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke to increase stimulus spending before the 2012 election.
“If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don’t know what you would do with him,” Perry said yesterday at a backyard appearance in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “We would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous -- or treasonous -- in my opinion.”

There you go> Maybe you can prosecute Ben Bernanke for treason. Fire up the House Un-American Activities Committee again.

 
At 8/16/2011 2:01 PM, Blogger morganovich said...

seth-

"If business has found a region that knows nothing about labor unions, and they turn the people hostile to such, is it not adversarial towards unions?"

it always seems adversarial to the playground bully when the teacher makes him give your lunch money back.

but that's an absurd framing.

you are literally saying that because bullies were allowed to steal lunch money at the old school, that the new school is adversarial for not allowing it.

that is literally the precise argument you are making. "hey, we always stole lunch money. it's mean of you to stop us."

"
Defending workers that truly want to say no, or simply those who have been threatened in some manner to not say yes? RTW seems to protect the latter than anything else"

if it seems that way to you, then you do not understand how unions work in closed shop states.

they have a vote. 51% say yes. the other 49% are forced to join, pay dues, and accept collective bargaining.

employers are forced to hire union and only union.

RTW defends anyone who does not want to join or pay for or be forced to accept collective bargaining.

what right do other employees have to force unwilling workers to pay them, and accept their contracts and to force workers to do likewise?

a company is private property.

they can hire and fire as they like.

workers are free individuals. they should be able to offer labor and accept such contracts as they like.

how would you feel if 51% of your neighbors decided that your house was the new rec center and began using it against your will and limiting who you could have visit?

 
At 8/17/2011 9:21 AM, Blogger Walt G. said...

morganovich,

I think the UAW will become less adversarial toward GM and the other automakers. Their adversary should be their common competitors and not each other. I think the new UAW president will see that happens if he does what he says he will do in publications.

I would not expect the UAW or any organization to try to become less political with the way our politics currently operate. To pretend otherwise would be naïve. I, like many people would like to see much of that change; I just don't see it happening in my lifetime. If you’re dealt Jokers, you play Jokers.

 
At 8/17/2011 11:21 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

walt-

on what do you base that expectation?

they were more adversarial than ever in the BK.

of course, no they own a ton of the company, so maybe that will inhibit them somewhat, but, when they fail again (and they will) look for a very adversarial relationship with the taxpayer.

these companies are just taxpayer gravy trains, unable to stand on their own feet.

they may be OK for a few years (anyone can make money if they get free plants because all the debt went away), but give them 10-15 years, and we'll see them ready for BK again.

then the UAW's bought politicians will shower them with more of my money (and earlier to try to protect the stock).

 
At 8/17/2011 6:04 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

morganovich,

One of the things that I have found is that the perspective changes from wherever you stand. This holds true for well-intentioned people across the board. I appreciate the taxpayers' support, and I sincerely hope we can earn a bit of trust and respect in the future of the people that we can change their thinking. Some people will hate us regardless of what we do, and some of us will like ourselves regardless of what we do.

I don't see GM or the UAW during the BK having a position as enemies; I work at the plant level and see this relationship daily. I hope that GM and the UAW can work together in the future; however, that will mean a more adversarial role with our competitors and attempting to align politicians on our side when there are sides to be taken.

Look, the way politics works is dirty from the way a normal person thinks, and I don’t like it, but I don’t want to take a knife to a gunfight either. Money and/or people = power. Power rules. There are people things are done to and people who do things. Sometimes you have a choice which you will be and sometimes you don’t.

I am truly glad I belong to the UAW, or I probably would not be yanking my fifth-wheel trailer around the country. I am sitting between a pool and a hot tub right now enjoying the scenery. It does not get much better than this.

 
At 8/18/2011 2:50 AM, OpenID sethstorm said...

they have a vote. 51% say yes. the other 49% are forced to join, pay dues, and accept collective bargaining.

Yet if it goes the other way, anyone they have identified as yes-voting ends up being targeted for termination. Policy violations somehow become more strict, just so that it covers for their desire to terminate.

Given the large success rate of certain labor relations firms (who still are afraid of the unions knowing about 50-70+ year old tactics), the unionbusters have caused larger amounts of damage.



workers are free individuals. they should be able to offer labor and accept such contracts as they like.

Yet it rarely works in their favor. What you advocate results in lesser freedoms for the business (who can sit by and complain) due to being able to threaten people with a large supply of replacements.

 

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