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Your Labor Belongs To You, Not A Union

A 21st Century American economy is handicapped by Depression-era labor laws.

I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but for the half of the country that hasn’t yet experienced the benefits of the recent pendulum swing, I bear a simple message: your labor–and the fruits thereof–belong to you, not a union.

That’s the way it should be appreciated, in any case. Admittedly, the automatic withholding of federal income taxes doesn’t aid in understanding such an idea to be true–if it’s not the actual quality of first working to sustain government coffers, then certainly it creates the perception of it.

Union dues work much the same way. Such workers earn a wage, and with the passage of the pay period, a portion is shaved from the top by a union for the privilege of working for said union. Even the name of the practice leaves little in the way of imagination as to which way fealty is meant to flow. After all, a union “contribution”–a voluntary association–at least allows one to get their hands on a check first before parting ways with it. A union “due” has already long since been spoken for, just not by you.

There is good and bad news, however. The bad: Automatic withholding isn’t going away anytime soon (though, I have a bag of Redenbacher’s ready to enjoy the lively show of tax discontent that would attend it). The good: Compelled union dues in Washington State is on the chopping block for this fall.

With Initiative 737–a subtle reference to heavily-unionized Boeing and the ubiquitous aircraft they produce by the same numeric, perhaps?–Employee Rights PAC hopes to be the latest to push that aforementioned pendulum, this time in Washington, towards “right to work” laws:

Citing First Amendment protections. I-[737], The Employee Rights Act, allows all employees in the State of Washington to decide what groups they belong to in their chosen profession. Neither government, nor employers would be allowed to dictate membership.

“Government should have no role in deciding an individual’s membership in any group and business is best served when the free market is allowed to determine winners and losers.” said spokesperson Michelle Ray. “Government restriction simply stifles business development and jobs with it.”

Indeed. If “737” is in fact a reference to Boeing–Washington’s largest employer–it is quite apropos. In early 2013, Boeing’s machinist union came one re-vote away on a new labor contract–a previous vote failed–from potentially losing wing production and final assembly of the company’s new 777X wide-body commercial airliner to another state. Such disputes seem to happen with Swiss watch-like regularity in Washington, and this one came on the heels of the company moving hundreds of R&D jobs out of state. What’s more, Boeing has already invested tens of millions on infrastructure in other states–primarily right-to-work South Carolina–that can accommodate production of next-generation aircraft.

Given these points, Boeing has indicated that it is unafraid to shift its focus elsewhere to states where it is unburdened by lengthy, contentious labor negotiations. Although officials never admitted it, Boeing’s move of its corporate headquarters from Seattle to Chicago was perceived by some as a long-term strategic move to decentralize and “increasingly move toward ”outsourcing” some of its work — that is, contracting it to other companies instead of using its own, heavily unionized work force.”

Washington’s economy is heavily dependent on Boeing, as evidenced by the massive $9 billion tax break its legislature approved to entice the company to stay. Right to work legislation would go a long way in ameliorating Boeing’s–and others–unease about maintaining a workforce in Washington by making drawn out labor disputes, like the recent port shutdown, far less likely.

Shifting the focus away from Washington and onto the country at large, businesses are already hampered by some of the highest corporate tax rates in the industrialized world. Beyond the effect this has on profitability and competition globally, it also incentivizes US businesses to partake of tax inversions: by moving their headquarters to other countries, they can take advantage of territorial tax laws that only target income made domestically, as opposed to the US’s scheme that taxes a multinational entity’s domestic and foreign income. We, as a matter of practice, take two bites of the apple. Is it any wonder Burger King bought out Canada’s Tim Horton’s?

In light of this, the last thing a 21st century, globalized American economy needs is to be further handicapped by labor laws that are a relic of the post-Depression era. Fortunately, public sentiment has been in lock step with recent trends towards right-to-work laws. As I wrote in these pages in March:

“In addition to the reduction in union membership, public sentiment regarding right-to-work laws is at a historical high–a fact that bodes well for such an initiative that targets the 4th most unionized state in the country. According to a Gallup poll published in August of last year, 71 percent of Americans said they would “vote for” a right-to-work law if given the opportunity, a nine percent jump from 1957.”

Washington is that 4th most unionized state, but even there unionization has waned:

“I-[737] comes at a time when union membership nationally has been waning in recent years, and Washington, despite traditionally having membership rates well above the national average, has followed suit. In 1993, union membership in the state averaged 23.8 percent of total workers, but according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, membership totaled 16.8 percent in 2014, a nearly thirty percent drop.”

If ever there was a time for those remaining states without right-to-work laws to adopt them, now would be it, as those numbers are tough to argue with. Calvin Coolidge once lamented that onerous taxation was an unacceptable burden on citizens, and that people ought “work less for government, and more for themselves.” Unionization is hardly any different. People in unionized shops deserve the satisfaction of knowing they work, above all else, for themselves. Those twenty-five states without right-to-work laws should heed Coolidge’s wisdom.

 

 

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