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August 31, 2007

Labor Day State of the Unions

In 1983, the first year for which the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics filed comparable union data, 20.1 percent of employed wage and salary workers were union members. In 1950, that number was estimated at 35 percent. According to the most recent data from the BLS, fewer than 12 percent of employed wage and salary workers are union members, down from 12.5 percent in 2005.

Government-worker (oxymoron?) unions are, of course, the fastest growing, because there is little fiscal accountability in government. Per capita, government unionization is five times that of the private sector, because the government is not subject to free-market accountability. Worse yet, the highest rate of government unionization is among those in education, training and library occupations. These are the folks entrusted to educate the next generation of voters.

Today, some 15.4 million Americans belong to labor unions – and many would rather not. I fall into that latter category. Yes, I confess. I, Mark Alexander, was once a union member.

A decade ago, in another life, I was hired to provide consultation for a big-screen production about Russian organized crime and nuclear terrorism – a subject I know a bit about (not because of any association with jihadis or Russian crime syndicates).

In order to work on this project, which included some script writing, I had to join a screenwriters’ union; I had no choice in the matter. Of course, I objected strenuously, but they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

My experience with the writers’ union provided some real insights into why union demands have destroyed so many private-sector companies. For example, on short notice, I was sent to Moscow to meet with screenplay writers. My first-class seat cost almost $8,000 (that’s eight large!). A seat in coach cost about $1,300. Union rules required the production company to fly me first class. Of course, since I had to “endure this benefit” one way or the other, I asked if I could fly coach and benefit by pocketing the difference. Of course not.

Once in Moscow, union rules also required five-star hotels – at $800 per day. (Ironically, a big chunk of our lodging and meal per diem probably went straight to the same Russian crime syndicates we were investigating.)

Here I’m reminded of a speech a former Screen Actors Guild president gave back in 1957: “Some of us came toe to toe with this enemy, this evil force in our own community in Hollywood… Back in the thirties, a man, who was apparently just a technician, came to Hollywood to take a job in our industry, an industry whose commerce is in tinsel and colored lights and make-believe. He went to work in the studios, and [it was later discovered] that he came to our town on direct orders from the Kremlin. When he quietly left our town a few years later, the cells had been formed and planted in virtually all of our organizations, our guilds and unions. The framework for the Communist front organizations had been established.”

That was, of course, [Ronald Reagan |http://Reagan2020.US/].

So, some sixty years later, a labor guild, seeded by a Soviet Union pawn of the Communist proletariat, is mandating that I travel first class – to Moscow. Go figure. Only in tinsel town, where extreme profligacy is now routine, could such extravagance survive free-enterprise accountability.

I am pleased to report that today the only union card I carry is from the American Conservative Union! But many friends, who are teachers, defense workers, freight drivers and the like, are stuck with organized-labor-union cards.

Monday is Labor Day, and it is certainly fitting that we honor American laborers each year by relaxing with brew and burnt offerings on grills (or completing honey-do lists around our house). However, the word “labor” no longer refers solely to those who produce goods and provide services. These days, it also refers to organized crime, er, uh, “labor.”

Now, I do not oppose “the right of the people peaceably to assemble,” as outlined in the First Amendment to our Constitution, but what about the commensurate rights of those who want not to assemble?

Currently, only 22 states are “right to work” states, those states which do not allow unions to force employees, in companies where unions have established a foothold, to join those unions. As for the other 28 states, congressional conservatives have revived the National Right to Work Act (H. 697, S. 1301), which stands no chance of passage under current leadership.

Not only do Democrats oppose any legislation that might interfere with campaign donations from unions, they are trying to cut the budget of the Office of Labor Management Standards, which monitors disclosure forms from unions, and provide members access to information about how their dues are spent.

According to a recent OLMS report evaluated by The Wall Street Journal, “[I]n 2005, the National Education Association gave $65 million to Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and dozens of other liberal advocacy groups that have nothing to do with the interests of teachers. In 2006, 49 individuals employed at the national AFL-CIO headquarters were paid more than $130,000.”

OLMS also played a key role in obtaining convictions against 775 corrupt union leaders and court-ordered restitution to union members of $70 million in illegal dues payments over the last six years. No wonder union-beholden Democrats want to slash the OLMS budget.

One union watchdog organization, [Union Facts online|], reports, “Of the AFL-CIO’s $82 million in discretionary disbursements from July 2004 to June 2005, only 36 percent went to representing members in labor negotiations – which is what unions were created to do. A whopping $49 million, or 60 percent of its budget, instead went to political activities and lobbying, while another $2.4 million went to contributions, gifts and grants.”

Union Facts reports further: “The National Institute for Labor Relations Research estimated that total union political expenditures reached $925 million in the 2004 cycle. Over time, this has added up: According to The Center for Responsive Politics, eight of the top ten all-time political contributors are labor unions. … CNN exit polls showed that 38 percent of union members voted for President Bush in the 2004 election, but more than 95 percent of union funds went to support Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry.”

Ah, yes, Jean-Francois Kerry, that 400-million dollar, seven-mansion, 500-buck hair-styled man of the people.

Unions also spend a lot of their members’ dues on Leftist state and local political initiatives their members do not support. For example, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, “California unions spent $88,000 opposing Proposition 22, a state ballot initiative that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.” Yet a Los Angeles Times exit poll found that 58 percent of union households had voted “yes” on the measure.

So what of the future of labor organizations? The good news is that because free-market accountability is putting downward pressure on private-sector unionization, those unions may bargain their membership right out of existence. The bad news is, because government unions are not subject to any free-market accountability, the sky’s the limit.

Let’s see – government unions seize and spend hundreds of millions of dollars on Democrat campaigns. Democrats then seize and spend hundreds of billions of dollars enlarging government, thus, enlarging unions. Where does that lead?

[Ronald Reagan |http://Reagan2020.US/] punned, “Government is like a baby: An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other.” The same can be said of government unions.

Happy Labor Day!

For further information on Unions, visit [Union Facts online|] and the National Right to Work Committee.

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