by: Charles Santini
I just watched a labor union destroy my town. They didn’t break windows over scab workers or anything like that. They did however, dig in so hard and so ferociously on policies that would have made their employer, well soon to be former employer, uncompetitive in the industry. The irony of the situation is, that had a new manufacturing plant opened here, offering the wages and terms submitted to the union in these latest rounds of negotiations, they would have been welcomed with open arms. Not only is the current union not opening its arms, they are lopping them off to spite the rest of their body. The final negotiation deadline has now come and gone. The jobs and company will soon go with it, along with my city; all in the name of holding on to a labor structure, which once served a purpose, but is now the personification of stubbornness and greed.
I am not some distant bystander. I used to be in a union, two in fact, and I hated every second of it. One was so pointless and powerless, the fact that they collected union dues from me was borderline robbery. The second, was so powerful and over-reaching I constantly found myself in awe of the incompetence it encouraged from the employee base. I watched several fireable offenses (if theft from a co-worker is not one, then I don’t know what is) get swept under the rug as consequences from the administration received pushback from the union. The elected officials within the group protected their friends and the ones with the most seniority, and anyone who disagreed with that or a newer hire was left to fend for themselves. I gave two unions a chance. Two let me down, and another one is about to fail the 100,000 people who live in my city.
The manufacturing facility here once employed over 10,000 workers at its peak. That number is now down closer to 3,000. I am not proposing that the 70% drop is completely attributable to the union presence. Unfavorable state tax regulations as well as international competition contributed to a lot of it as jobs moved to India, while some stayed domestic and moved to Texas, which has more business friendly taxation. My blame of the unions comes in to how they responded to those challenges.
Running a business is not simple, but the philosophy behind it is. Find a product people want for a price they are willing to pay. If you are failing, adapt or die. If you cannot adapt in business, you are left with nothing. The philosophy for the union who remained here to represent the already depleted workforce, who have no idea how to run a business, read more along the lines of, dig in, ask for more, and don’t negotiate. Who was left to work at the plant after jobs began to leave? It certainly wasn’t the 20 or 30 somethings, looking to support a family. The union didn’t protect them. It wasn’t the most productive employees who wanted to see the plant succeed and worked the hardest. It was the union leaders and the people with the most time accumulated who made the most money. That is the only group of people a union protects and will ever protect.
Those who back unions and support unions only seem to look at it from one side, higher wages and better benefits; a short sighted and self-serving purpose. What they fail to grasp is how an economy, or a single business for that matter, functions. Let’s take a look at a theoretical scenario using the local facility here. Once work moved partially to India and Texas, as it did, let’s say the company was left with enough contracted business to justify one million dollars in labor expenses. (An absurdly low number, but easy to work with.) It would be the view of the union to protect only the top ten workers, if they made $100,000, putting a significant strain on the possible output of the facility. This is in contrast to supporting and protecting a hundred jobs paying $10,000 per year, effectively increasing the output and efficiency of the facility.
The numbers in this scenario are exaggerated, but the conclusions and the real world results are not. The manufacturing facility in my town will leave. It may have left at some point anyway, but it would have been a slower process giving displaced workers and the region time to adapt. The writing has been on the wall here for years, and the local union leaders are apparently the only ones who haven’t seen it. Now the process has simply been accelerated. They will leave in one foul swoop. I’m certain of it. One of the terms that unions like the throw out there in their press releases is ‘good faith’. Well, that’s a door that swings both ways. In business, if you don’t adapt, you die. There appears to be several funerals on the horizon.