Labor Notes (March 2013)

From the March 2013 issue of CRC’s Labor Watch.

Over the long haul, unions and union-backed politicians tend to put employers out of business. But there’s another big reason for unions’ systematic decline: they’ve lost touch with their members’ interests and values. Fewer top union officials have backgrounds like those of the workers they are supposed to represent. A longtime national official of the Laborers’ International Union of North America told the Washington Times, “It’s becoming impossible to find anyone at [LIUNA] who has ever actually worked the trade beyond a summer or two while they attended the Harvard Labor College. How can you represent working men and women when you’ve never had to really work a day in your life as a construction laborer? These sons and grandsons of laborers have never suffered through a long layoff, or seared in the heat of the day, or frozen in the cold of a winter outside on a job site.”

Remember those “recess appointments” to the National Labor Relations Board? Supposedly, the three appointments didn’t require confirmation because they were made while the Senate was in recess—except that the Senate wasn’t in recess. It was yet another example of the President making an end-run around the Constitution. Now, in the Canning decision, three U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges unanimously struck down the appointments as unconstitutional. Without those three members, the NLRB lacked a quorum, which means Canning brings into question every action taken by the NLRB last year. Characteristically, the Board is ignoring the decision and continuing business as usual. The administration in February re-nominated two of the current appointees and hopes to repeat the Board’s decisions, but Republicans vow to block confirmation until the Supreme Court settles the case.

Unions spent $4.4 billion on federal campaigns and on lobbying during 2005-2011, according to a study by the Wall Street Journal. The unions spent three-quarters of that amount in ways that normally aren’t reported, such as “volunteer” campaign work.

A federal appeals court has upheld Wisconsin’s Act 10, Governor Scott Walker’s labor reforms that sparked a massive, unsuccessful recall campaign against him. The reforms are still under challenge in state court. Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas struck down Act 10 in September. Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, which has upheld the Walker reforms in the past, will make the final decision at the state level.But an election in April could shift the court’s majority to anti-reform forces.

Angela Bailey of the Office of Management and Budget reports that in 2011 federal employees spent nearly 3.4 million hours working on union business while on official duty. (We reported on this practice, called “official time,” in last month’s Labor Watch.) U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) has introduced the Federal Employee Accountability Act to outlaw the practice, which he estimates would save taxpayers $1.3 billion over ten years.

Unions often claim workers in right-to-work states make less money than workers in forced-unionism states. But because the cost of living varies widely, the unions are comparing apples and oranges, notes Vincent Vernuccio of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. For example, “The average rent in Manhattan is about $3,400, and $2,000 will get you a shoebox apartment. You compare that to a mortgage in Alabama, which is about $800.” If you factor in the cost of living, workers in right-to-work states actually make about four percent more than workers in states without right-to-work laws. 

Vernuccio points out another irony: Because right-to-work states do better economically and because unions in those states are more accountable to their members, last year the number of union members rose slightly in those states (by roughly 39,000), while union membership declined by about 390,000 in forced-unionism states.

Obamacare will radically change doctors. Dr. David J. Leffell, professor at the Yale School of Medicine, warns in the Wall Street Journal that it exacerbates a trend “for physicians to become employees, rather than self-employed. This development represents a potentially radical factor in the transformation of health care—the doctor as union worker. . . . By reducing the reimbursement rate for certain office-based specialists while enhancing related payment to hospitals, the administration is compelling more and more physicians—many of them with an any-port-in-a-storm fatalism—to seek employment with health systems or large physician groups.” Traditionally, doctors are entrepreneurs who work all hours and receive good compensation for their effort, but “when doctors occupy a service niche like the chambermaid in Las Vegas or the school teacher in Chicago, the expectations and compensation of the physician-worker will be defined in ways that make the benefits of collective bargaining appear very attractive.” Oother countries went down this road, Dr. Leffell notes, and saw doctors go on strike.

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