In Manufacturing, Union Members’ Pay Is Lower

An image of Big Labor Michigan Politician, Betsy Coffia
Big Labor Michigan politicians like Betsy Coffia (center) arrogantly dismiss the
expertise of independent-minded workers

Why Assume Michigan Workers ‘Benefit’ From Monopolistic Unions?

For decades, the consensus view among academic workplace-policy specialists, regardless of whether they personally support or oppose forcing employees to bankroll a union as a job condition, has been that many workers are hurt, rather than helped, by union monopoly bargaining.

Unfortunately, in Michigan today, as Big Labor’s campaign to destroy the state’s decade-old Right to Work law unfolds, more and more union-label politicians are choosing to dismiss the expertise of eminent labor-policy scholars as well as of independent-minded workers.

Effectively, politicians like state Rep. Betsy Coffia (D-Traverse City) are besmirching the character of roughly 80,000 employees at unionized workplaces in Michigan who are currently exercising their freedom under the state’s Right to Work law to opt out of forking over any money to Big Labor bosses.

In order to justify her support for taking away these independent-minded employees’ Right to Work, Ms. Coffia (who cannot know more than a few, if any, of them) is denouncing them for supposedly “reap[ing] benefits of union negotiations without paying . . . dues toward the work that yielded those benefits.”

The fact is, there is no rational basis for Ms. Coffia or any of the other state politicians who are currently making similar accusations against fellow Michiganders whom they don’t even know to assume workers who don’t want to belong to a union nevertheless benefit from union monopoly bargaining.

Economists of all stripes understand that union officials can and often do wield the monopoly power government policy hands them over employee compensation and work rules in ways that discourage employers from making productivity-enhancing business investments.

Workers Often Suffer When Big Labor Obstructionism Deters Businesses From Investing

When this happens, the vast majority of workers end up getting hurt.

“Significantly slower productivity growth and employment growth are demonstrably linked to monopolistic unionism as it is practiced in the U.S.,” noted National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix.

“And they may well account for the fact that, in key sectors where competition is relatively unhampered by government regulation, the average wage for union-free employees today is higher than the average for unionized employees.”

For example, Mr. Mix added, the mean hourly wage for nonunion American factory workers in 2021 was $33.28, roughly 17% higher than the $28.33 average for factory workers who belong to a union. (These and the data that follow in the next paragraph come from an analysis of Current Population Survey data conducted by labor economists Barry Hirsch and David Macpherson.)

Another example is wholesale and retail trade. The average 2021 hourly pay for non-union workers in this sector was$23.08, 16% higher than the average for union members doing the same kinds of jobs.

“The bottom line is that there is no good reason to presume workers who don’t want to be subject to union monopoly bargaining are still somehow better off because they are,” said Mr. Mix.

“Betsy Coffia and other Big Labor politicians who are smearing such workers as a means of furnishing a pretext for their anti-Right to Work stance ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

Wage Hikes For Low-Skilled ‘May Be at the Expense Of the Highly Skilled’

Even in cases where many union members at a business believe they are getting higher pay and benefits as a consequence of Big Labor bosses’ actions, it does not follow that workers who have opted not to join the organization are benefiting from unionism.

Sheldon Leader, a former British law professor who specializes in American as well as U.K. labor policy, and is generally supportive of special privileges for Big Labor, acknowledged as much in his book Freedom of Association.

In the words of Dr. Leader, once a business is unionized, workers who don’t want a union are “often actually made worse off than they were before.”

In a largely critical review of the book, the eminent American labor scholar Clyde Summers, who passed away in 2010, strongly concurred on this point.

Dr. Summers elaborated: “Full-timers may bargain to limit the jobs of part-timers, seniority provisions may disadvantage younger workers, and wage increases of the low skilled may be at the expense of the highly skilled. . . . Determining whether the long-term benefits to a particular employee are greater than the burdens and risks of union membership is practically impossible.”

Drs. Leader and Summers are far from the only pro-Organized Labor observers of American labor relations to notice that the contract provisions union officials obtain by wielding their “exclusive” bargaining power frequently hurt many workers in order to help others.

Another even more prominent example is current U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.

‘Unions Advocate Numerous Policies That Affirmatively Harm [Many] Teachers’

In the fall of 2015, Ms. Harris (then California’s attorney general), California Solicitor General Ed DuMont, and several of their lieutenants were working jointly with union officers to defend the constitutionality of compulsory union dues and fees as a job condition in the public sector.

The challenge was brought forward by 10 freedom-loving public educators, and the case was known as Friedrichs v. CTA.

In their September 2015 merits brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, the plaintiffs drew upon passages in the handbook of the National Education Association (NEA), America’s largest teacher union, to make the case that the respondent unions “advocate numerous policies that affirmatively harm [many] teachers”:

“NEA considers any ‘system of compensation based on an evaluation of an education employee’s performance’ to be ‘inappropriate’ and ‘opposes providing additional compensation to attract and/or retain education employees in hard-to-recruit positions.’”

Obviously, teachers who are unusually good at their jobs and/or specialize in the most challenging fields, including special education, chemistry, calculus and physics, have good reason to believe they are harmed by NEA union bosses’ policies.

In their November 2015 reply briefs, the pro-forced-unionism respondents did not contest the fact that many teachers get paid less due to union monopoly bargaining.

And Ms. Harris and Mr. DuMont actually confirmed in their brief that, under statutes and case law authorizing monopolistic unionism, Organized Labor officials “do have substantial latitude to advance bargaining positions that . . . run counter to the economic interests of some employees.”

Committee Program Leaves Fork-Tongued Michigan Politicians With No Excuses

Mr. Mix emphasized that Rep. Coffia and other Michigan politicians who are misrepresenting the impact of union monopoly bargaining on employees as they prepare to kill Right Work cannot legitimately cite ignorance as an excuse:

“By the beginning of March, Right to Work field staff had already delivered to Ms. Coffia’s office, and the offices of practically every other state lawmaker, a simply written, five-page analysis showing why so-called ‘free rider’ claims and other common excuses for forced union dues are bogus.

“If Ms. Coffia et al don’t know now that they are calumniating the 80,000 unionized Michigan workers who choose not to bankroll their ‘exclusive’ bargaining agent, it’s because these politicians and their staffs have made a conscious choice to remain ignorant.”

This article was originally published in our monthly newsletter. Go here to access previous newsletter posts.

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