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Detroit Bailout Plan B:

Yesterday I noted Scrappleface's plan for a Detroit bailout ("Make Better Cars").

Last night at dinner a friend suggested a bailout plan B in the same spirit. One person noted that the United States in fact has a very successful and prosperous automotive industry--it is just located in places like Alabama and South Carolina now instead of Detroit.

To which another person observed that maybe that provides the roadmap for Detroit's new bailout plan:

First, get many billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars to tide them over for a couple of years.

Second, get card-checked enacted.

Third, send some burly fellows to Alabama and South Carolina to "persuade" the workers there to join the UAW.

Voila--once we make foreign manufacturers as inefficient and sclerotic as the Big Three then the problem is solved!

Happyshooter:
That is the plan.

The problem is that the UAW doesn't have enough political pull in those states to get closed shop laws. Once the UAW is able to get its people into the state houses, or buy those who are in already, they can take over those plants.
11.18.2008 8:59am
pdxbob:
Excellent... after that is accomplished and foreign auto makers cease US operations, we can set up higher trade barriers to keep out the higher quality, lower priced foreign cars (justified because Japan just doesn't treat workers as well as we do).
11.18.2008 9:12am
pete (mail) (www):

The problem is that the UAW doesn't have enough political pull in those states to get closed shop laws. Once the UAW is able to get its people into the state houses, or buy those who are in already, they can take over those plants.


And a lot of those places do not want the big 3 auto business that badly precisely because it comes with union baggage. Texas is a right to work state and in San Antonio for instance the city enthusiastically encouraged non-union Toyota to open up its plant here, but the city has a long history of not recrtuiting unionized businesses to relocate or open up factories here.
11.18.2008 9:17am
Mitchell J. Freedman (mail) (www):
Todd,

I guess you don't really want to know anything about how the car industry really works beyond cocktail party chatter that blames unions. Union leaders, starting with Walter Reuther in the late 1950s, implored the Big American auto companies to support a single pay health care system to avoid having to insure its workers. He also continually called for building smaller cars with the type of care and innovation that marked Japanese manufacturing and design. Unions, starting in the 1970s, continually made concessions and were frustrated they did not participate in the profits from fat years that paid executives so handsomely over the past 20 years.

Your glib attack on unions also ignores the fact that the workers at Honda, Toyota and Nissan in the US are well paid and also have very generous benefits, and Japanese style protections against being fired. The Japanese manufacturers' labor costs are roughly equivalent, and yet they are not seeking any bailout (Though we know Japan's government does believe in a mercantile form of economics, and we also know Toyota recently chose to build a new manufacturing plant in Canada rather than Alabama because of Canada's single pay medical insurance system and...ahem...better educated workers who were less likely to injure themselves, and would likely be more productive. That was their stated reasons).

One of the real problems with a bailout of the remaining Big 3 is doing so where any of the executives of those companies are allowed to remain. They are the ones at fault, not assembly line workers who live in daily fear of being laid off and have already sacrificed far more than any of the executives.

I know, I know, you were being cute. But your adolescent and petulant hostility to unions is palpable.
11.18.2008 9:18am
Anonymouse Troll:
Hey Mitchell Freedman -

Are you related to a truly evil man? Zywicki was born in the union-killed city of Pittsburgh at about the right time to watch it die. Detroit has held on longer - predictable, since finished goods are harder to offshore than materials, but it's going to finish dying soon.
11.18.2008 9:27am
cirby (mail):

Union leaders, starting with Walter Reuther in the late 1950s, implored the Big American auto companies to support a single pay health care system to avoid having to insure its workers.


...by taking huge amounts of cash and funneling it through the unions, along with large pension funds.

Reuther's career was, for the most part, the foundation for most of what's wrong with both the unions and the automakers.
11.18.2008 9:32am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
What's the annual salary of that average assembly line worker you describe, combined with the benefits package? What's the expected pension?

I'm guessing the answer will make me wonder why I went to law school.
11.18.2008 9:34am
Sarcastro (www):
Remember the 20 hour work weeks and no benefits before the unions? Now that was productivity! We need to forget about workers rights and concentrate more on GDP and stock prices!

Creating a manichean world where the unions are responsible for all of business' role is a great start!
11.18.2008 9:37am
JosephSlater (mail):
Mitchell Friedman is exactly right in all he says. I would only add that the big cost item that especially GM has that, say, Toyota in the U.S. doesn't, is legacy health care costs for retirees. That's because Toyota doesn't have anywhere near the number of retirees in the U.S.

Beyond the fact that unions have no legal right to bargain about the types of cars made and their design, TZ's slam at card check recognition relies on cheap, inaccurate, class-based stereotypes of thuggish "burly fellows." In fact, it's employers, rather than unions, that do the intimidating in the current process, routinely firing or refusing to hire pro-union workers in violation of the law, and getting away with it routinely because the remedies for such violations are so trivial.

Also, as EFCA opponents rarely note, card-check recognition has been legal in the U.S. since the NLRA was passed back in the 1930s -- however, since the 1950s, it's only when the employer agrees that card check is allowed. Further, mandatory card check recognition is the rule in several Canadian provinces and in 5-6 U.S. states in their public sector labor laws, and we haven't heard any stories of "burly guys" intimidating workers their.

The question of what to do about the Big Three now is complicated and reasonable minds can differ, but cheap and inaccurate shots at unions, as depressingly predictable as they are here, don't contribute to the discussion.
11.18.2008 9:46am
Mitchell J. Freedman (mail) (www):
Reading the pathetic comments in response to my comment shows once again that too many business libertarians are examples of arrested development.

To Daniel Chapman:

See here: http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0215/p01s04-usec.htm. Workers at the Big 3 are getting around $15 an hour, plus medical benefits (mostly HMOs)--plus a limited pension which may not be around if the companies file for bankruptcy. They used to be about double the hourly wage. Still, again, note the comparison to wages for Japanese auto industry workers in the US: http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2008/aug/04/chattanooga

-vw-plant-could-push-local-wages/?local.

When comparing various states' housing costs, and other cost of living issues, there is a rough equivalency between what "American" auto companies are paying and what Japanese auto companies are paying American auto workers.

Daniel could decide to be an assembly line worker for Honda in Indiana and make $17 an hour instead of being a lawyer. I'm guessing he's not, as he obviously must know what such work does to one's mind and body over the years.

Any other libertarians care to challenge my comments? If we don't include the arrested development adolescent minds out there, I suppose there are not many of you at all...
11.18.2008 9:53am
PC:
Perhaps Prof. Zywicki believes we need a Japanese style health care system so American workers can compete on a level playing field?
11.18.2008 9:54am
Happyshooter:
What's the annual salary of that average assembly line worker you describe, combined with the benefits package? What's the expected pension?

Production, which is the assembly line guy you are asking about, usually topped out at $32 an hour. Guys in really tough spots, like the foundry or metal casting would make a little more and be allowed to retire at 25 years.

Production guys have to work hard, the line keeps moving and the only sin is not getting your tasks done and holding up the line.

The really senior guys can do the scams you read about so much, getting into a really easy section and covering another guy's job so that you can split time to sleep or go boating. Those guys usually have 20 or 30 years in before they can work those scams, though.

As far as retirement, the current hourly formula averages out at about $2,000 per month.

Keep in mind, however, that the UAW allowed a two tier track to go in. Any new guys hired are making a lot less. The new average hourly wage is $16 per hour.
11.18.2008 9:57am
Passing By:
I'm guessing the answer will make me wonder why I went to law school.
If you were an average auto worker under the old UAW contract, you would be pulling in a base wage of about $28.12/hour. But lucky you, as a new hire working the line you would be paid between $14 and $16.23/hour, with raises and benefits limited such that even when you're a veteran your labor cost (not your wages - your total labor cost per hour) to GM won't exceed $25.65/hour.

If you're not making more than that as a lawyer - either the $56K base or the much lower compensation you could expect under the new contract - you're right. You should be wondering why you went to law school.
11.18.2008 10:14am
Mitchell J. Freedman (mail) (www):
And let me add one thing to the cowardly Todd Z who wrote the original post that has spawned all this. I'll be glad to have your job, pal. And you can go fend for yourself in the truly private sector of law practice. When you grow up a bit, and learn to live in the real world, maybe next time you won't so glibly attack auto workers.
11.18.2008 10:37am
Oren:
Just as an aside, I've never seen such nasty vitriol combined with actual analysis on this blog before. Usually it's either childish name calling or thoughtful posts . . .
11.18.2008 10:51am
Nifonged:
Cowardly?

Jesus Christ on a tractor. Mitchell, if you can't handle someone making a point (that was obviously partly TIC) that you disagree with, you might want to relax a bit.

People have different experiences, my father has been a union for nearly 40 years (eastern Ohio, virtually a DEAD area right now) and has hated it for nearly the entire time. My brother quit his first job because of union intimidation, and YES it was intimidation. I grew up in a union area that were largely involved in the auto industry. Needless to say, that colors my take on the subject. If Mitchell's and Professor Slater's experience is different, then God bless, but I don't see how anyone who has truly lived and paid attention in Ohio/Michigan hasn't seen this collapse coming for some time, and if anyone thinks union intimidation, corruption and mob invovement doesn't exist, I don't know what to say. I presume they've never been to Youngstown, Warren or Steubenville.

People have different viewpoints for different reasons. Is this going to be 4 years of not being able to make a dissenting point?
11.18.2008 10:53am
wfjag:
Not nearly aggressive enough plan. Suggested revisions:

First, get many billions of dollars worth of Korean, Japanese and other nations' taxpayer funds to tide their own and US automobile manufacturing industries over for a couple of years, such funds under a UN managed Oil for Cars Program;

Second, get card-checked enacted as a basic human, international right by the UN General Assembly, implemented by the EU, US Congress and all members of the G-20;

Third, send some burly fellows to Alabama and South Carolina and Korea and Japan and Germany and whereever else automobiles and trucks are manufactured to "persuade" the workers there to join the UAW;

Fourth, make all nations make direct contributions to the UAW pension plans as a percentage of their GDP and put the UAW pension plans under UN management.

Fifth, create new human rights groups, "Auto Workers Without Borders" and "UAW Organizers Without Borders", and designate these as International Guilds, and require membership in one or both to work in the automotive manufacturing industry.

This will ensure that all automotive manufacturers and employees, whereever located in the world, will enjoy the same level of efficiency, pay and benefits.
11.18.2008 11:06am
Elliot123 (mail):
"The question of what to do about the Big Three now is complicated and reasonable minds can differ, but cheap and inaccurate shots at unions, as depressingly predictable as they are here, don't contribute to the discussion."

Of course they do. Union labor is not competitive on the world auto market. The non-union workers are better, produce better cars, and have figurd out that the competition is the other car companies, not their own company's management. That makes them smarter, too.
11.18.2008 11:10am
Tom952 (mail):
If Detroit gets Congress to subsidize them, the car buying public will still have the option to express their disapproval by boycotting UAW vehicles.
11.18.2008 11:11am
Steve:
It's not rational objections to unions that inspire nasty responses, it's snide, Limbaugh-level claptrap like the original post. Prof. Zywicki rarely has anything more interesting to say about unions than that they are the root of all evil, full stop.
11.18.2008 11:11am
Tom952 (mail):
wfjag == Gettlefinger
11.18.2008 11:13am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
In the late Sixties, I worked at a Chrysler plant. It was not an assembly plant, but one making components. So the fork lift guy would motor up with a bin of parts, take the one you'd finished, and motor away.
One machine I used had a plaque informing me it had been refurbished in 1947.
Due to a major, informal, agreement by the local to see no evil, the production guys did set-up, the set-up guys did maintenance, and the maintenance guys struggled to keep from falling further behind. Ordinarily, this arrangement is not allowed, work rules being what they are. But the alternative was the plant shut down.
However, this was an acknowledged exception. Point is, work rules can help or hinder, depending on their flexibilty and the UAW is--normally--not at all flexible.
The guys with permanent jobs were paid on piece rate and the senior guys had jobs where they could "make out" in five or six hours. No more work, in other words, having made as much as they could make in a shift. Not efficient.
Us young guys, condemned to jobs which had no piece rate set, worked like demons to see that the production numbers, eventually, would be high enough that when that job and that component went onto the piece rate contract, the seniors would have to work maybe seven hours to "make out". We were threatened. Enlightening, but did not lead to efficiency.
The plants used to have to shut down for the first week of deer season.
Many years ago, after bitter negotiations, the union gave up the automatic work comp claim that went with retirement outprocessing. The thing had become a "right". Expensive and dishonest.
Imbalance in power leads to inefficiency, and the union had the power. We survived in Michigan and the rest of the midwest because we had the monopoly on building cars and the UAW had the monopoly on labor building cars. We taxed the rest of the country for our profit. Monopolies don't last forever.
11.18.2008 11:13am
Mitchell J. Freedman (mail) (www):
Nifonged: I was responding to the ivory towered professor's snark and vitriol that is his and other libertarians' trademark union bashing over decades. And if you think your brother's experience is typical in the last 30 to 40 years, assuming the truth of your conclusion, you obviously need to get out more. Yes, I'm pissed at the ranting that has gone on against unions for decades. And to hear your concern troll garbage when one is simply fighting back is doubly pathetic.

If this was a two way rational discussion, you'd find out I am highly skeptical about bailing out the Big 3. Their execs knew this day of reckoning was coming, and they are the ones who decided to keep building SUVs and not competing with quality and reliability with smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles. To blame the unions is to be looking at the telescope through the wrong end.
11.18.2008 11:21am
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
One contributing factor in the General Motors failure certainly must rest on its pensions. How many other companies pay huge wads of cash to people who no longer work there?
11.18.2008 11:33am
bikeguy (mail):
Yes, let's quit piling on the unions. They are no more responsible than Big 3 management for these problems.
11.18.2008 11:40am
Elliot123 (mail):
Can anyone tell us why the auto plant workers in the South haven't linked arms with their UAW brothers marching into work rule oblivion?
11.18.2008 11:42am
JosephSlater (mail):
Union labor is not competitive on the world auto market. The non-union workers are better, produce better cars, and have figurd out that the competition is the other car companies, not their own company's management. That makes them smarter, too.

Not to contribute to more vitriol, but almost every word of this is wrong. First of all, on the "world" economy, most auto workers (in Japan, France, Germany, etc.) are in unions. Second, there is no evidence that non-union workers in the U.S. are "more productive" than union workers in the U.S. Whether they produce better cars or not is to some extent a matter of opinion, but again, unions have no input into the design of the cars they make.

More generally, there is a tremendous amount of literature on unionization and productivity that contradicts this caricature. Start with Freeman and Medoff's What Do Unions Do?

To Nifonged:

I grew up in Michigan and currently work in northern Ohio. I've also worked with unions for much of my professional career. On the one hand, my experiences have been different. On the other, I won't deny that in organizations like "unions" that have had, in the past decades, tens of millions of members, some are bad actors -- just like there are some bad actors in every other major American institution. For me, the good has far outweighed the bad.
11.18.2008 11:57am
Ben P:

Can anyone tell us why the auto plant workers in the South haven't linked arms with their UAW brothers marching into work rule oblivion?


Lots of reasons.

One is simple lack of tradition. A lot of jokes went around about "community organizing" a month or two back but it's basically how unions work. You've got to convince a lot of people that doing something is in their best interest that takes effort and time by the organizers.

Another is implicit and explicit pressure from the companies themselves.

If someone has just gotten a nice job (and in the poor rural south a factory job paying $20+ an hour is a nice job) you're going to have a fairly hard sell convincing them to risk that job with the rationale "they can't fire all of us." A lot of people I know might respond "the hell they couldn't, I'm not rising that." Managers subtly and sometimes explicitly (and illegally) let workers know that efforts to unionize the plant aren't appreciated.


The final fact is despite all this complaining about fat cat auto workers in the UAW, most of them don't get paid that much much more than their southern counterparts.


When you present a worker earning $25 an hour with pretty good benefits a scheme whereby he might get fired if it doesn't work, but might get $27 an hour, but will have to pay $1 of that in Union Dues, again it's a hard sell.
11.18.2008 11:58am
Dan Weber (www):
Perhaps Prof. Zywicki believes we need a Japanese style health care system so American workers can compete on a level playing field?

Is Japanese health care paid for by magic fairies?

Whether it's from businesses to insurance companies, or from businesses to the government, there will still be big health care costs, paid for by businesses.

Or do you mean company-wide calisthenics? I don't think that'll go over too well here.
11.18.2008 11:58am
trad and anon:
Can anyone tell us why the auto plant workers in the South haven't linked arms with their UAW brothers marching into work rule oblivion?
Because federal policies implemented after the Detroit plants were unionized have made unionization much more difficult? That and the southern states where the foreign auto plants are located are "right-to-work" states, which is one of the major reasons the plants got located there in the first place.
11.18.2008 12:00pm
Ben P:

Is Japanese health care paid for by magic fairies?

Whether it's from businesses to insurance companies, or from businesses to the government, there will still be big health care costs, paid for by businesses.


Not to completely shift the topic, but this is more or less silly.

Yes, "someone always pays." But the very point of insurance is risk sharing. You pay a small amount to protect you from your own risk, and in exchange everyone can afford something that they might not be able to afford when that risk actually hits.


The wider the sharing of the risk persists the better the insurer is able to handle the burden. The small pools and self selecting people engage in is one of the reasons for the market failure in the health care business.

I fully recognize that there's tons of problems with any sort of plan to have the government provided healthcare, but I think Japan's a pretty good example.

They pay 8% of their GDP on healthcare, or $2900 per capita. The US Currently pays 15.2% or $6300 per capita, more than twice what we pay. But they're ahead of us in most public health metrics.

I've not heard bad anecdotal evidence about Japanese healthcare, although I'm sure there's one or two stories out there. But if they're paying half of what we are and getting a healthier populace, I'd say the source probably isn't a secret source of pixie dust.
11.18.2008 12:15pm
Pippin:
Here's a good video about a Ford plant in Brazil. Watch it to the end.

11.18.2008 12:16pm
Pippin:
Didn't show up, for some reason:

http://info.detnews.com/video/index.cfm?id=1189
11.18.2008 12:17pm
MadHatChemist:
When I was a graduate student, the UAW was the official union for graduate students, and EVERYONE, including those like me who wouldn't join the union, had to fork over their hard earned cash.
11.18.2008 12:42pm
MayBee (mail):
In Japan, employees of large companies are insured much as they are in the US. The employer pays part of the insurance, and the employee pays part of the insurance. Employees are not covered under government health insurance, but have private insurance.
The government or employer does provide one free medical exam per year, as well as immunizations.

Japan's National Health Insurance program is in as much trouble financially as GM's UAW retiree program, and for the same reasons.
11.18.2008 12:50pm
MayBee (mail):
But if they're paying half of what we are and getting a healthier populace, I'd say the source probably isn't a secret source of pixie dust

Their healthier populace has little to do with the insurance schemes.
They have little obesity, fewer drug addicts, little violent crime and the injuries that result, and a tiny percentage of out-of-wedlock babies. It is societal.
They do smoke a lot, though.
11.18.2008 12:55pm
JosephSlater (mail):
The non-union auto plants in the South, in addition to being in "right to work" states, have adopted very aggressive and comprehensive anti-union strategies. The idea that they are not unionized because the workers there just don't cotton to unions is naive at best.
11.18.2008 1:01pm
Emily Latilla (mail):
Wouldn't it be cheaper to buy off every living current and former member of the UAW with some 6 figure life-time annuity, and then tell the Detroit automakers, "from now on you're on your own".

Oh, and tell all the other unions this was a one-time only deal.

Except, of course, for the government unions. These people should be bought off to shut down completely.
11.18.2008 1:02pm
Happyshooter:
Wouldn't it be cheaper to buy off every living current and former member of the UAW with some 6 figure life-time annuity, and then tell the Detroit automakers, "from now on you're on your own".

GM did. They offered money up to $300,000k, most offers in the 80-150, range to either quit or retire. A lot of folks took them up on it and opened bars or pizza places. Both are now slowly going out of business.
11.18.2008 1:25pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):

But if they're paying half of what we are and getting a healthier populace, I'd say the source probably isn't a secret source of pixie dust



Agreed, it's most likely due to the fact that their population is almost completely Oriental rather than White, Hispanic, or Black.
11.18.2008 1:37pm
Sarcastro (www):
Wait, the Japanese don't die? Or is it that when they do, they somehow avoid accruing any health care costs?
11.18.2008 1:48pm
Dan Weber (www):
The wider the sharing of the risk persists the better the insurer is able to handle the burden

The total costs are still the same. Businesses are going to pay it either way.

Yes, the US spends a lot more than other countries on health care. We should do something about that. But just saying "let's let the government run health care" doesn't do that.

Medicare and private insurance both follow a horrible "pay for procedure" model. One is government run, one is private run.

VHA and Mayo Clinic both give extremely good health care at a modest cost. One is government run, one is private run.
11.18.2008 2:01pm
pmorem (mail):
Based on the vitriol of some of the responses, it appears that TZ hit a nerve.

Mitchell J. Freedman wrote:

Union leaders, starting with Walter Reuther in the late 1950s, implored the Big American auto companies to support a single pay health care system to avoid having to insure its workers.


Not being satisfied with what they could extract from automakers, UAW has for many years sought to extract money from the taxpayers as well. Now they're seeking money even more directly.

Lovely.
11.18.2008 2:17pm
wfjag:
Dear Tom:
To respond seriously, according to GM shows 3 new models for China , The International Herald Tribune, (AP) Nov. 18, 2008, about 61% of GM's sales are from outside the US, it's sales have increased 19% over the past decade, "[a]lthough GM's worldwide sales fell 11 percent in the third quarter, that was mainly due to contractions in the U.S. and European markets". Of the 3 new models to be sold in China (which will bring GM's offerings in China to 24 models), "[t]he Chevrolet Cruze, which will be manufactured in Shanghai", whereas "[t]he [Buick] Enclave [SUV] and the Cadillac CTS-V will be imported from the United States". China expects its auto sales to grow by 8% next year (down from 22% in 2007), but GM expects its sales in China to grow by 10% (down from 18.5% in 2007).

I don't have comparable international info on Ford or Chrysler, but suspect that they also have international components larger than their US operations.

I see no reason why the US taxpayer should bail-out these companies (whose problems result from horrible management decisions and benefits that the UAW demanded and got). If bankruptcy reorganization is going to have such terrible consequences in the US, it will have worse consequences elsewhere — and so other nations should share the cost.

I am, moreover, suspicious of the need for the US taxpayer to bear the costs when I start learning, as the NYT reported yesterday, that Mrs. John Dingle, aka Debbie Dingle, wife of US Rep. John Dingle (D. Mich), is executive director for public affairs for GM and is a member of the Democratic National Committee from Michigan.
11.18.2008 2:34pm
JKB (mail):

Third, send some burly fellows to Alabama and South Carolina to "persuade" the workers there to join the UAW.


That I'd like to see. In Tennessee, my aunt, who turns 80 in a couple of weeks, worked a production line back in the union heyday. She was an active part of voting in the union but also in voting them out a year or so later when they proved to be no value added.

With the right to work, unions have to be something other than a leach on the company and workers to survive and they aren't good at that. The real value added aspect of unions has been taken over by government. Safe work environment, practices and protection from retaliation have all got regulatory force now leaving the unions to be more of a cost than a benefit in most people's eyes.
11.18.2008 2:37pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

once we make foreign manufacturers as inefficient and sclerotic as the Big Three then the problem is solved!

It takes far more man-hours to put together a Mercedes than it does to build a Chrysler. In fact, Mercedes considers this a social good, as it gives more work to more people.

I note that Alabama is home to Mercedes SUV plant, as Spartanburg, SC is home to BMW's SUV plant. If making SUVs was such a bonehead move for the Big Three, why did these efficient, nimble foreign companies copy them? I further note that Honda, Toyota, and Mitsubishi copied the brain-dead Detroiters' idea of the minivan.
11.18.2008 2:40pm
Lib:
JosephSlater:
Second, there is no evidence that non-union workers in the U.S. are "more productive" than union workers in the U.S.
Perhaps the perception comes from published reports such as this which seem to support this notion.

This article, summarizing and commenting on a manufacturing productivity study of 2006, indicates that each vehicle built by "first place" Toyota requires less labor hours (29.93 hours) than "last place" Ford (35.10 hours) to build a vehicle in North America and all of the listed Japanese manufactures require at least slightly less labor to build a vehicle than any of the traditional "domestic" companies. Note that "labor hours" measured here include all workers - from plant manager to custodian but does not include imputed legacy labor costs of retired workers.

It is notable that this article reports that, with the exception of Ford, the gap between domestic and Japanese labor content per vehicle has narrowed dramatically since 2002 -- while the Japanese manufacturers' productivity increased slightly over that period, the domestic manufacturers' productivity increased quite dramatically.

The improvements are, according to the article, the result of "quality advances and more flexible labor agreements". However, no comment is made about factors such as the degree of automation in the factories etc. Interestingly, at the plant level, three of the four most productive plants were GM.

Have these numbers been debunked and/or is there a better source of numbers?
11.18.2008 3:00pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Lib:

I don't know the methodology of that study. The study itself, as you seem to note, doesn't show that "union workers" are less productive than "non-union workers." First, as the study points out, it covers the productivity of all workers up to the plant manager -- supervisory employees and above are not in unions. Second, it doesn't control for union/non-union. Which makes your observation "Interestingly, at the plant level, three of the four most productive plants were GM" especially important.

I was referring to a raft of studies across industries specifically on unions and competitiveness (I would be happy to pass along multiple cites). It's a bit difficult here, where some posters are ideologically certain that somehow when workers join together in unions to increase their bargaining strength vis-a-vis people who have joined together in a corporate form that massive inefficiencies must inevitably take place. Thanks for at least getting some real numbers into the discussion.
11.18.2008 3:14pm
pdxbob:

Your glib attack on unions also ignores the fact that the workers at Honda, Toyota and Nissan in the US are well paid and also have very generous benefits, and Japanese style protections against being fired.



According to this article in USA Today,


Chrysler pays an average $75.86 an hour in wages, pension and health care benefits, GM pays $73.26 and Ford pays $70.51. Toyota pays U.S. workers about $48
11.18.2008 3:20pm
MartyA:
This is such an important issue that I think President Obana's "automotive tsar" should be a man who can bring ALL plants/companies in the US to the same level of profitability and efficiency, a man like Kwame Kilpatrick/
11.18.2008 3:25pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Because federal policies implemented after the Detroit plants were unionized have made unionization much more difficult? That and the southern states where the foreign auto plants are located are "right-to-work" states, which is one of the major reasons the plants got located there in the first place."

So, do we have a captive labor force bravely struggling to join with the legendary UAW hero of the North? Silently yearning to link arms with government employee unions everywhere? UAW except for the tyranny of the state and lash of the master? Secretly meeting in the pine woods in the dark of a moonless night to chant the Flint UAW work rules? Longing for the day when a place at the plant is by birthright and inlaws? Day in and day out without a steward on the floor? Who says slavery is gone from the south!
11.18.2008 3:27pm
Libertarian1 (mail):
JosephSlater
Mitchell J Friedman

I live in NYC. In my lifetime I have seen the public schools totally shut down, hospitals closed, all buses, subways and public transportation stopped, newspapers forced out of business, blue flu etc. This in the face of a NY State law prohibiting public workers from going on strike. I have seen the theaters totally shut down while stagehands earned >$150,000/year.

The unions operate with a public be screwed philosophy. And the people most hurt are the poor, minorities and the helpless. Tell me again why I should be sympathetic towards unions. In this country they represent 8% of non government workers and their sole goal is me, myself and I. Damn everyone else.
11.18.2008 3:28pm
Sagar:
Unions served a useful purpose in the past and are likely doing more harm than good now. Not sure when the goodwill (of their past good deeds) will runout, but until the manufacturers are able to compete with non-unionized companies, they can't survive.

Most of the US Auto industry's problems are a result of Govt policies as well (CAFE and 2 fleet for instance). The most taxpayers should have to do is tell the Federal Govt to stay out of the decision making and let the Big 3 try on their own to survive.

If GM is losing $20 Billion a year, what good is giving them $15 B taxpayer money without fundamental structural changes? And I don't consider "card check" a positive change.
11.18.2008 3:35pm
turdsimile (mail):
Are the American companies in trouble because they aren't producing enough cars fast enough, or because they are producing the wrong cars?

I'd go with wrong cars. What say do union workers - or any workers - have in the type of cars they manufacture?
11.18.2008 3:35pm
turdsimile (mail):
Almost all the Big Three car commercials I see on TV are for SUVS and monster trucks. And no one is buying them - sales have plummeted. So why do they still pursue this failed approach? Moreover, why do they spend hundreds of millions of dollars advertising cars that aren't selling - aren't selling because of their virtues, not because they haven't been advertised enough?
11.18.2008 3:37pm
Sagar:
turdsimile,

that credit should go to the US Govt that indirectly dictates what kind of cars should be built in the US.
11.18.2008 3:38pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Libertarian:

In my lifetime, I have seen many, many hardworking employees in the public and private sector achieve a middle class lifestyle, decent wages, health care, and pensions, and a voice in their working conditions, because of unions. I am aware that in New York, some unions have gone on strike in violation of no-strike laws. In the case of the TWU, that union was punished quite severely.

I could also match you with stories of heroic public sector workers. In NYC, for example, the cops, firefighters, EMTs, and other first responders on 9/11 were all unionized. As I'm sure you know, a decent number died doing their jobs that day. So spare me the ideologically driven "operate with a public be screwed" philosphy. Also, the air traffic controllers were unionized (yes, they organized another union after PATCO), and they accomplished the heretofore never-attempted feat of grounding all air traffic in the U.S.

Again, there have been tens of millions of workers in many, many unions in the past couple of decades. Some are heroic, some are corrupt, most are just ordinary working people trying to negotiate from a position of greater strength with their employer.

More to the point, you can be sympathetic or unsympathetic to unions, it's not my business or role to convince you. But to get back to the subject of the thread, trying to blame all or even most of the problems of the Big Three does not have support in the facts.

Finally, the people "most hurt" are certainly not "the minorities and the helpless." Unions improve the wages and working conditions of blacks (and women) disproportionately to their effect on white men. Often, the people most hurt by strikes are the union workers themselves, whom employers can permanently replace.
11.18.2008 3:39pm
Sagar:
small cars are loss leaders and have never made money for the Big 3 (they do make a small profit for the Japanese and German companies). Big 3 make money on trucks and SUVs - hence the advertising.
11.18.2008 3:44pm
Sagar:
and speaking of unions in general, public worker unions should be banned. the whole logic of workers uniting for collective bargaining against powerful capitalists does not stand to reason when Govt employees unionize.
11.18.2008 3:49pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"I'd go with wrong cars. What say do union workers - or any workers - have in the type of cars they manufacture?"

Work rules make it more difficult to make certain cars and features. For example, Japanese cars have had better interiors, but that is labor intensive. The Japanese can do it cheaper and better because they can determine the most efficient way to do the interior without having to deal with inefficient work rules.

So, the union doesn't determine the type of car to make, but it is a factor in detremining how efficiently it can be built.
11.18.2008 3:51pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Sagar:

Why's that? Don't public workers have an interest in fair wages, hours, and working conditions, and a voice in their workplace?
11.18.2008 3:52pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Elliot123:

And yet Japanese cars, made in Japan at least, are made by unionized Japanese workers.
11.18.2008 3:53pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
Here's the way for Detroit for the Big 3 automakers to bail themselves out: bankruptcy.

In the long run, it would be best for them. But, who cares about the long run in D.C.?
11.18.2008 4:06pm
Libertarian1 (mail):
JosephSlater
Finally, the people "most hurt" are certainly not "the minorities and the helpless." Unions improve the wages and working conditions of blacks (and women) disproportionately to their effect on white men. Often, the people most hurt by strikes are the union workers themselves, whom employers can permanently replace.



Here you lose me. Since only 8% of American workers (non government) are unionized all their benefits must come from the pockets of the other 92%. When the bus strike occurred, I could afford to take a taxi. When the schools were shut down my children were in private schools. I could go on and on. Those most harmed were poor, black and Hispanic who couldn't afford to go outside the system.

Joseph, I am guessing you don't live in NYC. Look at the actual violence that occurs to those who wish to not be organized. Try to be a government worker and prefer not to belong to a union. No Joseph, unions are not friends or beneficial to the 92% who are not unionized.

Union violence and thugs are not figments of imagination but facts of life.
11.18.2008 4:11pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Libertarian:

Re who unions help or hurt, there is no principled reason to exclude government employees from your union density percentage. The public sector has a union density of nearly 40%, and these unions disproportionately represent minority and female workers. It's especially odd for you to try to exclude these folks,because you list ostensibly harmful actions by public workers.

All strikes inconvenience the public, to some extent. That is the tool that labor law gives most union workers. In NY, as in the majority of states, strikes by public workers are illegal, and the vast majority of bargaining impasses are dealt with by the mediation-arbitration provisions of NY state law, and not by strikes. I have not endorsed illegal strikes. I have noted before that the the TWU was severely punished for its illegal strike.

I have lived in NYC at times in my life, but I do not now. I have lived in big, small, and medium sized cities, most with strong public sector unions (D.C. and Toledo, e.g.). I've also worked with and for unions. I am not aware of "actual violence that occurs to those who wish not to be organized." I am currently a government employee, I know people who do not wish to be in government unions, and I am not aware of any who have been done physical harm because of that. You think the teachers' union goes around beating up people who don't sign a union card? Get real.

On the other hand, based on both personal experience and academic studies, I am well aware of the intense anti-union campaigns run by, say, the Japanese auto companies operating in the U.S. Many, many workers are fired every year illegally because they want to join unions. That's the reality, not your silly stereotyped myths.
11.18.2008 4:25pm
Sagar:
Joseph Slater,

I as a private company employee ALSO have an interest in fair wages, good working conditions, and hours. I expect every employee to have an active interest in these things. So, what? Should I try to unionize my place of employment?

As I said, collective bargaining made sense when the powerless (individually) workers needed to deal with the "powerful" owners on a level playing field. For public sector workers (Federal Govt or State Govt or Teachers), what is the rationale for unionization? Do you think they will be made to work 60 hours without unions? If you read my earlier post above, I said unions served useful purpose in the past and are likely doing more harm than good now. So, I am not a reflexive union-hater.

Try to defend the concept of teachers unions or govt worker unions from a merits-demerits stand point.
11.18.2008 4:38pm
Not Big 3 (mail):
turds ...
"Almost all the Big Three car commercials I see on TV are for SUVS and monster trucks. And no one is buying them - sales have plummeted. So why do they still pursue this failed approach? Moreover, why do they spend hundreds of millions of dollars advertising cars that aren't selling - aren't selling because of their virtues, not because they haven't been advertised enough?"

No one buys GM, Ford or Chrysler cars - a majority of their sales for these vehicles (as opposed to trucks and SUVs) go to Avis, Hertz, Rent-a-Wreck and retired, current and future retired employees. Big 3 cars are craptasic pieces of overpriced, poor long term quality sh&t. The only people who don't realize that are (IMHO) folks who've never driven a "foreign" car and the reporters are certain media locations who receive a lot of advertising $$ from the big 3.

Before any quotes JD Power, let me just say the big 3 target their quality efforts around their rental car customers - low maintenance for the first two years, high initial quality/reliability. After 36 months, the rental car company doesn't care, and neither does GM, Ford, or Chrysler. Look around yourself on the road - how many 1990s Toyondas do you see? How many "big 3"???
11.18.2008 4:45pm
luagha:
Another point that comes into the more general matter of comparing other country's health statistics with the US is that quite simply, people come to the US to die. If your health is in trouble and you can afford it, or you can walk here, people come to the US for health care and may well linger for long enough to be considered 'resident' enough for these statistics.
11.18.2008 4:51pm
RPT (mail):
"Liberatarian1:

Tell me again why I should be sympathetic towards unions. In this country they represent 8% of non government workers and their sole goal is me, myself and I. Damn everyone else."

Unlike the antiunion leadership of the last eight years, who were comletely selfless!
11.18.2008 4:57pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Sagar:

I thought you were making a distinction between public and private sector workers. So your point is NO workers these days should have a right to unionize? Sorry, but I disagree, as does American law. Unions still do plenty of good for employees, improving wages, hours, and working conditions, and allowing a voice in work relations, in the private and public sectors in modern times. There is a tremendous amount of evidence supporting that, so I wouldn't know where to start with a "merits/demerits" analysis. And those laws that you think substitute for unions? Wouldn't be there, wouldn't be effectively enforced, and wouldn't be modernized without unions.
11.18.2008 4:59pm
Sagar:
Joseph

I was making a distinction between private and govt employees. It is my opinion that pvt sector unions are doing more harm than good (in most cases) - but that is between the company and the union and I wouldn't advocate making them illegal or any such thing. The market forces will address the relative performance of unionized vs non-unionized companies in the long run.

But for Govt employee unions, there is no market force determination one way or the other. Since the unions are forming "against" their employer, which in this case is the public, it is not in the public interest to have govt employee unions. So, I am saying it should be illegal for govt employees to unionize.
11.18.2008 5:19pm
Mitchell J. Freedman (mail) (www):
I've enjoyed this discussion as it has gotten going.

This time, I first wish to say, since it seems to be relevant for various commenters, I grew up in a union neighborhood in NJ, and I watched the first string assembly workers (my friends' Dads) lose their jobs in the 1970s in the first wave of layoffs and concessions.

I also know from experience that the public school union in Poway, CA, where I currently live, provides a good life for the teachers--and the school district is one of the finest in the State for the students who attend the public schools here. In fact, the district is the envy of most other school districts in SoCal, private schools included. This, I suppose, is the counter-example of the other commenter's remarks about the NYC school teachers' unions, and the poor performance, he said, regarding public schools there. I would also say there is a correlation between poor neighborhoods and poor schools, such that it is wrong to blame schools for not working when everything around the students' lives are not working well either...

If, however, we want a sweeping question for a sweeping conclusion, we should ask: How do unions help or harm the workers, and how do unions help or hurt a community? As Joseph Slater says, the studies are legion in showing labor union workers' productivity to be stronger than non-union workers, and unions more often provide better wages and benefits to workers--though the auto industry has now become an exception for newer workers. I am sure there are other studies going the other way, but the vast majority show otherwise, often surprising the authors of the studies.

Finally, I am not as in favor of public sector unions because they already have civil service protection, which protection was designed as an alternative to unions. To have both strikes me as unnecessarily burdensome for any institution, private or public. If we gave public or government workers a choice, however, I would hope they scrap the civil service system, not their unions. In addition, in perhaps a bow to "conservatives" and "libertarians," there is something to be said that workers in government should not be too much economically better off than the average taxpayer. Notwithstanding this, I continue to strongly defend unions against those who paint with too broad an anti-union brush...

See, Orin, I can be civil!
11.18.2008 5:36pm
pmorem (mail):
UAW has for decades played a role in forming the business model of the big 3. All the players have, including suppliers, management, engineering and dealers. They all bear responsibility. They all got fat off it.

Now the bill has come due. It's time to eat it.

Don't stick me with the price of your stupidity and shortsightedness. I've got enough of that without people heaping more on me.
11.18.2008 5:54pm
eric (mail):
A very good objection to unions, in my opinion, is the provisions of many state laws that compel employees to pay dues to a union despite not wishing to join the union. Then unions may spend this compelled money any way they like and the employee who did not wish to belong to the union has to jump through hoops to get back a portion this compelled money.

These shenanigans are antithetical to civilized society and individual rights. Unions are against individual freedom.

However, people who vigorously support unions, like Joseph Slater, defend these practices as if they are necessary and positive. I prefer freedom.
11.18.2008 6:33pm
Allan Walstad (mail):

The market forces will address the relative performance of unionized vs non-unionized companies in the long run.

Bingo. If Unions don't make firms inefficient and uncompetitive on average, then there will be no tendency for unionized firms to fail more often than non-unionized ones. There is no need to engage in long debates over the effects of unions. Simply let the market work. When companies fail they go bankrupt and their assets are restructured under new ownership.

As for card-check versus secret ballot, the merits are crystal-clear. With a secret ballot, individuals cannot be singled out and intimidated by management or by union. The fact that it is unions who demand card-check is a hard datum about who's more interested in using intimidation.

Many years ago, when my Dad's gas station business wasn't working out he sold it and became a self-employed scrap metal dealer. When scrap metal prices declined he had to work harder or smarter or make do with less. When technology changed he had to adapt. I don't see why auto execs or workers deserve a special break. Although, I can see why they might GET one--it's called political clout.
11.18.2008 8:14pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Eric:

I'm no opponent of freedom. I believe in the freedom to organize free trade unions -- a freedom that every single democratic and industrialized country in the world has adopted, in most cases for many, many decades. So apparently "civilized societies" as we know them in the real world have rejected your opinion.

As to union security clauses, unions are required by law to represent all members of a collective bargaining unit fairly and equally, without regard to whether the member of that bargaining unit wishes to support the union or not. Unions routinely negotiate significantly better wages than comparable workers in non-union shops; and unions have to represent all members of bargaining units in, e.g., arbitrations.

All of this costs the union money. Allowing employees to get the benefits of unions without paying the costs of obtaining those benefits is a classic free rider problem.

Members of union bargaining units unhappy with their union can try to influence their union democratically, by voting for certain officers and positions at union meetings.

If the employee does not want to be represented by a union under any circumstances, the employee has two options. One, try to convince a majority of his co-workers to vote to decertify the union. If he cannot do that, the employee is always free to quit the job and seek a workplace with no union.

Quitting a job if you don't like the terms of employment is, by the way, the usual suggestion of libertarians to employees unhappy with their working conditions.
11.18.2008 8:20pm
Robert Farrell (mail):
Don't stick me with the price of your stupidity and shortsightedness. I've got enough of that without people heaping more on me.

Stupidity particularly.

When the markets went into freefall, a certain type of thinker decided to blame it all on regulations encouraging banks to lend to low-income and minority households. The narrative bore no relationship to the facts, but it allowed conservatives to deal with the awkward reality by pointing the finger at their usual villians -- minorities, poor people, naive liberals who advocate for their interests.

Now the crisis has hit automakers, and the same people want to blow a thick coat of dust off their anti-union screeds and demonize the UAW.

The reality, courtesy of the Economist, no friend to unions:

Two million units of capacity have been stripped out; factories are being converted to produce more fuel-efficient cars; and a landmark deal with the United Auto Workers union in 2007 paved the way to cutting $1,000 of costs on every car they make from next year.

The unions are not the problem. The economy is going into the tank, and large employers are simultaneously being strangled by a vast, inefficient, unimaginably expensive healthcare system which delivers inferior care (#1 in spending, #38 in results, per WHO.)
11.18.2008 8:21pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Allan W.:

I agree with you and the previous poster that the market can sort out which firms are and are not efficient (although it's hard to "control" for unionization).

As to card check, I would respectfully suggest that the there is overwhelmingly strong evidence showing that in the past few decades, employers, in the election process, can figure out quite easily who the union supporters are, and that there is an appalling amount of illegal retaliation against these supporters.
11.18.2008 8:24pm
Allan Walstad (mail):
JosephSlater:

employers, in the election process, can figure out quite easily who the union supporters are

Well, if it's a secret ballot then presumably you don't have to say anything, just vote yes or no. People who are openly promoting one side or the other do stand out, and I respect them for their courage, but individuals ought to be able to make up their own minds and cast their vote anonymously if they choose. If unions don't wish to intimidate, why do they oppose secret ballots?
11.18.2008 8:51pm
Smokey:
Deserves repeating:

pmorem:

UAW has for decades played a role in forming the business model of the big 3. All the players have, including suppliers, management, engineering and dealers. They all bear responsibility. They all got fat off it.

Now the bill has come due. It's time to eat it.

Don't stick me with the price of your stupidity and shortsightedness. I've got enough of that without people heaping more on me.
Sad to say, but the fix is in, as usual. The rest of us are gonna pay for the bailout. In fact, we already have.

Henry Paulson is suddenly very reluctant to spend the last $350 billion of bailout money. In fact, he's holding it and is not spending it.

Why isn't he putting it to work? I thought that money needed to be injected into the economy, pronto. But Paulson suddenly has decided to sit on it. Why?

A devious mind might figure that Obama has gotten to Paulson. Ol' Henry is currently on the ropes, and certainly would like to keep his job.

Holding onto $350 billion until Obama is sworn in might buy some tenure. Henry could put that money to work as intended, but then where's his leverage?

And Obama would dearly love to direct where $350 billion should be spent; no doubt his pals in Detroit are already tugging at his sleeve, begging for a nice bailout. Especially when the average house price in Detroit is just $9,250 [and no, I didn't leave a zero out].
11.18.2008 8:54pm
Smokey:
JosephSlater:
As to card check, I would respectfully suggest that the there is overwhelmingly strong evidence showing that in the past few decades, employers, in the election process, can figure out quite easily who the union supporters are, and that there is an appalling amount of illegal retaliation against these supporters.
You believe that there is "overwhelmingly strong evidence" of companies illegally retaliating against union supporters?

Feel free to believe what you want, but if it were that cut and dried, plenty of union supporters would be living high on the company's money, when they sue them after the Secretary of Labor finds against those companies.

Look, I support unions. But they're not perfect, and many times they're lazy; they won't go out and do the legwork necessary to get 50% + 1 in an organizing vote. And it's laziness that makes them want things handed to them on a platter, like a card check system that virtually guarantees unionization. Is that really what you want?

I know something about unions, having been elected twice to statewide office, and elected four times as president of my Local. At various times I was also VP, Trustee, Delegate, shop steward, Secretary-Treasurer, Recording Secretary and Organizer. We had our share of successful organizing drives, and we lost some, too. The hardest job in organizing is getting contact info [phone numbers, addresses] of all the hourly employees. Then you blitz the workforce, right before the vote. Done right, the success rate is about 50%. If you lose, in 12 months you can try again.

But giving a slam-dunk like card check to unions that have generally lost touch with the captive members paying the dues seems like it will make unions even more lazy and out of touch. Because the old days, when unions were really necessary, are gone. Now it's all about the dues. [I'm retired now. But over the last 30+ years I've watched the #1 priority of unions go from servicing/representing the membership, to increasing the dues. Sad to say.]
11.18.2008 9:25pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Walking about the neighborhood this morning, I saw two Toyotas -- a pickup and an SUV -- with 5.7 litre engines. This was the same size engine in my 1970 Oldsmobile -- a 350 cu. in. V-8. Later, I saw a giant Acura SUV.

Either Japanese companies are as inefficient and sclerotic as the Big Three, or all companies were guilty simply of building vehicles Americans wanted to buy until gasoline hit $4 a gallon. Now that gas is back under $2 a gallon, should GM go back to rolling out Suburbans?
11.18.2008 9:41pm
Labor Law Blog (www):
Smokey:

You wrote:

You believe that there is "overwhelmingly strong evidence" of companies illegally retaliating against union supporters?
Feel free to believe what you want, but if it were that cut and dried, plenty of union supporters would be living high on the company's money, when they sue them after the Secretary of Labor finds against those companies.

The NLRA has extremely weak remedies that do not effectively deter parties from coercing employees regarding their union activities. The remedy for an employer's unlawful threat to fire every employee whom he finds supporting the union is a Board order to cease-and-desist from making such a threat. Such threats are very effective, and the cease-and-desist order does not provide much of a disincentive. The remedy for an unlawful discharge is make-whole relief (lost earnings minus interim earnings). No living high on the hog there. Too many employers consider make-whole relief the low cost of doing business to avoid costly unionization. Too much coercion occurs. Congress should expand the NLRA's remedies.
11.18.2008 9:55pm
David Warner:
JosephSlater,

"I believe in the freedom to organize free trade unions"

Including the trade of managing large corporations? The current CEO's union constituted by the various inbred Boards of Directors of the Fortune 500 has managed to collectively bargain quite effectively with their shareholders on behalf of their poor, benighted members.

Is this freedom?

Bust the trusts, I say, whether management, labor, or professional. The public ultimately loses in each case.
11.18.2008 10:34pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Allan W. writes:

Well, if it's a secret ballot then presumably you don't have to say anything, just vote yes or no. People who are openly promoting one side or the other do stand out, and I respect them for their courage, but individuals ought to be able to make up their own minds and cast their vote anonymously if they choose.

Respectfully, you don't seem to understand how union elections happen. In order to get an election scheduled, the union has to submit signed cards from at least 1/3 of the eligible employees -- in reality, for a variety of reasons, unions don't ask for elections to be scheduled unless they have signed cards from over half the eligible employees.

The employer sees these cards. The employer knows who the union supporters are. And employers do in fact routinely fire union supporters, despite the fact that it's illegal, in large part because, as noted above, the remedies are trivial.
11.18.2008 11:13pm
Allan Walstad (mail):

inbred Boards of Directors of the Fortune 500

To what extent do the same people sit on the boards of competing firms, and are there any governing laws in that regard? (That's an honest request for information from whoever knows.)

JosephSlater: I still don't see why unions should oppose secret ballots. As far as I'm concerned, given secret ballots, there's no reason to require as much as 1/3 of members to sign cards in order to have an election, although I suppose you need some indication of worker interest to start with--but it should be possible to arrange even for that secretly. Once you have a union, seems to me it should come up for a vote periodically--after all, even the pols have to stand for re-election. As long as it's secret, people can choose freely. So why do the unions want to eliminate secret ballots?

I'm on the way to bed (either that, or divorce court at this point!), but I'll check back tomorrow.
11.18.2008 11:52pm
Alaska Jack (mail):
Robert Farrell wrote:

it allowed conservatives to deal with the awkward reality by pointing the finger at their usual villians -- minorities, poor people, naive liberals


Robert, the Late 70s and Early 80s called ... they want their dismissive anti-conservative cliches back.

Why didn't you just say that conservatives are Nazis who secretly want to lynch all uppity black people? It would pack more of a punch, and be just as accurate.

- Alaska Jack
11.19.2008 1:19am
eric (mail):

I'm no opponent of freedom. I believe in the freedom to organize free trade unions -- a freedom that every single democratic and industrialized country in the world has adopted, in most cases for many, many decades. So apparently "civilized societies" as we know them in the real world have rejected your opinion.


I have no problem with freedom of association for union members or organizers. I was referring to persons who wish not to join the union and are charged union dues anyway. Of course, the freedom to organize trade unions and governmental protection from retaliation for doing so are two different things.


As to union security clauses, unions are required by law to represent all members of a collective bargaining unit fairly and equally, without regard to whether the member of that bargaining unit wishes to support the union or not. Unions routinely negotiate significantly better wages than comparable workers in non-union shops; and unions have to represent all members of bargaining units in, e.g., arbitrations.

All of this costs the union money. Allowing employees to get the benefits of unions without paying the costs of obtaining those benefits is a classic free rider problem.

Members of union bargaining units unhappy with their union can try to influence their union democratically, by voting for certain officers and positions at union meetings.


So why don't unions automatically refund those portions of the union dues not utilized directly for collective bargaining? They don't because they wish to subsidize their speech with non-member money. You claim to be for freedom - when the "freedom" in question is pro-union freedom. The view most supportive of individual rights would be to simply eliminate the requirement to represent all workers equally.

Of course, I know the use of such fees by unions for political speech does not bother you given your position on Davenport v. WEA. I seem to remember your opinion was that the paycheck protection law in question was an unconstitutional infringement on the right of the union to organize for political purposes. Of course not one justice bought that argument. This gives me some indication of how you value union rights versus individual rights (the law in Davenport supplemented the employees right to be free of compelled speech, pesky First Amendment).


If the employee does not want to be represented by a union under any circumstances, the employee has two options. One, try to convince a majority of his co-workers to vote to decertify the union. If he cannot do that, the employee is always free to quit the job and seek a workplace with no union.

Quitting a job if you don't like the terms of employment is, by the way, the usual suggestion of libertarians to employees unhappy with their working conditions.


Neither option is any choice at all. Of course you know that, but you favor forcing people to belong to groups they wish to avoid as a condition of employment. Unions often exert governmental power to force people to join the union. If you claim shop fee laws are anything but such a mechanism, you are being dishonest.

Of course, you aren't so concerned about governmental or union coercion, only about employer retaliation.
11.19.2008 3:27am
Norseman:
Robert wrote:
The reality, courtesy of the Economist, no friend to unions:

Two million units of capacity have been stripped out; factories are being converted to produce more fuel-efficient cars; and a landmark deal with the United Auto Workers union in 2007 paved the way to cutting $1,000 of costs on every car they make from next year.

What does this have to do with the problem? There is 4-5 million units of excess capacity. Union work rules, as well as compensation, drive costs higher than their peers. Auto manufacturing is a very low margin business - a small difference in costs is the difference from success and failure.

Both management and the union suck at the big 3 - neither deserve our pity or our tax dollars. I don't buy an "American" car because of pity, I'll buy what is best for me in my circumstances. The fact is none of the big 3 have made cars that are remotely competitive in 20 years from my point of view.
11.19.2008 7:09am
JosephSlater (mail):
Allan W. writes: JosephSlater: I still don't see why unions should oppose secret ballots. As far as I'm concerned, given secret ballots, there's no reason to require as much as 1/3 of members to sign cards in order to have an election, although I suppose you need some indication of worker interest to start with--but it should be possible to arrange even for that secretly. Once you have a union, seems to me it should come up for a vote periodically--after all, even the pols have to stand for re-election. As long as it's secret, people can choose freely. So why do the unions want to eliminate secret ballots?

I'm on the way to bed (either that, or divorce court at this point!), but I'll check back tomorrow.


First, I hope divorce was averted (I was in much the same situation).

Beyond that, labor law reform has to deal with the rules as they are, and currently the law requires a minimum of 30% signed cards to have an election. Unions inevitably will get at least 50% for a variety of reasons, the most obvious being, why try to schedule an election if you only have minority support? As you say, before the mechanisms of elections should be started, there does need to be a showing of employee interest. So, how else would you manage this?

I ask that question sincerely, because I can imagine other ways to try to solve the serious problems with the union election process, but they also would require significant alterations of current law and practice. Because the bottom line is that right now, employers know who the union supporters are and routinely fire them. Or, in the case of companies like the Japanese automakers in the south, come up with very sophisticated ways of not hiring them in the first place. Much of this is illegal, but again, the remedies are trivial so the law is no deterrent. That's the reason for wanting card check. Because the "election" system does not result in uncoerced choices.

Finally, I hope it will please you to hear that current law does require an "open period" at certain intervals in which unions can be decertified by election. I won't bore you with all the rules (unless you want me to), but in short, the absolute longest a union can go before such an open period happens is three years, and in many cases the interval between "open periods" is much shorter.

Eric: You have me confused with somebody else or perhaps with a parody of whom you believe your opponents are. For example, I believe the Davenport case was correctly decided. The rest of your screed contains more innacuracies and personal attacks, so we'll leave it at that.
11.19.2008 9:31am
David M. Nieporent (www):
and speaking of unions in general, public worker unions should be banned. the whole logic of workers uniting for collective bargaining against powerful capitalists does not stand to reason when Govt employees unionize.

Why's that? Don't public workers have an interest in fair wages, hours, and working conditions, and a voice in their workplace?
One problem with public employee unions is that both sides are playing with other people's money. If the UAW asks for too much money, they ultimately get punished by the marketplace (as we see now), so they have an incentive to be somewhat reasonable. And of course a union contract can affect the stock price, so management has an incentive to hold the line. But public employee unions don't have the same checks.

That problem is reinforced by the fact that public employee unions generally have a government-granted monopoly to begin with; if the UAW asks for too much, then non-unionized Toyota will gain at their expense. But teachers and police officers and such don't have that check.

Moreover, public employees should be answerable to the public; union rules shielding them from discipline ought to be against public policy. If GM wants to agree to make it difficult to fire an assembly line worker who misbehaves, that's on GM's head, but the government should not be allowed to agree to make it difficult to fire a police officer who misbehaves.
11.19.2008 10:21am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Not to completely shift the topic, but this is more or less silly.

Yes, "someone always pays." But the very point of insurance is risk sharing. You pay a small amount to protect you from your own risk, and in exchange everyone can afford something that they might not be able to afford when that risk actually hits.

The wider the sharing of the risk persists the better the insurer is able to handle the burden. The small pools and self selecting people engage in is one of the reasons for the market failure in the health care business.
Adding more people to be covered, assuming they're no riskier than those already covered, would lower the average cost of coverage, but it would raise the total cost of coverage.

There's no "market failure" in the health care business; the problem is that liberals mistake insurance and welfare. The point of insurance is to pool risk, not for lower-risk people to subsidize higher-risk people. The latter isn't insurance; it's just a transfer of wealth.
11.19.2008 10:27am
JosephSlater (mail):
David M. Nieporent:

Those are indeed some of the traditional objections to public sector collective bargaining. I think, however, that in this era of tax-cutting, limited budgets, and contracting out of public services, there are in fact significant checks on what public sector unions can demand.

That issue is also addressed in limits on what public sector unions can bargain about. For example, most federal employees are not allowed to bargain about their wages or compensation. Now, many public sector unions can bargain about wages, but most can't bargain about, e.g., their pension plans. And there are other limits on "scope of bargaining" that don't apply to the private sector.

Second, when you say "union rules shielding them from discipline," I assume you are referring to "just cause" protections. These rules are designed to shield employees from discipline done without just cause. I believe that rule is very much in the public interest. And even if public sector unions didn't exist, most civil service rules (which cover most public employees) contain just cause rules also.
11.19.2008 10:28am
Allan Walstad (mail):

Beyond that, labor law reform has to deal with the rules as they are, and currently the law requires a minimum of 30% signed cards to have an election.

I don't see the distinction you are making here. Unions apparently want the rules changed to eliminate the secret ballot. If that rule can be changed, so can others. It's not my job to come up with new rules that suit unions. I just wonder why unions would try to eliminate secret ballots, if they're not trying to intimidate workers. That's a reasonable question, and one which is not substantively addressed by complaining about various unfair practices of management.

My interest is not in sticking up for management, but rather in defending the rights of workers who prefer to deal with employers without suffering unwelcome impositions from unions.
11.19.2008 10:29am
JosephSlater (mail):
Allan W.:

I'm sorry if I'm not being clear. The union argument is, first, that the "election" process under the NLRA is incredibly biased, unfair, and does not produce uncoerced choices. Second, card check recognition is not nearly as wild and radical as EFCA opponents are claiming, given that card check recognition has long been permitted under the NLRA, albeit only at the employer's option; also, mandatory card check recognition is already the law in a number of public sector jurisdictions in the U.S.; mandatory card recognition was the law under the NLRA up through the 1950s; and mandatory card check recognition exists in other countries (e.g., various Canadian provinces).

My response to you was premised on the fact that the current process already allows the employer and union to see who supports the union and who doesn't -- or at to see who the 50% + of the employees who sign cards to get the election scheduled are. This was to counter the suggestion that under the current system, with an election, the positions of employees are mostly secret.

I asked about your ideas for reform because I don't see how you can have elections without proving that a sizeable chunk of the employees are interested in unions. I don't think it's your responsibility to redesign the NLRA. All I'm saying is that there is a huge problem with the way the status quo works, and that card check is a defensible way to deal with that huge problem.

As to unwelcome impositions from unions, again, under the status quo, unions are allowed to ask employees to sign cards. If the union gets a majority of employees to sign the cards, the union is allowed to ask the employer to recognize the union based on those cards alone, without an election, and the employer is allowed to do the recognizing based on cards and not an election. All EFCA would do in this regard is to require, as opposed to allow, the employer to do this sort of recognition.

Intimidation, fraud, and coercion in obtaining signed cards are already prohibited by law and would continue to be.
11.19.2008 10:41am
George Smith:
Unions were able to establish themselves back when they were getting their heads cracked on the picket line, but now, with a Department of Labour and a ton of laws on the books, they can't?
11.19.2008 11:00am
JosephSlater (mail):
George:

The problem is that many of the "ton of laws" have made things worse for unions in recent decades. For example, as I noted above, mandatory card check recognition -- the apparently super-controversial part of EFCA -- was the law in the U.S. from the passage of the NLRA up through the 1950s (see the Joy Silk case).
11.19.2008 11:16am
Elliot123 (mail):
"These rules are designed to shield employees from discipline done without just cause. I believe that rule is very much in the public interest."

We're stuck with a bunch of poor teachers who can't be fired. How is that in the public interest? Whose interest?
11.19.2008 11:27am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Intimidation, fraud, and coercion in obtaining signed cards are already prohibited by law and would continue to be.
Isn't that a rather disingenuous argument, since company retaliation against union supporters is also illegal, and yet you've complained that these laws are weak and unenforced?

And this despite the fact that employer retaliation against a union supporter is much easier to prove than pro-union intimidation by a co-worker.


It seems to me that card check creates a problem -- pro-union intimidation -- while not solving the one it purports to address -- employer retaliation. An employer can still fire those it suspects of trying to round up those signatures, after all. (The thing is, most of what pro-card check advocates describe as employer "coercion" is really just the employer advocating for its position on the issue.)

It seems to me that if the problem is that retaliation laws aren't enforced and/or penalties aren't severe enough, that it makes more sense to beef those up than to eliminate the secret ballot.
11.19.2008 11:39am
Dan Weber (www):
Now, many public sector unions can bargain about wages, but most can't bargain about, e.g., their pension plans.

Yet it still happens.

NYT Magazine: The End Of Pensions:
One of the biggest pension offenders is San Diego, where six members of the pension board, including the head of the local firefighters' union and two other union officials, have been charged with violating the state's conflict-of-interest code, a felony. What is interesting about San Diego is that, juicy details aside, its pension mess actually looks rather commonplace. The six board members are accused of making a deal to let City Hall underfund the pension system in return for agreeing to higher benefits - including special benefits for themselves. Explicitly or otherwise, this is what unions and legislators have been doing all over the country
11.19.2008 12:06pm
eric (mail):
Joseph Slater

I did not correctly remember your position on Davenport. Looking up your old post, you stated, "I'm not actually sure I think the Washington law is *unconsitutional*, but I certainly think it's bad public policy." You now have apparently taken the position that Davenport is correctly decided. We agree on that at least.

The rest of my post was substantive and if you choose not to answer, that is fine with me. I am not sure where you see the personal attacks, but whatever. Being dismissive is easier than substantive response I guess. It is clear that we have different viewpoints on union motivation, etc.
11.19.2008 12:21pm
Smokey:
JosephSlater:
The union argument is, first, that the "election" process under the NLRA is incredibly biased, unfair, and does not produce uncoerced choices.
I've never been involved in a decertification election, but as I understand it, the law requires a 50% + 1 majority of the entire bargaining unit to decertify a union. That is 'incredibly biased and unfair.'

Why? Because the non-union members don't bother to vote, so the decert election actually requires way more than 50% approval. Why should non members go find the union hall where they've never been, to vote for something that makes no difference to them?

The decertification rules result in almost zero union decertifications. Thus, unions become lazy and no longer care about the members, except as dues providers. A union's chances of being decertified from a particular company are much smaller than a member of Congress losing his seat.

So here's a fair proposal: apply the same rules to both the union and the company. If check card signatures can be obtained by those interested in having a union, then the same rules should apply to those interested in decertifying a union.

Unions used to really represent members. Their principal weapon was a strike; a credible strike threat was what resulted in the union members' gains. Now, unions care primarily about increasing dues income, and the top labor organizations actively try to avoid strikes because a strike ends their dues income and, if unsuccessful, prompts a decert drive.

If modern unions really did their job standing up for workers, you wouldn't see this.
11.19.2008 12:23pm
Brian K (mail):
Because the non-union members don't bother to vote

then that's there own fault.
11.19.2008 12:48pm
Labor Law Blog (www):
Smokey: In a decertification election, the union will be decertified unless a majority of ballots are cast for the union. Also, decertification elections, like initial representation elections, are almost always hold on the employer's premises, not at the union hall.
11.19.2008 1:09pm
Allan Walstad (mail):

All I'm saying is that there is a huge problem with the way the status quo works, and that card check is a defensible way to deal with that huge problem.

Well, I guess I'm just piling on here, now, but this doesn't make sense to me. Card check, as you say, allows companies to see who the union supporters are and discriminate against them if they can get away with it. If unions aren't themselves interested in intimidating workers, why would they oppose secret ballots? It would seem more rational to push for a decrease in the percentage of workers who have to check the card in order to get a secret election. Then, as long as all the workers also get a secret ballot at regular intervals on decertifying the union, we have something that is more balanced and less susceptible to intimidation than we have now.
11.19.2008 1:14pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Gosh, so much to reply to. In order:

Elliot123 writes: We're stuck with a bunch of poor teachers who can't be fired. How is that in the public interest? Whose interest?

That assumes facts not in evidence. In fact, studies have shown that students from schools with unionized teaching forces do better on standardized tests and have higher graduation than comparable students in schools with non-union teaching forces.

Also, most unionized public schools are quite good. Some are not so good, but I'm guessing if you were honest with yourself about why you wouldn't want to send you kid to an underperforming public school in, say, central LA, it wouldn't be primarily because the teachers weren't good. It would be because those sorts of schools too often are underfunded, dangerous, and have students who don't have the same motivation and ability to concentrate on academics as do middle-class suburban kids because of a whole host of socio-economic factors that have nothing to do with just cause protections for teachers.

Eric: Try reformulating your arguments without insisting that I'm against freedom, "dishonest," etc. and I would be happy to respond to them. But here are two ideas to start with that might capture where we disagree.

First, I find the "related to collective bargaining/not related to collective bargaining" distinction in the law problematic. Are we really supposed to believe, for example, that who is on the NLRB -- and thus, who the President is -- is not "related to collective bargaining" in a pretty significant way? That distinction becomes even more problematic, in my view, in the public sector, where the politicians are the employers.

Second, as to individual freedoms, under basic at-will doctrine, employers can fire people for not joining and paying dues to whatever organization the employer wants them to join. Is that problematic, in your view? Or is it only problematic when a union and an employer agree to require employees to pay at least most dues to a union which a majority of the employee's co-workers support?

Smokey: I'll go with Brian K and TraditionalLaborLawBlog's answers. I would only add that the strike weapon has become a lot less effective since employers, in the 1980s, began utilizing the "permanent replacement" option.

Dan Weber: Corruption is bad. Some union officials (officials of corporations and other institutions that have 16,000,000+ members) do bad things. They should be punished. And by "bad things" I include trying to get around rules barring negotiations on certain issues. I'm not personally convinced that this is the rule rather than the exception, however.

In the bigger picture, the point is how to accomodate the sort of concerns that David M. Nieporent raises within the reality that collective bargaining by public employees is going to continue to be legal in most states.

Allan W.: Again, I'm perfectly happy to entertain other options to make the union certification process more fair. Another part of EFCA would greatly enhance the remedies for employer violations of the law during the election process -- I think that is a good start. I don't think mandatory card check is the be-all, end-all, only possible solution. But again, I do think it's workable and not nearly as weird and radical as opponents often pretend it is (again, unions and employers already can and do agree to card check recognition when the employer wants to, and again, mandatory card check was the rule up to the 1050s).

I apparently haven't convinced you, and that's OK. But I do want to close with this. I have worked with and studied unions for over two decades, one as a lawyer and one as an academic. It is my honest opinion that unions want card check not because they want to intimidate workers, but because they want to protect workers from employer intimidation. There might be a better way to accomplish this goal, but the motivations are not what the anti-union ideologues say they are.
11.19.2008 1:56pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"That assumes facts not in evidence."

The evidence graduates every June.
11.19.2008 2:00pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Whoops, I missed one.

David M. Nieporent:

I don't believe my argument is inconsistent (or "disingenous") because the remedy for finding union coercion in collecting cards for recognition is automatic denial of certification, whereas it is very hard to get certification ordered even after finding a great deal of employer coercion (see what is necessary to get a Gissel bargaining order). In short, the remedies for union intimidation have more practical "teeth" than the remedies for employer intimidation.

I also don't understand why you think this is true: employer retaliation against a union supporter is much easier to prove than pro-union intimidation by a co-worker. Actually, employers can pretty much always find some semi-plausible "legitimate" reason to fire or discipline a worker (most workers don't have spotless records), and litigating the matter takes years -- meanwhile, the union organizing drive has been stymied.

You also write:

The thing is, most of what pro-card check advocates describe as employer "coercion" is really just the employer advocating for its position on the issue.)

I disagree. Card check advocates feel that two types of things are coercive. First, things that the law allows the employer to do: e.g., mandatory "captive audience" meetings where the employer requires, on pain of discipline, employees to sit through all manner of anti-union propaganda. Now, you can define this as "the employer advocating for its position," but the union has no analogous right or access to employees. Further, you are now objecting to card check as taking away some current right of the employer, as opposed to taking away some current right of employees. That objection to EFCA is more defensible. I chafe mainly at descriptions of EFCA as taking away the right of employees to an election, because employees have no such right -- as said above, unions and employers can already agree to card check recognition.

But I digress. Secondly, unions object to employers using explicitly illegal tactics (firing pro-union employees, e.g.) with impunity because the remedies under the NLRA are so light. This is a shockingly common practice, and it has nothing to do with the employer "advocating its position."

Finally, you make a point that I agree at least in part with:

It seems to me that if the problem is that retaliation laws aren't enforced and/or penalties aren't severe enough, that it makes more sense to beef those up than to eliminate the secret ballot.

Another part of EFCA (it has three parts, but the only one you ever hear about is the card check provision) would in fact do just that. And it is possible that this would help solve the problems that many folks have identified.

Frankly, it wouldn't surprise me to see a compromise made along these lines. But I'll just repeat that, for reasons I've stated in other responses to this thread, mandatory card check wouldn't really be that radical.

Finally, this has been fun and all, but I have to get some work done. Maybe someday the VC will have a thread on EFCA and/or public sector unions, and we can all get back to it.
11.19.2008 2:12pm
Allan Walstad (mail):
Well, I've asked a simple question here, several times: Why are unions against secret ballots if they're not trying to intimidate workers? Finding no answer, at some point it's hard to avoid the conclusion that they ARE trying to intimidate workers.
11.19.2008 3:05pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Allan:

I've tried to answer your question several times. You are obviously entitled to find my answer unconvincing, but it's not honest to pretend that I haven't given an answer. Again, there is NO CURRENT RIGHT to secret ballots. Again, unions think the election process is fatally biased and this is the best solution to the problem. Beyond that, see above.
11.19.2008 3:10pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
I don't believe my argument is inconsistent (or "disingenous") because the remedy for finding union coercion in collecting cards for recognition is automatic denial of certification, whereas it is very hard to get certification ordered even after finding a great deal of employer coercion (see what is necessary to get a Gissel bargaining order). In short, the remedies for union intimidation have more practical "teeth" than the remedies for employer intimidation.
Fair enough. And 'disingenuous' was too strong.


I also don't understand why you think this is true: employer retaliation against a union supporter is much easier to prove than pro-union intimidation by a co-worker. Actually, employers can pretty much always find some semi-plausible "legitimate" reason to fire or discipline a worker (most workers don't have spotless records), and litigating the matter takes years -- meanwhile, the union organizing drive has been stymied.
Well, with employer retaliation, you've got the first prong proven: adverse job action. And the timing can raise the inference. Which means the employer has to come up with that "semi-plausible legitimate reason."

Whereas if the employee, e.g., is getting harassing phone calls in the middle of the night, there's not even evidence of the perpetrator's identity. Sure, everyone "knows," but try proving it. "Nice car, shame if anything were to happen to it" isn't quite as overt as firing someone.

I disagree. Card check advocates feel that two types of things are coercive. First, things that the law allows the employer to do: e.g., mandatory "captive audience" meetings where the employer requires, on pain of discipline, employees to sit through all manner of anti-union propaganda. Now, you can define this as "the employer advocating for its position," but the union has no analogous right or access to employees.
Yes, that's exactly what I refer to by advocating for its position. Yes, the union can't do this, but then, the union also doesn't pay the employees. The employer actually has to pay employees to sit through these meetings. That isn't exactly like a coercive interrogation at Gitmo. If my employer wants to pay me to sit in lectures all day -- sign me up!
11.19.2008 4:10pm
Anonymouse Troll:

JosephSlater (mail):

I've tried to answer [why are unions against secret ballots?] several times. You are obviously entitled to find my answer unconvincing, but it's not honest to pretend that I haven't given an answer. Again, there is NO CURRENT RIGHT to secret ballots.


So unions are against secret ballots because...there is no current right to secret ballots? Perfectly clear. They want to intimidate. Good answer. Back to shilling for union officers for you.
11.19.2008 4:11pm
JosephSlater (mail):
David:

Thanks for the civil and substantive reply.

As to your first point, multiple studies show that employers routinely fire employers for pro-union activity, and these cases take years to resolve. It's not so easy to win them. The burden is on the employee/NLRB General Counsel to prove discrimination, and just saying, "Jane union supporter was fired during an organizing drive" doesn't get you as far as you seem to think it does. Moreover, even if the employee wins, that's years down the road, the remedies are trivial, and in the meantime the union election has been stymied.

In contrast, where mandatory card check exists or has existed (in the U.S. through the 1950s, in the public sector in several states, in Canada in several provinces, there hasn't been any evidence that the stereotyped union-as-mafia-thug intimidation happens with any frequency, or that when it does happen that it is hard to prove.

Notably, if people in labor relations were really worried about this sort of union intimidation being a real and significant problem, they would be proposing that voluntary union card check -- which is currently legal -- be eliminated, because unions could do the same thing in the voluntary process.

Second, I acknowledged in my last response to you that some folks argue that mandatory captive audience meetings are merely the employer advocating for its position. In response to what you add, first, the union can't require employees to attend anything even if they offer to pay. Also, I wouldn't compare these meetings to Gitmo.

But most importantly, when it is very clear to employees that their employer really, really doesn't want to vote for a union, AND it's clear that employers routinely retaliate against employees who support unions, then these meetings become coercive in regard to the employee's choice of whether or not to support the union.

Finally, let me underscore where we perhaps agree. I personally would be willing to see if much stiffer penalties for employer ULPs during organizing campaigns, and perhaps a couple of other reforms, would make the election process more fair, even without mandatory card check. But on the other hand, for reasons I've listed multiple times above, I don't think mandatory card check is the wild and radical proposal that opponents make it out to be.
11.19.2008 4:28pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Annonymouse Troll:

While your posting name may give a clue as to your intent, my point was that since employees currently don't have a right to a secret ballot*, it makes no sense to say that unions are trying to take away that "right" from employees.


*because under current law employers and unions can voluntarily agree to card recognition without an election
11.19.2008 4:32pm
Labor Law Blog (www):
Proponents of card-check think that it will curtail employer coercion by reducing or eliminating the period that an employer is aware of a union campaign before employees record their sentiment.

Under current law, when a union files an election petition, the NLRB immediately notifies the employer that a petition has been filed for a secret-ballot election. A median of 39 days elapse between petition and election (in some cases, many months pass before an election is held). During that time, the employer has an opportunity to coerce employees into opposing the union.

In contrast, under card-check, employees have an opportunity to record their sentiment (by signing cards) before an employer is put on notice of their card-drive. if a union can quietly gather cards without the employer knowing, the employer won't think to coerce employees. At the very least, employers will likely have less time to coerce.

Critics contend that card-check has some disadvantages, including the following:

1. Employees who don't learn about the card-drive before the union collects a majority of cards will not have an opportunity to attempt to persuade their coworkers to vote against the union or for a different union. Those employees will nevertheless be bound by the majority's decision.

2. In some cases, some employees might sign cards out of peer pressure (not rising to the level of unlawful coercion), even though they would have voted against the union in a secret-ballot election free from any employer coercion.

3. It is highly unlikely that no cards will ever be coercively obtained. It is highly unlikely that all coercion will be brought to the NLRB's attention.

4. Some law-abiding employers will lose an opportunity to lawfully explain why they think employees should not unionize.
11.19.2008 4:41pm
Sam H (mail):
You could fix a lot of the problems with two changes. First, one union, one company. Why should the AUW have all three major American car companies? We don't let the companies combine forces,why should the unions be allowed to?
Second, make the union follow the same rules on political money as the company is requied to follow.
11.19.2008 5:54pm
Smokey:
LaborLawBlog:
...under card-check, employees have an opportunity to record their sentiment (by signing cards) before an employer is put on notice of their card-drive. if a union can quietly gather cards without the employer knowing, the employer won't think to coerce employees. At the very least, employers will likely have less time to coerce.
Allowing employees to sign a check card without the employer knowing is exactly the same thing as what you accuse employers of doing in employee-paid company meetings.What's wrong with that?

For many years [decades, actually], I approached newly hired employees with the form to be signed to make them dues-paying union members.

Almost always, we met the new hire alone, during a break [preferably after lunch, when his tummy was full, and he had no inclination to argue].

Whenever I could, I bought him lunch [and dessert; a piece of chocolate cake does wonders to make people un-argumentative and compliant].

I always tried to have at least 4 - 5 older union members with me when I asked the new kid to sign the form. It was a pre-planned ambush. We never threatened; we acted like we loved the new hire, and were his new best friends. We kissed up to him -- and told him that everyone needed his help.

Our success rate was near 100%.

That's 'coercion.' But it's entirely legal. The question is: why would anyone object to a company doing the same thing?
11.20.2008 11:12pm
Labor Law Blog (www):
Smokey:

You may have me mistaken with someone else. I have no objection to captive-audience speeches, provided they contain no threat of reprisal or promise of benefit (whether explicit or subtle). The problem is that too many employer speeches contain threats and/or promises. Read the NLRB's bound volumes. We should amend the law to create a real disincentive for uttering threats and promises. The current "stop doing that" cease-and-desist order and notice-posting is not effective.

Regarding card-check, I'm concerned about the kind of behavior you describe in your personal anecdote. In another comment above, I identified peer pressure that does not rise to the level of unlawful coercion as one of card-check's downsides. Elsewhere, I have suggested that speedy elections (7 to 21 days after petition) might be better than card-check at accommodating the competing legitimate interests.

Would you support expanding remedies and mandating speedy elections?
11.21.2008 8:59am