Big Labor has a friend in the White House. And a lot of friends throughout the federal bureaucracy in Washington. But this political clout cannot make unions relevant economically. To the contrary, politics is about all today’s labor unions have going for them.
The long decline in the number of American workers belonging to labor unions accelerated sharply last year, according to data reported on Wednesday, sending the unionization rate to its lowest level in close to a century.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the total number of union members fell by 400,000 last year, to 14.3 million, even though the nation’s overall employment rose by 2.4 million. The percentage of workers in unions fell to 11.3 percent, down from 11.8 percent in 2011, the bureau found in its annual report on union membership. That brought unionization to its lowest level since 1916, when it was 11.2 percent, according to a study by two Rutgers economists, Leo Troy and Neil Sheflin.
Workers should be free to organize unions if they wish. But they should not be able to use the political system to railroad workers who don’t want to join. Proposals for “card check” and the like would encourage selection by intimidation.
Moreover, even workers who see unions as the best means to win good benefits should be skeptical of organized labor’s political agenda. Unfortunately, most union leaders see the economy as a fixed pie, so workers can win only by getting politicians to redistribute wealth from others. No surprise, this process tends to empower politicians and enrich union leaders, but leave everyone else worse off. In fact, workers are best off in a growing economy where there is more for everyone, And in which all people, including workers, are economically free, rather than controlled by Washington.