Free Markets, Free People

labor unions

What good is a union if it can’t deliver the goods?

That’s kind of the $64,000 dollar question (yes, I’m showing my age … bite me) isn’t it?

You’ve seen the news about the fast food walkouts and claims that food service people should be paid $15 an hour?  That what the United Food and Commercial Workers union claims workers in that industry should have.  But what do workers they actually represent in that industry actually get?  Not much over minimum wage and union dues to pay out of that:

An examination of UFCW contracts shows that even senior union members are not receiving the wages that ROC and Jobs for Justice demand.

Consider a department manager at Kroger’s union shop in Michigan. She earns a maximum rate of $13.80, even after over half a decade on the job. If this is the highest wage the UFCW can negotiate for skilled, experienced workers, how can the union provide entry-level, low-skilled workers with $15 an hour?

It is not possible for them to accomplish this. Yet, receiving media coverage for the protests they sponsor is an effective way to increase membership and dues collections. The wage they demand is more than twice what similarly skilled union members are paid, namely $7.40 an hour for an entry-level cashier.

Courtesy clerks are paid a starting rate of $7.40 an hour and can work their way to up a wage ceiling of $7.45, after 12 months on the job. Fuel clerks do not fare much better; they start at the same $7.40 and can earn $7.80 an hour after three years of experience, barely over half of the $15 an hour wage worker centers supported by the UFCW demand. Specialty clerks also start at $7.40 an hour, but can earn up to $9.35 after six years. This amount is still 25 percent below the $12.50 an hour “living wage” Jobs for Justice claims all entry level workers should be paid. Read the full union contract between Kroger and the UFCW here.

The take-home pay is even lower once dues—and federal and state taxes—are removed. Dues are mandatory and usually take between $19 and $60 a month from members’ paychecks.

A non-union member could negotiate that without even trying hard.  So, what good is the union really done for those those it represents?  Other than pay it’s union staff very well?

It is expensive to run a union. The average total compensation for those employed by the UFCW—rather than represented by the UFCW—is $88,224 a year. This income is almost six times what the union negotiated for cashiers at Kroger’s. Joseph Hansen, the International President of UFCW, earns in excess of $350,000 a year—over twenty times the earnings of many of the workers he represents. The Executive Vice President and National President both earn over $300,000. Are entry-level union workers receiving benefits from paying dues out of their $7.40 an hour paychecks to fund these salaries?

But you know, it’s “management” that’s the problem, right?  I mean how could a cashier negotiate a $7.40 an hour paycheck without the union – and then give the union its “dues” out of that same paycheck?  Hey, the president of the union has to have his perks, right?

I know, I know, don’t look at the paycheck, look at the other benefits … like a pension, right?

The UFCW has one of the worst records for funding of union pension plans. The Labor Department has informed the UFCW that nine of its pension plans have reached “critical status,” meaning they are less than 65 percent funded. Many of these funds have been underfunded for six years. They have low chances of regaining sustainable financing unless they can convince more new members to join and pay dues without receiving similar benefits.

Sigh.

And, of course, there’s the political side of things … it is important to help fund the union’s political activities, no?

Some portion of dues goes towards political contributions. The UFCW contributed $11.6 million during the 2012 election cycle, of which nearly 100 percent went to Democrats.

Well of course it went to Democrats.  Democrats have been in the union’s pocket (and vice versa) since time began, apparently.  Put $11.6 in the pension fund?  What are you, a Republican?

Yes, it’s a crying shame people aren’t represented by this union … said no libertarian, ever.

~McQ

Union membership continues to decline

Yup, it is on a downward spiral.  When actually given a choice (you know, the thing the left claims everyone should have?), many people opt out:

Government figures released Wednesday showed union membership declined from 11.8 percent to 11.3 percent of the workforce, another blow to a labor movement already stretched thin by battles in Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and other states to curb bargaining rights and weaken union clout.

Overall membership fell by about 400,000 workers to 14.4 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than half the loss, about 234,000, came from government workers, including teachers, firefighters and public administrators.

Funny that.  We talk about monopolies, but monopolies don’t work when government doesn’t prop them up, and, as pointed out, when government withdraws its sanction and force, when real choice is allowed, people will opt out.

And, of course, it’s not just the government sector where unions are losing members:

But unions also saw losses in the private sector even as the economy created 1.8 million new jobs in 2012. That membership rate fell from 6.9 percent to 6.6 percent, a troubling sign for the future of organized labor, as job growth generally has taken place at nonunion companies.

Unions are an anachronism … they just won’t admit it yet.  And, for the next 4 years at least, they’re still going to have political power because of who is in the White House.

But as more and more states become right to work, and the jobless see employers migrating to those states, I think the “market” will take care of itself – if the government will let it.

~McQ

Wal-Mart protest a flop

So how did the great Wal-Mart protest go?

According to the Bentonville-based company, roughly 50 people who are actually on Walmart’s payroll joined today’s “walkout” nationwide. The protest organizers say “hundreds” participated. Even if 1,000 took part, that’s still less than 1/10 of 1% of Walmart’s 1.4 million associates.

If you can’t find 50 disgruntled employees in an organization of 1.4 million, well, you’re a refugee from the real world.

But look at that last number.  1.4 million people have jobs because of Wal-Mart.  Then there’s the downstream effect – suppliers, etc.  My guess is you’re looking at an organization responsible or at least partially responsible for 3 to 5 million jobs in this country.

And yet it is under attack.

Now, there were protests at Wal-Mart stores.  But what should be clear is they weren’t protests by Wal-Mart’s vast majority of associates.

The “organization” which organized this flop,  “OUR Wal-Mart”,  is calling it a clear success.  I mean what else would they call it?  The fact that it only drew 50 employees in protest (50 who I assume are now ex-employees) seems to have been waived away for the fact that there were some protests.

Woo – hoo.

So who were the protesters?  You’ll enjoy this:

Seems strange then that, according to organizer OUR Walmart’s website, the group speaks for actual Walmart employees. In the “About Us” sectionof its website, this not-for-profit describes its mission as follows: “We envision a future in which our company treats us, the Associates of Walmart, with respect and dignity. We envision a world where we succeed in our careers, our company succeeds in business, our customers…” (Italics mine.)

OUR Walmart was listed as a subsidiary of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCWU) in a 2011 Department of Labor filing. While the union disputes that the two organizations are one and the same, one thing is certain: The organizers of today’s protest represent not Walmart employees, but employees of grocery stores that compete with Walmart.

Oh, I’m shocked, shocked I tell you.  Members from a union that represents the workers of stores that compete with Wal-Mart?  Ah, of course – OUR Wal-Mart.

[W]hile the anti-Walmart movement claims to be about helping Walmart employees get better health care, improved working conditions, higher pay–not to mention preventing our children from the temptation of petty thieveryit’s really primarily about stopping the threat of cheap groceries–the same ones that go a long way towards helping cash-strapped Americans put food on the table.

Emphasis mine … and the reason, as mentioned yesterday, is this model works.  It appears, at least superficially, that all but 50 Wal-Mart employees agree.  Given the consumer reaction to the protests (uh, nil, nada, zip – didn’t slow down sales a bit), it’s rather hard to understand how any sane person could call the protests a success.  But then no one said those who put together OUR Wal-Mart are sane, did they?

Not surprisingly, a union’s hand is found in a movement deceitfully claiming something that isn’t true and trying to cause problems for a company that employs a huge number of Americans and is responsible, at least partially, for the jobs of a huge number more.

And, watching these shenanigans, you can’t help but believe that unions are desperate – very desperate.  Here’s a company which is offering the same products as their union stores offer at significant discounts and that’s an obvious threat to their continued employment.  So they think nothing of starting a “movement” that is union backed and likely union financed to undermine that company by enticing workers, who apparently aren’t at all as disgruntled or as upset as this group has claimed, into a job action that’s guaranteed to be against their best interests and that would likely get them fired.

50 heeded the siren song and are likely now trying to figure out how to claim unemployment compensation.

And, they have the UFCWU and their apparent inability to think critically to thank for their folly.

Hey, maybe they can go apply at the union stores.  I’m sure they’re hiring, huh?  I’m equally sure they’re more than eager to hire someone who walked off their last job.

~McQ

D’oh: Union boss suddenly realizes Obama’s war on coal means losing union jobs

Yes, he’s apparently finally realized that as goes coal, so goes his union (via Labor Union Report).  Interesting comparison to Osama Bin Laden.  My guess is the administration see’s coal in the same sort of light as they viewed bin Laden – an enemy.  And thus, the results of their campaign against it – the loss of jobs, even if they’re union – are acceptable “collateral damage”.

The coal industry will suffer the same fate as Osama bin Laden under new climate regulations proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, the head of the United Mine Workers of America said this week.

The Navy SEALs shot Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan and Lisa Jackson shot us in Washington,” Cecil Roberts, president of the powerful union, said during an interview Tuesday on the West Virginia radio show MetroNews Talkline.

Roberts blasted Jackson, the EPA administrator, over the proposed regulations, which would limit greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants. Opponents of the regulations, including Roberts, say the new rules would be the death knell of the coal industry.

But, will Mr. Roberts actually do anything to actively protect the jobs of his union members?

Uh,no:

While the United Mine Workers of America likely won’t actively oppose President Obama’s reelection bid, Roberts said the new EPA regulation could prevent the union from endorsing the president.

“That’s something that we have not done yet and may not do because of this very reason. Our people’s jobs are on the line,” Roberts said, adding that Obama has “done a lot of great things for the country.”

So United Mine Workers, why are you paying the dues to pay this man’s salary?

He certainly has made his choice hasn’t he?  Unquestioning party loyalty over your jobs.  He doesn’t care about them and obviously neither does the president.

I’m sure you’re surprised.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Who killed the US Postal Service?

Jordan Weissman, writing in the Atlantic, addresses that question.  Why is the USPS in such dire straits?  What is it that has caused that entity to be tottering on the brink of insolvency?

Ok, not on the brink … it’s insolvent, it just won’t admit it.  So how did this happen?

Weissman points first to the Internet:

In the days of yore, sending letters by mail was pretty much the most efficient way to communicate in writing. Then the Internet happened. Although total mail volume stayed relatively steady until 2006, it has dropped an astonishing 20 percent in the past five years. More important, first-class mail, the Postal Service’s biggest moneymaker, has fallen 25 percent during the past decade. That’s a huge problem for its bottom line. The agency now delivers far more "standard mail" — what most of us call junk mail — than first-class mail. According to Businessweek, it takes three pieces of junk to equal the earnings from a single stamped first-class envelope. J. Crew catalogs and pizza menus alone won’t pay the bills.

I disagree here.  While the Internet certainly cut into its revenue, it didn’t put it in the shape it is now.  That had been set in motion well before the Internet became a factor. The Internet has simply pushed it to the tipping point earlier than it might have arrived otherwise.

The two real culprits?  Labor and Congress.

Yet even as its profits have dwindled along with the mail it handles, the agency’s labor costs have remained stubbornly high. Salaries and benefits make up 80 percent of the Post Office’s budget. By comparison, FedEx spends 43 percent of its budget on labor, while UPS spends 63 percent, according to Businessweek. Why the disparity? As the magazine put it, "USPS has historically placed the interests of its unions first." For years, it has happily negotiated contracts with generous salary increases and no-layoff clauses.

Why?  Because it could. 

And there had to be this belief, despite the problems, that it was never going to go out of business.  In other words, it was felt it would be bailed out if push came to shove.  So it happily negotiated away your tax dollars to provide generous benefits to its employees that it would never be able to afford if it were an actual business entity.  Its first priority wasn’t its customers.  It was the interest of its unions.

As for Congress, well the postal service we have today is the result of a 1970 law that was, as Weissmann writes, “intended to transform the mail system from a dysfunctional dumping ground for political patronage into a self-sustaining, independent agency.”

Or it was supposed to become a business. 

But the politicians never really let it. The Postal Service doesn’t receive any taxpayer dollars, funding itself entirely through customer revenue. But it still has to deal with Congress as a micromanager. It isn’t allowed to shutter post offices for purely economic reasons, meaning that roughly 25,000 of its 32,000 now operate at a loss. It needs permission for rate hikes from a special regulatory commission. And for 30 years, it’s been required to deliver mail on Saturdays, even though that day is a money loser.

The Postal Service’s current woes are also due at least in part to Capitol Hill’s meddling. In 2006, Congress passed a new law requiring the agency to pay about $5.5 billion a year into a trust fund for future retiree pensions. When revenues were rising, the idea might have seemed reasonable. But the timing was exquisitely bad. Now that the agency is in the red, the pension burden has helped to force drastic measures like the ones we’ve heard about today.

The Postal Service is begging Congress to let it recoup some of those prepayments, as well as give it more flexibility to manage its business.

A primer in intrusion.  An example of what such meddling does in other areas as well.  Instead of telling the USPS to become more like a business and then letting it do that, Congress has chosen to interfere.

The USPS – an example of the “why” government should stay out of business.  It granted itself a monopoly and is managing to run even that into the ground.

Remarkable.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Education or indoctrination?

A former student of a course that sounded innocuous enough by its title turned out not to be as you’ll see when you read his lengthy expose.

In there are the usual blathering about “academic freedom” (the last resort, I think, of many a marginal teacher), etc.

Is it a question of academic freedom when instructors/teachers/professors clearly intend to do something other than impart knowledge which allows a student to make his or her own mind up? In the name of "academic freedom" are students and institutions to be held hostage to absurd distortions of its meaning?

Clearly, when you read through this, you’ll find yourself having difficulty categorizing what is presented as anything other than indoctrination – assuming you know what indoctrination means and can separate it from what academia is supposed to do to “educate”.

But apparently, the university takes the easy way out even with the evidence recorded and videoed.

It’s a long article, but worth the read.  And frankly I could spend a day talking about many of the aspects of this argument, but, since mine is rushed today, I’ll leave it to you to do the heavy lifting in the comment section.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

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Saturday open thread

Talk about whatever strikes your fancy.

Some things that have caught my eye:

Is the Obama administration trying to unionize the government procurement process?

Speaking of unions, what is SEIU’s president, Andy Stern, doing on a Obama’s “deficit reduction” panel.  Does that say “I’m serious about this” to you?

Anyone else see the irony in the Hillary Clinton claim that domestic political infighting is hurting America’s image abroad?

Brits aren’t buying the “January was the warmest month ever” nonsense.

Speaking of the Brits, is there a reason we won’t back their claim to the Falklands in a drilling-rights dispute?

Apparently some Dems are calling for Charles Rangel to step down from his House committee chairmanship because of ethics violations. Why isn’t Nancy “the most ethical Congress in history” Pelosi doing the same?

Paul Ryan was the rock star in the health care summit. To date no one has refuted his fiscal points.

The Obama administration has consistently talked about the Bush administration not counting the cost of war in its deficits. Well, it isn’t a war, but the Obama administration continues to nrefuse to cout the hundreds of billions going to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae – primarily because it would bump this year’s 1.4 trillion deficit by another 300 billion.

And finally there’s some relatively good news.  Jeremy Lott says there have been quite a few “quiet libertarian victories” here lately.

~McQ

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Reading the polls

A couple of interesting polls to note today.  The first concerns labor union popularity.  They aren’t.  Popular that is.  Or at least not at all as popular as they once were.  Pew reports:

Favorable views of labor unions have plummeted since 2007, amid growing public skepticism about unions’ purpose and power. Currently, 41% say they have a favorable opinion of labor unions while about as many (42%) express an unfavorable opinion. In January 2007, a clear majority (58%) had a favorable view of unions while just 31% had an unfavorable impression.

Those are the worst favorables for labor unions since 1985 (and lower than even that year).  A majority of Democrats still have a favorable view of unions (56%) while Republicans (29%) and the all important independents (38%) don’t.  My guess is the dramatic and highly visible political role played by unions in the 2008 presidential election (especially the SEIU which is also linked with the ever popular ACORN) as well as their role in trying to pack town halls to freeze out protesters this last summer have contributed to the unfavorable view labor unions now enjoy.  And, of course, government handing over majority ownership to unions in the GM and Chrysler bailouts also had a hand in driving their favorables down as that was seen as a pretty blatant political payoff.  This poll is another indication that Americans are indeed watching what has been going on, are aware of what has happened and don’t like it at all.

Speaking of government, or at least one branch of it, Rasmussen has its poll on Congressional approval out.  Unsurprisingly Congress has achieved new record lows.

Voter unhappiness with Congress has reached the highest level ever recorded by Rasmussen Reports as 71% now say the legislature is doing a poor job.

That’s up ten points from the previous high of 61% reached a month ago.

10 points?  In a month? That’s not a decline.  That’s freefall.  And it couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch.  But the message is found in some of the responses within the poll.  For instance:

Nearly half of Democratic voters (48%) now give Congress a poor rating, up 17 points since January.

That 48% is probably upset that the Democratic Congress hasn’t delivered on it’s promised agenda. While that certainly adds to the overall unfavorable rating, it’s one that could flip in an instant should that agenda be muscled through (something that seems less and less likely now).

Seventy percent (70%) of voters say Congress has not passed any legislation that would significantly improve life for Americans, up 10 points over the past month and the highest level of dissatisfaction measured in regular tracking in over three years.

Again, part of that is probably that 48% Democrats not happy that the agenda is stalled. And that could include a portion of liberal leaning indies as well. But:

Forty percent (40%) of voters nationwide now say it is at least somewhat likely Congress will seriously address the most important issues facing the nation. That’s down from 59% last March. Only 9% say it is Very Likely Congress will address these issues.

Any guess what the “most important issues facing the nation” are?

Well it’s not health care:

As Congress continues to hash out the health care reform plan proposed by the president and Congressional Democrats, just 41% of voters favor the plan while 56% are opposed. Sixty-three percent (63%) of all voters say a better strategy to reform the health care system would be to pass smaller bills that address problems individually.

In fact, as Joe Biden has said, “it’s three letters. J.O.B.S.”. It is the economy and jobs. What is becoming increasingly clear is the administration and Congress have no idea how to get that done – well, except creating government jobs.

But before Congressional Democrats get all giddy thinking they can turn these numbers by pushing their agenda through come hell or high water, they need to again try to understand the present mood of the electorate – the mood they – the presently serving members of Congress on both sides – have helped create:

Other recent polling also reflects voter disappointment in Congress. Earlier this month, 63% of voters said it would be better for the country if most incumbents in Congress were defeated this November. Just 27% of voters say their representative in Congress is the best possible person for the job.

Three out of four voters (75%) report being at least somewhat angry at the policies of the federal government. Part of the frustration is likely due to the belief of 60% of voters that neither Republican political leaders nor Democratic political leaders have a good understanding of what is needed today.

Still, voters believe Democrats are more likely than Republicans to have a plan for the future.

Regardless of which political side voters are on, just 21% believe that the federal government enjoys the consent of the governed.

Read all of that carefully – that’s the rest of the Tea Party iceberg uncovered for you. As I’ve been saying for a year, the economic and financial meltdown and the government’s reaction was more than enough to jar the population from it’s complacency. Politicians still haven’t figured that out even though protesters and polls have been loudly announcing it for months. Congress and government in general is considered to out-of-touch and out of control. The dissatisfaction is focused on the Democrats at the moment because they represent the government establishment now, but it is clearly a dissatisfaction that crosses party lines. And I’m not sure the GOP has figured it out anymore than have the Democrats.

And while the GOP leads in the generic poll, the perception of Congress and the politicians therein is not a pretty one:

Just 9% of voters believe most members of Congress are genuinely interested in helping people, which ties the recent low in December. Eighty-one percent (81%) say most members of Congress are more interested in their own careers, a new multi-year high.

The plurality of voters (42%) continues to believe most members of Congress are corrupt, a result that has remained fairly consistent over the past several months. One in three U.S. voters (32%) does not see most congressmen as corrupt. Another 26% are undecided.

It’s why I continue to think that the first Tuesday night in November will be “must see TV”. Will this dissatisfaction manifest itself in the voting booth? And if it does, what will be the outcome for the next Congress?

More importantly what if it doesn’t? Is there enough anger and discontent out there to drive people to the voting booth?  And if it doesn’t, won’t we then get precisely what we deserve? And finally, if we get what we deserve, won’t politicians rightly surmise they can ignore the public for the most part since there’s really no penalty for doing so?

~McQ

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