Helping Workers RAISE Themselves

Last month, Jim Hoffa effectively conceded that union bosses such as himself are standing in the way of higher compensation for many unionized employees. What rationalization, then, does he have left for retaining laws that authorize Big Labor to force all unionized employees to pay union dues, or be fired?

As regular readers of the Institute blog know, one common rationalization Big Labor gives for laws and legislation authorizing union officials to force employees to pay union dues, or be fired, is that ALL employees who are subject to monopolistic union representation in the workplace “benefit” thereby.

Union propagandists generally do not claim, in blunt words, that every single unionized worker earns a higher wage or salary, gets better benefits, or has more job security as a consequence of the efforts of his or her union monopoly-bargaining agent. Stated plainly, such a claim would sound too ridiculous and be too obviously false. Instead, in contending for forced union dues and fees Big Labor apologists simply assume that all workers who are under a union monopoly owe a debt of gratitude to the monopolists, and hope no one questions the assumption.

This rhetorical gambit has never worked that well with American voters and other citizens, who polls show have overwhelmingly supported Right to Work laws prohibiting forced union membership and dues as a condition of employment for decades. But all too many politicians in both major parties have historically been willing, for self-serving reasons, to swallow Big Labor’s “ALL workers benefit” assumption whole.

A recent roll-call vote in the U.S. Senate, however, will make it harder for union-label and union boss-appeasing politicians to get away with parroting this tired excuse for forced unionism. On June 21, all of the upper chamber’s Democrats as well as Big Labor Independent Joe Lieberman (Conn.) and pro-forced unionism Republican Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) voted to kill an amendment, proposed by Republican Marco Rubio (Fla.), to this year’s farm bill.

As the commentary by Heritage Foundation Vice President Michael Franc linked above explains, the Rubio amendment, also know as the Rewarding Achievement and Incentivizing Successful Employees (RAISE) Act, would have allowed employers subject to union monopoly-bargaining agreements to reward their best workers with pay increases or bonuses based solely on their merit, without first receiving union officials’ permission.

Incredibly, under current federal law, employers may not pay individual workers more than the union contract specifies unless union officials agree. Under the RAISE Act, unionized employers would have only to establish that employees are receiving extra pay or bonuses based on their demonstrable accomplishments, and that all front-line employees have an opportunity to secure such rewards by meeting the same standards. If employers met these conditions, union bosses could no longer be a roadblock to higher pay.

Top union officials vociferously opposed the Rubio Amendment, and that is undoubtedly why it failed. Teamster chief Jim Hoffa’s explanation for his opposition was typical: The RAISE Act would “allow employers to grant wage increases unilaterally to employees of their own choosing.” Hoffa and company were determined to prevent unionized employers from having the discretion to reward employees in a way that maximized the business’s profits, productivity and value. And on June 21, they prevailed.

But in the process of defeating the RAISE Act, union bosses also effectively conceded they are standing in the way of higher compensation for many unionized employees. What rationalization, then, do people like Jim Hoffa left for retaining laws that authorize Big Labor to force all unionized employees to pay union dues, or be fired?
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