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Labor Day: What Are We Celebrating? By: Jason Clemens
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, September 01, 2008


On September 1st, Labor Day, cities across the country will hold barbecues, parades, and picnics. On this reprieve from our work routine, it's worth reflecting on what we're celebrating. It is also a good time to ponder some proposed labor-law changes that would affect all workers.

Human labor, coupled with imagination and the right economic institutions, has provided societies with a previously unimaginable level of prosperity and standard of living. Human labor is a dynamic process through which individuals add value to raw materials and give form to ideas only previously imagined.

At the heart of the labor process is the opportunity for individuals to provide for themselves and their families a standard of living based on their own hard work, ingenuity, creativity, and entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, Labor Day is associated not with human labor itself but unionism.

The first Labor Day in 1882, in New York City, was connected with the labor movement. It remains so today, even though only 7.5 percent of private sector workers in the United States are members of a union. If public-sector workers are included, the number of union members rises to 12.1 percent, but even by that figure nearly 90 percent of American workers, the vast majority, are not union members.

This disconnect between labor and unionism is currently at the heart of a movement to radically change a whole series of labor laws. These changes are largely about increasing the power of unions and union leaders, and have little to do with helping average workers and their families. The first item on the list is changing the way unions are certified as bargaining agents.

Currently, unions are required to collect a preliminary show of support by 30 percent of the workers in order to trigger a certification vote. Workers then make a decision regarding the pros and cons of union representation in the privacy of a voting booth. The unions want to dump this and implement what is referred to as "card check."

This means that unions could be certified as the exclusive agent for workers without any secret ballot vote if enough workers (50%+1) sign union cards in the preliminary stage. Research indicates that card check boosts union success rates increase by at least 19 percent, which explains the zeal for change on the part of union bosses.

There is also discussion of undoing a section of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act that allows for Right-to-Work (RTW) legislation. RTW allows workers to choose whether or not to become union members if their company becomes unionized and permits them to opt out of all union dues.

Any U.S. worker, regardless of the presence of RTW laws, can opt-out of union dues not related to their bargaining and representation, usually political and social spending. Eliminating the right of workers to free association will result in higher union rates and more money paid to unions.

The unions, generally supported by the Democrats, also want to weaken or scale back their public disclosure requirements. Currently, unions are required to submit standardized financial disclosure documents to the Department of Labor, which then posts the reports on its website. Such a system permits any interested citizen to examine the financial performance and dealings of any U.S.-based union. Many unions seek to pull down the shades on the light of scrutiny, and turn back the clock to times when their activities were less transparent.

By some estimates, organized labor is expected to spend $1 billion this campaign season in the hopes of increasing the Democratic majority and electing Barack Obama as president. The goal is to kill off secret-ballot certification, implement card check, weaken or even eliminate right-to-work laws, and reduce union financial transparency.

These issues will adversely affect all workers, and Labor Day is a good time to ponder the implications. This holiday is for all American workers, not just the 12 percent in unions, and should center on the wonders of human endeavor. On September 1, let the celebration begin.

Jason Clemens is the director of research at the Pacific Research Institute.


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