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
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
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.
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