Sunday, November 15, 2009

Unions - Wrap Up

I have spent the last 9 weeks talking about unions - what unions are, advantages and disadvantages of unions and examples of how unions effect businesses and the economy. Unions claim they benefit workers by negotiating higher wages and benefits, better work conditions and protecting workers from unfair hiring, firing and promotion policies and practices. What the unions don't tell you is how they negatively effect employees, business and even taxpayers. The higher wages and benefits are given to everyone. It doesn't matter how good each person performs his job duties or how much effort he puts into his job. Individual accomplishments do not mean anything. In addition, individual workers cannot negotiate for their own benefit. The union negotiates for the group as a whole without regard for the needs of any individual.

Unions play a large role in politics in the United States. They have become large and powerful groups who use their power to influence laws and procedures to their benefit. One way unions have done this is through prevailing wage laws. I spent several weeks discussing Ohio prevailing wage law and issues associated with these laws. Union wages and benefits may be good for the employees of unionized companies; however, these wages make it more difficult for union companies to compete with non-union merit shops when bidding on public construction jobs. To "even the playing field" unions fought for prevailing wage laws which require all companies working on public construction work to pay union wages on that job. The problem with that is that union wages are much higher than market wages. What that means to taxpayers is that we are paying more than we should be on all public construction projects. Money we shouldn't be spending.

Recently, in the City of Dayton, we could see unions at work again. The Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority took bids for the construction of its new transit center in downtown Dayton. This new plaza replaced all bus stops in a two block radius with the intention of eliminating bus congestion and reducing issues with unruly crowds at the old hub at 3rd and Main Street. This $9.6 million dollar project was an important one for RTA and downtown Dayton and was scheduled to be completed April 13, 2009. The project was not completed until the middle of August 2009.

The construction firm which won the bid was a union contractor. Even though the project was seriously behind schedule, union workers resisted working overtime hours or working on weekends to catch up. Of course there were numerous issues that contributed to the delays; however, in the construction business it is to be expected that unexpected things will come up during the project. Wouldn't we expect a company to take any steps possible to catch up and try to meet the contractual completion date? Well, union employees don't have to do that. Unions protect the employees from being forced to do anything that isn't in their contract. Even if we assume the management at that construction company wanted to work overtime to catch up - which is what they said - their hands were tied because their employees are represented by a union. They don't have complete control to run their company in a way necessary to meet their contractual deadlines. I am going to guess that if a non-union company had won that contract things would have been very different.

The bottom line is that I'm sure unions do have some benefits; however, the negative aspects of unions and how they effect businesses and the economy, far outweigh any benefits.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Employee Free Choice Act

I have talked about various ways unions attempt to pressure others into doing what the unions want. The most recent example is the Employee Free Choice Act. Earlier this year this bill was introduced and it is still being considered by Congress. If the bill passes, it will change the current National Labor Relations Acts. Specifically, unions say it will make it easier for employees to form or join existing labor unions if that is what they choose to do and it will establish procedures for dealing with unfair labor practices during employee's attempts to organize.

Under the current system, any employee can begin the process of organizing by requesting blank cards from a union. What the union wants is to be certified by the National Labor Relations Board as the exclusive representative for the employees in that particular bargaining unit. If the employee, or group of employees, is able to get signatures on the cards from at least thirty percent of the workers, but normally closer to sixty percent of workers, the employer can request a secret ballot election be administered by the National Labor Relations Board. This is an important step because many employees are pressured into signing these blank cards. When a secret ballot is administered, each employee has the opportunity to vote how he or she really wants to vote. Only with a secret ballot can the employees be free from pressure from fellow employees or supporters of the union.

The Employee Free Choice Act actually takes away the free choice of the employees. In most circumstances, it would take away the rights of workers to have a private ballot election regarding unionizing. Considering the amount of pressure exerted on employees to vote for unions, this would give the unions an unfair advantage. The only way employees can get away from the extreme amounts of pressure is to have the final decision made by secret ballot. Taking this secrecy away gives the unions what they want.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Unions Exert Influence Everywhere

For the last few weeks I have talked about how unions influence public improvement projects through prevailing wage laws and litigation in Ohio stemming from alleged violations of these laws. I mentioned before that not all public improvement projects require payment of prevailing wages. Public schools and hospitals are exempt. But once again, unions are not satisfied with that. Unions have put pressure on the Cincinnati Public School Board to change their policy regarding awarding contracts for their public improvement projects to require contractors to pay prevailing wages on all projects. The board did not unanimously agree that these changes were the right thing to do. In fact, the board did not have a super majority in favor of this change, which was required by their by-laws to change a policy.

Originally, the board voted but did not have the super majority vote; therefore, the board's attorney claimed the vote had failed. The supporters of the change, both unions and those on the board, found another way to get what they wanted. While one member, who happened to be an opponent of the policy change, was out of the country the board voted again - claiming they did not need the super majority vote after all. They claimed that vote was only required to pass emergency measures and this vote did not qualify. So they claim the vote passed, and now any contractor bidding on construction projects for Cincinnati Public Schools must pay prevailing wages (union wages) and abide by all of the aspects of Ohio's prevailing wage laws.

An official from the construction company overseeing Cincinnati School's construction work is quoted in a recent news article as saying these new requirements "could add up to $20 million to the $1.07 billion dollar project." Of course the unions claim this figure is incorrect and there would be no added cost. Now how can that be? Union wages are inflated well above market wage rates. If you pay union wages, which contractors working for Cincinnati Public Schools will now have to do, there will be an increased cost for the project as a whole. How can you pay higher wages but not see an increase in the cost of the project? How can the members of the Cincinnati School Board justify this increase in cost? In a time when schools don't have enough money and we are continuously hearing about schools closing, jobs being cut and school boards unable to balance their budgets, how can this school board approve a policy which will cost significantly more money?

It is interesting that all of this comes right before elections for the Cincinnati School Board are about to take place. Of course this has become an issue among candidates. It will be interesting to see what effect this has on votes. I can only hope that taxpayers have an opportunity to hear about this issue and truly understand what it means. One candidate in the race for Cincinnati's School Board was quoted as saying this new policy "is a sellout of the students, parents and taxpayers of the district in exchange for union campaign contributions and endorsements." This is not a surprise. Unions typically use political pressure to get what they want.