Opinion: At the beginning of the American Industrial Revolution, businesses grew rapidly at the expense of their employees. Many people were hurt, and many more were killed. A factory fire in New York City in 1911 led to the deaths of 145 people. This was known as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. These atrocities and many more led to public outcry, which in turn led people to organize into groups that would allow them to fight for their rights and interests.
In the United States labor unions became necessary as employees were being treated as less than human. Essentially, the employees were seen as a part of the machine they were working on, which means that they were easily replaceable. According to the History Channel, “For those in the industrial sector, organized labor unions fought for better wages, reasonable hours and safer working conditions. The labor movement led efforts to stop child labor, give health benefits and provide aid to workers who were injured or retired.” As a result of their efforts, labor reforms emerged, which guaranteed that workers would have protections under the law. However, in today’s modern era, labor unions are virtually obsolete.
So many of the labor reforms that we see today comes from the strikes and petitions of the past. It is from the unions’ sacrifices and fights that we have the labor laws and regulations that we do today. Our government recognizes that workers have rights, and that they should be able to make a decent living, and this is due to the unions’ successes. However, their success has been their undoing. Unions, like the government, have become too large.
Unions exist in two forms: in right-to-work states and non-right-to-work states. There are 29 states that are right-to-work states, which means that employees are given a choice of whether or not they want to join the union. In non-right-to-work states, employees face compulsory unionism, which means that they have no choice. They must join the union, and they must pay union dues. There is a religious exemption to paying union dues in non-right-to-work states, however, an employee will still have their wages garnished and donated to a charity of their choice.
So, no longer are unions stopping businesses from making arbitrary decisions, but the unions themselves are making arbitrary decisions, even going so far as to keep a non-unionized business, Sprouts, from setting up shop in East Bay. If this new business had been allowed into the community, it would have provided the residents with jobs. The woman behind the prohibition of Sprouts, Cassandra Hunter, is on the executive board of the Local 5 United Grocery Workers Union. Perhaps she is worried that grocery employees will see the success of Sprouts and realize that unions are no longer necessary, or perhaps she is worried the competition between grocery stores will put the store that she works for out of business, and thus she will lose her job.
Right-to-work states allow the individual to chose whether or not they wish to join the union. My state, California, is not a right-to-work state which means that if a majority of employees vote to become unionized then all of the employees must become a part of the union. Last year, my fellow employees voted to become a part of the local SEIU union, which I am against. I do not make enough money to share with a union. Every dollar I make is mine, and I account for all of it. While the union was in negotiations with my company, the union froze our wages, which meant that even though my management wanted to give us raises, they could not because the union prevented it. So although I am forced to join the union, I will have my dues paid to a charity.
There is a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court that could drastically alter the future of unions in the public sector, and ultimately the private sector. If the supreme court decides that it is unconstitutional for government employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment, then the private sector will quickly follow in their footsteps. The case exists to determine whether or not forced unionism goes against an individual's first amendment.
A professor at the University of California Santa Cruz, G. William Domhoff, states that “[w]orkers originally want[ed] unions primarily for defensive purposes -- to protect against what they see as arbitrary decisions, such as sudden wage cuts, lay-offs, or firings.” Unions now take the offensive position, meaning that they bargain for unrealistic demands. In 2013, the International Franchise Association states that “the calls for a higher minimum wage ignore the fact that franchisers do not determine wages. Franchisees do. These franchisees are small business owners that are already operating on thin margins due to a still very sluggish economic recovery.” The International Franchise Association was right because employees are being replaced by self-service kiosks. The unions’ efforts to provide better wages have had the opposite effect and have hurt the people that they were supposed to represent, by forcing companies to look for cheaper alternatives. Unions have also failed to recognize that when wages go up, so does everything else. Housing costs will rise, which means higher mortgages and/or rents. The cost of food and necessities will rise because employers will have to push the cost of a higher minimum wage onto consumers. Taxes will also rise because people are theoretically making more money, and thus are able to pay more in taxes. California, a state that has raised its minimum wage to $15 dollars and will do so over the next several years, has also just raised its gas tax. This is concerning because it means that eventually the economy will become equalized, and no real change will have been achieved. This will leave people in the same boat they were in before the minimum wage raise.
People deserve to have choices in which type of environment they wish to work. The free market is not just for the consumer, but also for the worker.
Follow this author on Twitter: @jrichardson1776
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