Labor Unions and Their Supporters Are Trying to Turn Back the Clock

By Cabot, Stephen J. | American Banker, September 17, 1993 | Go to article overview

Labor Unions and Their Supporters Are Trying to Turn Back the Clock


Cabot, Stephen J., American Banker


From the end of World War II until the Reagan administration, powerful American labor unions regularly demanded wage and fringe-benefit increases that were regularly granted.

Increased labor costs were simply passed on to consumers. However, the spiral eventually spun out of control, and consumers turned to cheaper foreign products such as cars, electronics, and cameras.

Some companies closed their domestic factories and moved to countries that had no unions and low labor costs. Banks, as might be expected, suffered from a a loss of business.

Unrealistic Demands

Ultimately, unions proved to be their own worst enemies, pricing themselves out of the marketplace. Their demands had grown increasingly unrealistic, their strikes and slowdowns the last gasps of self-destructiveness

During the 1980s, union membership decreased, more and more companies opened factories either in other countries or nonunion ones in the United States, and consumers benefited from high-quality, low-priced products. The unionized worker had been made superfluous by selfish and overzealous unions.

Now there is an effort to turn the clock back and repeat the mistakes of the past, to tilt the playing field to the benefit of organized labor as Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has stated he would like to do.

To effect that tilt, President Clinton, Secretary Reich, and the AFL-CIO are all pushing Congress to pass a ban on permanent replacement workers.

Harmful to Recovery

As one who regularly negotiates the settlement of management-labor disputes and contracts on behalf of banks and others, I believe that the legislation would significantly undermine the nation's economic recovery and ability to compete in a global economy.

The new legislation, in fact, will give labor a powerful new weapon to be used against employers in collective bargaining.

Workers will rightly feel that they can strike at will and bring banks to their knees, because they can go on strike and feel that their jobs will not be replaced by permanent new workers.

In addition, banks will find it more difficult to operate during a strike, because temporary workers will be unwilling to cross picket lines for jobs that will end when the strike ends.

Finding it difficult to operate during strikes, banks will have to capitulate to union demands. Knowing that, striking workers will have an even greater incentive to strike again and again for more and more money.

Spur to Strikes

Richard Lesher. president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, warned that the adoption of the permanent striker replacement ban "would guarantee this country would experience many more strikes in the future." The bill will "tilt the current level playing field in favor of organized labor."

Not only will labor strife increase, but the intensity and destructiveness of that strife will wreak havoc on the financial well-being of management and labor alike; indeed, I believe that we will see a new era of labor-related violence, a return to the blood-in-the-streets activities that perverted the labor movement during the 1920s and 1930s. …

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