This Labor Day, Big Labor is in disarray. Despite spending a record $1.7 billion last election cycle in politicking and lobbying for more government-granted special power and privileges to expand their reach over more workers, union bosses continue to see their ranks dwindling.
Some 93 percent of private-sector workers are not in a union. This despite the fact that Congress instituted a labor-law system nearly eight decades ago empowering a single union to act as the “exclusive” bargaining agent for every front-line employee in a business, regardless of whether he or she wanted to join that union or not.
Facing this harsh reality, AFL-CIO union conglomerate head Richard Trumka announced last month that he wants to open his outfit up to groups like the NAACP. Trumka’s proposal will be voted on next week at the 2013 AFL-CIO quadrennial convention. While making his pitch in the USA Today, Trumka harkened back to the days of the 1920’s and 1930’s when Organized Labor was “integrated in the community in every way.” Interestingly enough, Trumka’s forebearers did not allow all members of the community to be integrated with the union.
You see, according to Herbert Hill, the labor director of the NAACP from 1951 to 1977, “most of the unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor [or AFL, a precursor of today’s AFL-CIO] either excluded Negro workers from membership., thus preventing their employment in union-controlled jobs, or engaged in other discriminatory practices” back in those times.
And when Congress was considering the institution of today’s compulsory system of unionization, Hill notes it was met with the “intense opposition of the NAACP, the National Urban League, and other Negro interest groups.”
Perhaps Black Americans opposed to granting union officials monopoly bargaining powers with as little as simple majority support were acutely aware of the tyranny of the majority over the minority.
In fact, W.E.B. Du Bois, cofounder of the NAACP, was one of the most outspoken opponents of any legislation granting monopoly bargaining privileges to AFL union officials and berated Big Labor for trying to “achieve freedom at the expense of the Negro.”
More recently, Black Americans have for decades been expressing a strong preference for Right to Work states. For example, from 2000 to 2011, the black American population of the U.S. increased by 13.1 percent.
But 74 percent of the overall increase occurred in the 22 states that had on the books at the time Right to Work laws making union affiliation and dues payments completely voluntary, even though slightly fewer than half of all black Americans resided in such states in 2000.
Net Hispanic/Latino and Asian American migration from forced-unionism to Right to Work states was even more pronounced, in percentage terms, than net black (or white) American migration. The demographic evidence is compelling that, regardless of its original intent, the compulsory-unionism system, with its burdensome work rules and hate-the-boss class warfare, is in our time an “equal-opportunity destroyer” for employees of all races and ethnicities.
As Big Labor’s high command schemes to stem the tide of its hemorrhaging membership, perhaps it’s pertinent for the NAACP, and for Black Americans in general, to consider why so many of our brothers and sisters of all races have rejected affiliation with monopolistic unions.
(Note: This op-ed is adapted from a recent paper I authored for the National Institute for Labor Relations Research: