Sunday, February 22, 2009

Unions and Montana's Economy

I was recently reading the Billings Gazette, when I ran upon a story that they had regarding a pro-union rally that occurred in Montana. In this story, there was a quote from Jim Larson, Teamsters Local 190 political coordinator. In this quote, Mr. Larson states "Today, more than half of workers, 60 percent, say they would join a union right now if they could." 
The protest in the article was to support unions, and a bill that is a piece of US legislature. This bill would change the procedure for forming unions in businesses in the United States. For more detail on the bill, you can look here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Employee_Free_Choice_Act
To begin with, I would like to know where Mr. Larson came up with this number. If so many people wish to join unions, why is the proportion of the work force that is in a union declining? Using numbers provided directly by the AFL CIO, the proportion of the labor force that is part of a union has declined from 14.9% in 1995 to 12.4% in 2008. This is not a recent trend either. Union membership peeked sometime  in the late 70's. If so many people want to join unions, why have their share of the population been declining for 30 years? 
What I found particularly interesting was, Montana recently attempted to pass legislature that would make Montana a right to work state. (In case you don't know, this means that workers who do not want to join unions, can still work in jobs where other workers are part of a union. Without this bill, employees can be required to join a union, or loose their job. ) However, this bill has currently been tabled, thus it will not pass, and Montana will not become a right to work state.  You can find information on this bill at: http://data.opi.mt.gov/bills/2009/billhtml/SB0339.htm
I find this particular piece of information confusing, when compared to Mr. Larson's statement. If so many people wish to join unions, why is it necessary to force people to join a union, or loose their jobs? Why is it necessary to force these people to do something they don't want to do? I thought unions were supposed to support the rights of workers, not restrict them.
Could it be that union leaders are just as interested in promoting their own self interests as businesses are? 
I don't exactly know how I feel on the whole concept of a right to work law. If a business makes the agreement to only hire union workers, why should the government stop them? However, the very fact that the same business would want to hire non-union workers makes me question the tactics that are used to push business to make such deals in the first place. However, this blog was not an attempt to promote, or dispute, right to work laws. If just found the statement made by Mr. Larson to be particularly hard to swallow, when looking at what has happened in Montana, and in the United States.

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