It’s a hard knock life, for unions
E.D. has a new post up at his True/Slant digs asking why John McCain hasn’t done much to participate in the health care debate. I don’t have much to say about the main substance of the post, but this bit did stick out to me:
Sure, there are plenty of obstacles to disrupting the status quo.
For one thing, big labor opposes just about any move toward killing the status quo, because it gives them quite a lot more bargaining power. Employer-provided benefits, sheltered from income taxes, are good for the unions. They’re good for big businesses, too, or at least they were until health care costs began to spiral out of control.
Taking on “Big Labor” is pretty fashionable around these parts and that’s understandable: most of the Leaguers are on the right side of the spectrum, and for reasons I still don’t entirely understand, hating on unions is a conservative past-time. But in the interest of fairness, I think it’s worth pointing out that unions have good reason for wanting to maintain their bargaining power: for almost thirty years, they’ve been left to the mercies of employers and forced to deal with a federal government that was mostly cavalier about enforcing labor law. Indeed, one of the conservative fruits of the Reagan revolution was a crippled Department of Labor that either didn’t have the resources to address labor law violations or routinely ignored them. What’s more, with private sector union density at a historically low 7.6 percent, unions no longer have the power to resist the pressure of employers and contend with a neglectful federal government.
With that in mind, I don’t know why anyone is shocked and scandalized to see unions oppose policies which would cost their members health care benefits and thus reduce their bargaining power, even if those policies are ultimately good for unions and their members. Unions don’t have much of a reason to trust the government, and they especially don’t have much of a reason to trust a bill that has the support of companies and organizations that are openly hostile to unions. Is their opposition dangerously short-sighted? Yes. But contra E.D., it isn’t particularly sinister.