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Unions, Lenin, and the American Way (Part II)

How unions bring forced inequality and economic injustice. (This is part two of a seven-part essay. Part one is here.)

by
Oleg Atbashian

Bio

October 12, 2009 - 12:01 am

It was true that I didn’t know what I might be getting into. It was later explained to me by an older friend, who was active in the unions back in the 1970s. He recalled how some of the business agents (union organizers) carried guns while visiting private contractors. “They wore suits and during negotiations would occasionally let their jackets open, just enough for a glimpse of the hardware they were carrying. I didn’t know of any actual murders, but I knew that uncooperative non-union contractors had their tires flattened, trucks vandalized, and storage buildings set on fire.”

“In every election cycle,” he further told me, “union members were instructed whom to vote for and called upon to volunteer for. I supervised crews that made election signs to be installed at the union’s direction. Harmless enough, but as a supervisor I learned about what they used to call “other activities.” That included members going through legal records and files of prison inmates to register felons. Others were checking real estate records, recording people who left the state to replenish the ranks of phantom voters, and using vacant houses as their addresses. Yet others were combing obituaries for the newly deceased. If the quotas remained unfilled, they searched older death records, sending scores of 120-year-old apparitions to vote. Guess whom they voted for? Sure enough, the candidates have always been pro-union Democrats with an agenda to pay back their benefactors with government pork at the expense of the taxpayers.

My friend assured me that the majority of union members were decent people, but the methods of the union higher-ups included intimidation, coercion, and stealth: “They tell you what kind of a job you can have and where that job can be. They set the rate of pay and dictate how much you will pay them for the privilege. They tell you whom to vote for and are extremely politically active. All in the name of the American worker.”

Eyewitness accounts are supported by mind-boggling official statistics: “In 2005, upwards of 12,000 UAW ‘workers’ were paid not to work. The Big Three and their suppliers paid billions to keep downsized UAW members on the payroll as part of a UAW contract. One UAW member, Ken Pool, said he would show up to work and then do crossword puzzles. He earned more than $31 an hour, plus benefits. Higher costs and legacy costs for retirees were transferred to consumers.”

Having worked in various corporate offices in New York, I noticed a sizable wage gap between those working in the financial sector and all the rest. Contrary to the caricature portrayal in the media, it wasn’t just the CEOs giving themselves bonuses; people on even the lowest levels had higher wages. I understood it as the desire of the financial companies to attract the most capable employees, and as private companies they had every right to do so. What I couldn’t understand was a similar gap between the union and non-union workers, who received unequal pay for equal work regardless of their qualifications — a practice the government openly supported and even encouraged by preferential treatment of union contractors in the name of “economic justice.”

“Justice” in this case means that non-union employees often work longer and harder while union members enjoy better wages and benefits, as well as job security and other unearned perks. It’s even more grotesque once you realize that union perks can only exist on condition that the unprivileged workers of this country and the rest of the world continue to pick up the union tab by paying the artificially inflated consumer prices, as their much lower wages help maintain the cost of living at the union employees’ level of comfort. This was exactly what I thought when I observed the sleepy unionized employees at the New York City Housing Authority distributing project documentation to private contractors that was absolutely illegible; it never occurred to them that photocopies should be made from the original sheets and not from the spawn of a hundred generations of copies that were more suitable to conducting Rorschach tests on psychiatric patients.

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