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Latest News - January 2013

January 4, 2013
Berman: 2012 was not a banner year for Big Labor
Source: The Detroit News
By: Richard Berman

2012 will be remembered as the year Big Labor went to war, taking on everything from Twinkies to state constitutions. But unfortunately for union bosses, they've got little more to show for their battle efforts than a handful of stinging electoral losses, some frustrated parents, perturbed politicians, stranded holiday travelers, and 18,500 more unemployed Americans.

Consider the run-down of this year's big labor battles. In September, the Chicago Teachers Union shut down the Chicago Public School system for seven days. In a city where only 21 percent of eighth graders are proficient in English, the strike kept 350,000 students out of school for more than a week — and all so that teachers who make an average salary of $76,000 could get guaranteed annual raises over the next four years.

Then there's Hostess. The bakers' union strike this past November cost the bankrupt company its existence. Some 18,500 people lost their jobs because the bakers' union — which represented 5,000 Hostess employees — refused to accept the company's final contract offer. Thus died the Twinkie, along with the company's $2.5 billion in annual sales.

Unions struck again at Thanksgiving, when the Service Employees International Union tried to snarl the holiday plans of travelling Americans at Los Angeles International Airport. On a weekend where nearly 1.8 million people were scheduled to pass through the airport, the strike added confusion and time to people's travel plans, embittering passengers who wanted nothing more than to see their families and loved ones for the holiday.

Unions followed this up with a series of protests outside Wal-Mart on the busiest shopping day of the year: Black Friday. The protests didn't accomplish much — the mega-retailer said this year's sale was its best ever. Considering that nearly 140 million people went shopping that weekend, spending $59 billion in the process, it's clear that unions fell well-short of their goal.

Organized labor saved the most costly protests for last. An eight day — and $8 billion — dockworkers' strike slowed traffic into the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to a crawl at the end of November.

The two ports support nearly 5 million American jobs and account for $428 billion worth of cargo, all of which the striking dockworkers were willing to jeopardize unless they received a raise that would put some of their salaries at $195,000.

An even larger port strike was set to begin in December. A different dockworkers' union threatened to shut down every port on the East Coast from Maine to Texas. The strike was averted with less than 24 hours to go, but could still happen if negotiations break down.

When you consider that America's ports deal with 65 percent of America's trade by value, contribute $3.15 trillion to the American economy, and support more than 13 million jobs, strikes like these don't bode well for our country's still-weakened economy.

Where unions ended up winning (or will likely win) new and improved contracts — Hostess aside — they did so at a cost. Ordinary Americans suffered from the effects of such ill-conceived labor protest, from the parents who had to skip work in Chicago to take care of their kids, to harried passengers on Thanksgiving Eve, to retailers who couldn't stock their shelves.

Given organized labor's aggressive posture this year, it's no surprise their agenda was rejected at the ballot box.

In both Michigan and Wisconsin, voters were presented with a clear referendum on union rights vs. taxpayer rights, and sided overwhelmingly with the latter. So, here's a bit of advice for union bosses mapping out their strategy for 2013: Don't stage strikes and protests that hurt the working people you claim to represent.

Richard Berman is the executive director of the Center for Union Facts.



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