Watch out, Zell!

A mostly political Weblog.
April 4 2007 8:13 PM

Watch Out, Zell!

An obscure cult has the L.A. Times in its grip.

(Continued from Page 19)

The idea of requiring a union, without a secret ballot election, if labor organizers can obtain a majority of "cards" from employees seems like both a big idea and a bad idea.(See below.) If Republicans were smart and confident, wouldn't they make a big deal of this--drag the debate in Congress out to give it more prominence, highlighting Obama's support for this change which (more than any tax cut) would alter the very texture of the economy? Voters--even many socially liberal peacenik voters--traditionally worry that if Dems gain full power they will a) serve their special interests and b) cripple American capitalism in a fit of leftish nostalgia. This bill legitimately triggers both fears. ...

P.S.: I don't think this is an endorsement Obama had to make for political reasons. As Dick Morris says, he's sitting pretty--he can be anything he wants to be. He could be a lot more Gary Hartish! He must want to be an old-fashioned unionizer. [But he has to win the Iowa caucuses, dominated by unions--ed Teachers' unions! They're already organized. They don't need no stinking card-check.** As for New Hampshire--look what the unions did for Mondale in 1984. ... And if Obama doesn't really believe in the card-check, wouldn't it still be smart for the GOPs to make him pay a price for selling out to the unions? That's a lot more important sign that he's a business-as-usual pol than his failure to repudiate David Geffen for taking some heartfelt shots at the Clintons.. ... ] ...

**--Update: Ryan Sager emails from NY: "NYC's [United Federation of Teachers chief] Randi Weingarten would be interested to hear teachers unions don't want card check. It's how they plan to destroy the charter school movement here." Good point. But is that also true in Iowa?

Supplemental reading: Ford is one example of how the Wagner Act unionism Obama wants to spread really can undermine the economy--according to this Friday WSJ report [$], the company has begun a belated round of attempts to wrest concessions from UAW locals in an attempt to eliminate the $250/vehicle disadvantage currently imposed by union-backed work rules.  Remember that the majestic layering of work rule upon work rule was once considered the glory of the Wagner Act, back in the 1950s. The rules served to protect not a special interest, but special interests within a special interest--e.g. skilled job classifications within the UAW  whose members didn't have to pitch in and sweep floors, etc. with everyone else. The rules just weren't very good at creating efficient factories, at least compared with Japanese plants where change was continuous and there was only one job classification: "Production." ....

Without Wagner Act unionism a) these rules wouldn't exist in the first place and b) if they did, Ford wouldn't have to engage in a  too-little-too-late teethpulling exercise only when it stood poised on the brink of bankruptcy (as consumers bought cars where the $250 has gone to improve the quality of materials in the interior). .. ... Nor does the WSJ piece convince you that Ford will be successful even now:

Some work-rule changes remain beyond reach for Ford. At the Dearborn Truck Assembly factory, for instance, if the company wants to bring in an outside company for specialized repairs to its assembly equipment, it must also pay the same number of company repairmen to work.

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There's one problem Toyota doesn't have. ... Why would most of Toyota's American workers choose not to unionize? Must be their employer's unfair labor practices. ...

P.P.S.: Kevin Drum demands that opponents of extending unionization "propose an alternative" means of boosting stagnant wages. That assumes unionization is an effective method, which I would dispute. (During the 1980s, for example, powerful unions did succeed in protecting their members. They didn't succeed in protecting the general mass of workers from the resulting stagflation and loss of competititiveness.) But since Drum asks, here's an alternative:

1) Continued economic growth: Drum claims the idea that "tight labor markets" increase median wages is "pie in the sky." Except  in the late '90s, when they worked bigtime, and last year, when the post-2001 expansion had finally gone on long enough for them to start working again. I recommend David Leonhardt's January 3 NYT analysis.

2) Control immigration so unskilled immigrants don't undermine the bargaining power of workers in the tight labor market; and

3) Universal health care--which would in effect be a big wage increase, and a bigger increase in peace of mind and ability to switch jobs.

In short, Clintonism--plus 'don't forget border control'. ... 2:15 P.M. link

Do It Once, Do It Late ... : Playing its traditional role, the LAT comes in with a long thorough, diligent report on the Geffen-Clinton relationship that serves to kill off any further interest in the subject. ... What passes for a juicy bit: A Clinton aide calls Geffen a "whiner." That's it. ...[Also Geffen was "intrigued by [Clinton's] mix of Arkansas informality, wonkish fluency and political shrewdness."--ed . Well, that's that then. Nothing more to see here. ...] .. 1:34 P.M.

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