President Biden and Labor Unions

chris-edwardsCHRIS EDWARDS, CATO INSTITUTE

Joe Biden is old. He has been in politics since 1970 and holds antiquated views. On the campaign trail, he used expressions such as “malarkey” and said that kids should listen to the “record player.”

President Biden’s views on labor unions are similarly archaic. Unions appear to be central to his view of the economy, yet few private‐​sector workers are in unions today. This Biden campaign statement, which is ostensibly about clean energy, promotes labor unions 32 times. Biden wants to “create millions of good, union jobs rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure,” wants to “ensure these investments create good, union jobs that expand the middle class,” and so on. Spending on cars, energy, manufacturing, railroads, airports, broadband, and everything else in Biden’s plan is about union jobs, over and over ad nauseam.

The focus is pathological. I say that because union members account for just 6 percent of private‐​sector employment today, yet Biden’s statement reads as if unions dominate the workforce, are the bulwark of the middle class, and are central to the economy. They are not and will not be going forward. The economy is too dynamic and competitive, and Americans have increasingly rejected unions in the private sector, as shown in the chart below.

The Biden statement repeatedly stresses “choice.” Biden wants to “provide workers with the choice to join a union and bargain collectively.” But “collective bargaining” is a euphemism for monopoly unionism and the denial of choice. It violates freedom of association, as Charles Baird explains here. The frequent use of the word “choice” is an attempt to mask the reality of coercive labor unionism under current federal law.

Even if collective bargaining was reasonable in theory, frequent corruption scandals reveal that labor union leaders abuse their special privileges. Most recently, the

Justice Department reached a civil settlement with the United Auto Workers union, marking a major turning point in a multiyear corruption investigation that has sent several former labor leaders to prison. The sprawling probe, led by the U.S. attorney’s office in Detroit, has penetrated the UAW’s top ranks and exposed what federal prosecutors described as a culture of corruption among its leadership built around kickback schemes, embezzlement and other illicit activities.

Why would any policymaker want to strengthen such organizations? Yet that is the direction of President Biden. His proposals would move backwards by reinforcing the coercive nature of federal labor union law, which is incompatible with personal freedom and the modern economy.

The chart shows that private‐​sector union membership has fallen from 32 percent of the workforce in 1960 to just 6 percent today.

 

graph of union share

 

Note: Chart data from unionstatsBarry Hirsch, and BLS.


Chris Edwards is the director of tax policy studies at the CATO Institute and editor of www.DownsizingGovernment.org. He is a top expert on federal and state tax and budget issues. Before joining Cato, Edwards was a senior economist on the congressional Joint Economic Committee, a manager with PricewaterhouseCoopers, and an economist with the Tax Foundation.


Used with permission. Cato Institute / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0