Tuesday, September 04, 2012

A Tale of Two Declines

Washington Post wonk Ezra Klein explains them.

Since the 1960s, organized labor in the United States has been steadily decaying. A half-century ago, 30 percent of American workers were members in a union. By last year, that had shriveled to 11.8 percent. Economists have offered up all sorts of theories for the drop, from the shrinking manufacturing workforce to foreign competition that has made U.S. companies more hostile toward unions.

But a new paper from Kris Warner of the Center on Economic and Policy Research suggests that the decline in U.S. labor unions wasn’t simply due to inexorable economic forces. Government policies likely played a big role too. ...

Between the 1920s and 1960s, both countries saw a similar surge in union membership, thanks to changes in labor law and the growth of sectors ripe for organizing, such as automobile manufacturing. But around 1965, something changed. The two countries diverged. Union membership held steady in Canada, but plummeted in the United States. ...

Warner suggests the biggest reason for the two nation’s contrasting fates has to do with labor law. Canada’s rules for union organizing are largely overseen by its provinces, and, until recently, Canada’s rules made it much easier for workers in the private sector to form a union. A majority of employees in the workplace simply needed to sign cards indicating their desire to join—a process known as “card check.”

Speaking as a grizzled union organizer, Kris Warner hits the nail on the head and drives it cleanly into the balsa wood board.

In the time I've been doing the organizing thing, one of the BIG impediments to organzing studios is studio push-back. (Surprise!)

The employees want a union, but the employer doesn't want to have to pay the extra freight to have employees working under union wages and benefits, so the employer threatens and cajoles employees to vote "No."

The employer challenges the size and shape of "the unit" the guild or union is striving to organize. He raises objections at National Labor Board hearings.

If that doesn't work, and if -- despite all the various forms of arm-twisting of employees prior to the National Labor Relations Board vote -- the union wins the election, the company goes to work inserting poison-pill proposals into the mandatory contract talks, and stalls and foot-drags on even minor issues.

The surprise isn't that unions lose so many NLRB elections and, after winning, fail to reach a contract 50% of the time. The surprise is that unions and guilds manage to organize as much as they do.

Small wonder then that Canada has two and a half times as many unionized workers as the United States. And it's even less surprising that Canada has "progressive" type things like Single Payer health care.

Do all the Canadian unions slow down Canada's prosperity? Not lately.


Oswald Cox said...

Comparing Canada to the United States is akin to comparing the United States to Mongolia. You are talking about one of the most sparsely populated countries on the planet. Canada has 10% of the population of America.

300 million people in the United States
31 million people in Canada

10% of the population and in possession of the same amount of natural resources (with the same amount of land mass). And you're wondering how they do things cheaper in canada? Gee... I wonder?

Maybe every tax dollar they take in covers TEN TIMES what it does in the Untied States? Maybe thats what's going on?

I'm so tired of liberals comparing Canada to the United States.

Chris Sobieniak said...

Yes, the differences in population is a start and we're sorry for never taking that into context.

Small wonder then that Canada has two and a half times as many unionized workers as the United States. And it's even less surprising that Canada has "progressive" type things like Single Payer health care.

Like that will ever happen down here. Corporate America simply learned to say "No" instead.

Steve Hulett said...


If population density is your deal, compare the northern European countries to the U.S.

Whatever the population, you still need to pay for services. And the point of Klein's article is that the U.S. and Canada were similar in laws and results from 1920 to 1965.

There's no "perfect" set of laws and benefits. There is better and there is worse, but that's about it. I usually look at world stats to see how one country stacks up against another.

The U.S. is terrific in some areas, less than terrific in others.

Celshader said...

I'll play the Oswald Cox game:

California population: ~37.7 million
Canada population: ~34.5 million

California's GSP: $1.9 trillion
Canada's GDP: $1.74 trillion

I think Oswald Cox' logic makes a clear case for California to establish its own single-payer health care system, just like Canada's. California has nearly the same population size and economy size as Canada. Therefore, there's no reason we Californians can't have health care at least as good as Canadian health care.

Oswald Cox said...

The problem with this entire discussion is that we are basing it on the factually deficient Ezra Klein. A guy who has presented bad facts more times than he has seen years.

Canada's unions have not remained steady. Lets turn to Sunday's article from Bruce Cheadle covering the topic for the Canadian Press:

"Just under 30% of the workforce — some 4.3 million employees — was unionized in 2011, a slight increase both in percentage and absolute numbers over 2010.

But the public sector, including civil servants, Crown corporations, schools and hospitals, dominated. More than 71% of the public sphere was unionized, while in the private sector that number plummets to 16%."

..."with governments at all levels in Canada currently reining in deficits, public-sector unions aren’t likely to keep growing. (they) anticipate declining unionization rates overall in coming years."


Moral of the story: Ezra Klein - wrong again.

Anonymous said...

You are forgetting one thing when comparing Canada to California. California is ran and has been ran by overspending idiots.

Steve Hulett said...

"California is ran and has been ran by overspending idiots."

By golly. Your words speak for themselves.

Oswald Cox said...

^He's dead on. If you dispute that, you haven't got a grasp of basic mathematics. Or you don't really mind there being liars and thieves in senior positions in this state.

Look at the parks department Steve. The State Parks department of California pleaded with voters to pass a proposition to raise taxes to meet their $22 million dollar deficit. They said that over 70 state parks could close if they didn't get the proposition passed. They sent me a map in the mail(because I have given to them before).

Lo and behold, it has now come to light that all the while, for over two years of pleading for funds and threatening park closures THEY HAD A $54 MILLION DOLLAR SURPLUS.

Liars and thieves.

They tried damage control and released a statement that one woman had orchestrated this "accounting error"... but seven senior people resigned.

It must have been a crazy set of circumstances for them all to choose that weekend to resign for other reasons right?

Liars and thieves.

Not only liar and thieves, but proponents of RACIST policies. What other way can you describe teacher's union practices where teachers union members with seniority get to choose where they teach. nd where do the most experienced teachers teach Steve? In lilly white upscale communities like Malibu and Santa Monica.

While the most inexperienced teachers are in predominantly minority filled neighborhoods of Watts and Compton.

More about the teacher's union:

enough to make your head spin.

Steve Hulett said...

So vote the liars and thieves out of office. ...

Oh, that's right. Pete Wilson made the Republican Party noncompetitive in the state by trashing Latinos. And Latino support of the GOP ... which had been fairly robust until that time ... cratered.

And we've pretty much been a one-party state ever since, which I don't think is particularly healthy. The Republicans have managed to get a movie star elected to statewide office, and that is about it.

(See, Oswald, you're talking to a guy who voted for Ronald Reagan, who voted for Richard Nixon, who voted for Republican district attorney Steve Cooley a couple three years ago. I don't know what evil liberal you think you're hectoring, but I'm waay more complex than the cardboard stereotype you seem to have prancing around in your head.)

Today's Republican party is a little too "out there" for my tastes, but if you think I'm thrilled with all the Democrats, you would be wrong. But see, the Democrats and Republicans currently running are the choices I've got.

Dwight Eisenhower, who I consider the greatest President in my lifetime, is dead. And he's not coming back.

Anonymous said...

Not getting why someone would jump on Steve I think he was basically agreeing with me about the "overspending idiots". I am what you would call conservative and my statement was for both sides, Republican and Democrat. Both parties have not produced here in this state. Arnold was a major disappointment and seemed to be in office to stroke his own ego and Jerry Brown, well he was awful before and is awful again and do not get why people voted him back in. As Steve said we only have the choices placed in front of us.

Oswald Cox said...

Arnold was a republican in name only. You know that. I know that.
For crying out loud he was married to a Kennedy. His chief of staff was a democrat.

He also was against $160 million dollars of campaigning against him - funded by the corrupt public sector unions.

You see, no one can oppose the public sector unions in this state. They have so much power in Sacramento that all parties have to capitulate.

Thats why I laugh about Steve going on and on about the corporatist state we live in. He leaps over the special interests from the public sector that are screwing us all to focus on the distant second source of corruption in California.

The California Teachers Association will outmuscle any politician in office. Last election, their lobbying was one which outspent the pharmaceutical industry, the oil industry, and the tobacco industry combined.

When is the last time Steve talked about them? Never. Because union corruption is good corruption in here.

But I guess if the article I posted before about the rallying around pedophiles in our schools doesn't change his tone, then nothing will.

Steve Hulett said...

The California Teachers Association will outmuscle any politician in office. Last election, their lobbying was one which outspent the pharmaceutical industry, the oil industry, and the tobacco industry combined.

When is the last time Steve talked about them? Never. Because union corruption is good corruption in here. ...

You forgot to mention the prison guards' union, Mr. Coxe. They probably have the biggest muscle of all.

Power corrupts, Mr. Coxe, whether it comes from unions or ... wait for it ... mega banks.

I was against the bank bailout in 2008, writing all of my congress persons to no avail. (You might remember a tearful John Boehner begging for the bailout on the floor of the House.)

The bailout, of course, was spearheaded by Hank "Goldman Sachs" Paulson. A quick $700 billion to Wall Street, no strings attached. (How do we feel about THAT, Mr. Coxe?)

And I'm against the 90% state pensions, which I believe should be rolled back to where they were in 1999 -- 60% of final salary.

There has, of course, been some pension reform, but not near enough.

Oswald Cox said...

The summation of the upsetting realities I posted is that the public sector unions are out of control and them being out of control harms all unions. Especially professional, productive, and private unions like ours.

You can cite John Boehner all you want when it comes to banking, the gy is a symptom of the disease which was set upon this nation during Bill Clinton's presidency and his quick fix to the economy in the form of regulation.

"There would be no Wall Street bailout or housing crisis were it not for radical financial deregulation legislation that Sandy Weill and other Wall Street hotshots got Bill Clinton to approve in 1998. First Weill engineered a merger of the Travelers insurance company, which he headed and which included investment banking in its portfolio, with the commercial banking entity of what was then Citicorp. That merger would have been judged illegal because of the Glass-Steagall legislative barrier to merging investment and commercial banking that President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law to prevent another Great Depression, but Weill got the law changed to accommodate his plans.

It helped that former Goldman Sachs honcho Robert Rubin was Clinton’s treasury secretary, and after the bill was passed, Weill rewarded Rubin with a $15-million-a-year job at the new Citigroup, which was now legal, thanks to the legislation Rubin had helped pass. When Clinton signed the bill reversing Glass-Steagall and making the Citigroup merger legal, he gushed: “Today what we are doing is modernizing the financial services industry, tearing down those antiquated laws and granting banks significant new authority.” Clinton then handed Weill a pen he used in signing the bill, and that pen ended up framed on the wall at the CEO’s office near a plaque that paid tribute to Weill as “The Man Who Shattered Glass-Steagall.” And shattered our economy as well.

But I digress...

Steve Hulett said...

Re Glass-Steagall: Quite true that Rubin pushed the repeal and also true that Clinton signed it.

But let's not foreget the esteemed Phil Gramm, Republican senator from Txas, who was the author of the repeal. (And who said that Americans were "whiners" when the country was shedding 700,000 jobs a month. Gramm was hired by a large Swiss bank after retiring, so he got his reward.)

But here's the rub: The vote to repeal was overwhelming -- only nine senators voted against. So if Clinton had VETOED the thing, it wouldn't have made much difference. The veto would have been overridden in a New York minute.

Small side note: I lunched with a retired and well-off animator named Rudy Cataldi some months ago. Rudy started at Disney's in 1943 as a traffic boy. He related to me:

"When they repealed Glass-Steagall, I knew things were going to blow up. I figured it would take about ten years. I started moving my investments around so I wouldn't get killed. ..."

Funny how children of the Depression (Rudy had a hard-scrabble upbringing in New York) never forget the lessons of the Depression, even as everyone else practices amnesia.

Steve Hulett said...

Technical note: We're close to a point in time when the blog will start blocking comments for monitoring.

So if you post something and it doesn't immediately come up, it's because the robot is at work and I haven't gotten around to checking the blog's dashboard.

Don't rewrite it and post again. You'll get the same result as the first time.

Site Meter