If Only We Had Unions

The Detroit News takes the national carpenters’ union to task:

WASHINGTON — You’ve heard the panhandler’s common refrain, “Will work for food.”

How about: “Will picket for food?”

In Washington, Baltimore, Atlanta and elsewhere in the country, union organizers are scouring shelters and recruiting homeless people to staff their picket lines, paying just above minimum wage and failing to provide health benefits.

The national carpenters’ union, which broke from the AFL-CIO four years ago in a bitter dispute over organizing strategies and other issues, is hiring homeless people to stage noisy protests at nonunion construction sites.

What, how could this be? The evil, the greed, the uncaring attitude towards the poor. How could they be doing such evil things to the poor, hiring them without paying health insurance!!!

No wait, the union knows basic economics, this is not evil, this is actually good for the poor. The union explains:

“We’re giving jobs to people who didn’t have jobs, people who in some cases couldn’t secure work,” said George Eisner, head of the union’s mid-Atlantic regional council in Baltimore.

To be fair, the union member is right. Compared to the alternative, these workers are in a much better situation, so looking at it from that perspective, what the unions are offering is clearly a net gain. The problem is though, that while unions use basic economics to defend their practice on the one hand, on the other hand that same economic knowledge comes back to bite them with regard to their adversaries. Wal-Mart, for example, is doing the very same thing. If you punish Wal-Mart, if you force the company to give more benefits or higher pay than what productivity and competition dictate, Wal-Mart will do other things to get around it. They will hire less people, replace more workers with speedy check out lanes, work people longer hours, or even worse, simply not open up shop in those areas. So on net total, those areas will have less job opportunities, not more, thereby hurting most the low skilled, and often times unemployed, citizens.

The full article can be found here. The ending is especially important:

A demonstrator in Washington, Nicey Howards, said the temporary protesters earn $8 an hour — just a dollar above the legal minimum wage in Washington — with no benefits. While she felt the job wasn’t ideal, Howards was glad she could earn a little money while looking for something better.

Each week, Howards said, she works 20 hours, the maximum time allowed by the carpenters’ union, bringing home $160.

The union organizers allow the hired protesters to take two-minute breaks, Howards said, but dock their pay for the time off.

Dock their pay for two minute breaks?!?!? Ouch, even Wal-Mart isn’t that ‘evil’. Oh yeah, and this isn’t the first time unions do this either, see here.

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