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Union Myths

Written on Saturday, March 12, 2011 by


The biggest myth about labor unions is that unions are for the workers. Unions are for unions, just as corporations are for corporations and politicians are for politicians.

Nothing shows the utter cynicism of the unions and the politicians who do their bidding like the so-called “Employee Free Choice Act” that the Obama administration tried to push through Congress. Employees’ free choice as to whether or not to join a union is precisely what that legislation would destroy.

Workers already have a free choice in secret-ballot elections conducted under existing laws. As more and more workers in the private sector have voted to reject having a union represent them, the unions’ answer has been to take away secret-ballot elections.

Under the “Employee Free Choice Act,” unions would not have to win in secret-ballot elections in order to represent the workers. Instead, union representatives could simply collect signatures from the workers until they had a majority.

Why do we have secret ballots in the first place, whether in elections for unions or elections for government officials? To prevent intimidation and allow people to vote how they want to, without fear of retaliation.

This is a crucial right that unions want to take away from workers. The actions of union mobs in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere give us a free home demonstration of how little they respect the rights of those who disagree with them and how much they rely on harassment and threats to get what they want.

It takes world-class chutzpah to call circumventing secret ballots the “Employee Free Choice Act.” To unions, workers are just the raw material used to create union power, just as iron ore is the raw material used by U.S. Steel and bauxite is the raw material used by the Aluminum Company of America.

The most fundamental fact about labor unions is that they do not create any wealth. They are one of a growing number of institutions which specialize in siphoning off wealth created by others, whether those others are businesses or the taxpayers.

There are limits to how long unions can siphon off money from businesses, without facing serious economic repercussions.

The most famous labor union leader, the legendary John L. Lewis, head of the United Mine Workers from 1920 to 1960, secured rising wages and job benefits for the coal miners, far beyond what they could have gotten out of a free market based on supply and demand.

But there is no free lunch.

An economist at the University of Chicago called John L. Lewis “the world’s greatest oil salesman.”

His strikes that interrupted the supply of coal, as well as the resulting wage increases that raised its price, caused many individuals and businesses to switch from using coal to using oil, leading to reduced employment of coal miners. The higher wage rates also led coal companies to replace many miners with machines.

The net result was a huge decline in employment in the coal mining industry, leaving many mining towns virtually ghost towns by the 1960s. There is no free lunch.

Similar things happened in the unionized steel industry and in the unionized automobile industry. At one time, U.S. Steel was the largest steel producer in the world and General Motors the largest automobile manufacturer. No more. Their unions were riding high in their heyday, but they too discovered that there is no free lunch, as their members lost jobs by the hundreds of thousands.

Workers have also learned that there is no free lunch, which is why they have, over the years, increasingly voted against being represented by unions in secret ballot elections.

One set of workers, however, remained largely immune to such repercussions. These are government workers represented by public sector unions.

While oil could replace coal, while U.S. Steel dropped from number one in the world to number ten, and Toyota could replace General Motors as the world’s leading producer of cars, government is a monopoly. Nobody is likely to replace the federal or state bureaucracies, no matter how much money the unions drain from the taxpayers.

That is why government unions continue to thrive while private sector unions decline. Taxpayers provide their free lunch.

To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His Web site is


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  • David

    Anyone who belongs to a union is simply not very bright. They couldn’t care less about the workers.

    • http://yahoo John

      I belong to a public employees’ union because to do otherwise, I could not hold my job. As a union member, I can also add a vote of sanity to an increasingly insane organization. Perhaps, I am a sort of fifth column, as it were.

    • Sharpshooter003

      10 years ago the fire dept. I was chief of went union, annual 5% raises went to 1.5%. One individual out of 35 refused to join the union, this individual still got 5%. We had a residency requirement that was never enforced, this particular individual lived 15.2 miles from the fire station, the union was bargining for 25 air miles from the station. When the area organizer found out that the individual was not bowing to the unions will they requested that the boundry by reduced to 15.1 miles. What the dick didn’t know was that about 10 of his members had purchased property 20 miles away. I asked him at least 5 times , are you sure you want to do this, he was adament , in his lust to screw one non-conformist he screwed almost 33% of his new members and to this day the one hold out still lives 15.2 miles away and has not paid one penny in fair share.

      This particular contract took almost 2 1/2 years to be ratified. I always wondered if it was because when the dick rep and the city’s attorney agreed on a meeting date I would always say ” Sorry I can’t make it I promised my dog I’d give him a bath “. That rep really ,really hated me. Well I wasn’t too fond of him.

    • John

      Some of us have no chice. Our company had to join the union or we would all be out of a job. Our union president told our boss “Sign with us of your own free will or we will put you out of business” so I cannot blame him for doing so. As a thank you very much they have now raised our union dues 33%. What a country.

    • Chuck

      John, kind of makes you realize how much this business/ politician/ worker relationship has to change.

    • Small Business

      Establishing a business/employee partnership and breaking the politician/union partnership is a place to start.

    • Sharpshooter003

      See the above ….everyboby has a choice. Thinking you don’t have a choice makes it easy to be expoilted

    • http://firefox upsidedownjack

      John, Take a look and see if there is a Clause for PAYING into a Non Profit, charitable Org. IE: Boy Scout’s? If so, you may be able to Pay your UNION Due’s into the Charitable Org, and NOT into the UNION! Try passing that on to your “union brother’s” and see what they say. It’s all about the MONEY!

    • jeff

      Unions a long long time ago were for the worker,safety and wages used to be an issue but with the Dept of labor, OSHA and wage and labor laws,there is no reason in the world anyone needs unions. Unions are all business for the union,why do you think so many companies go overseas? Because they can’t make it with the unions, so they go to a more friendly envoriment,why do GM and Chrysler need bailouts? Unions that’s why.
      Years ago I remember a group called UNIONBUSTERS I wonder if they still exist,and where can I sign up.

  • DaNangMe

    Since the longevity of Govt. Unions is dependent upon the taxpayer,let’s add that to the list of ills that could be remedied by a tax revolt.Fact is,the private sector Unions survival is dependent on stimulus paid by the taxpayer as well.Union members not only pay dues to keep their jobs,but also pay more in incresed taxes and cost of living hikes which is fueled by their higher wages.It is the epitome of the “vicious circle.”


    The union mobs/criminals/paid protesters, make the hard-working people of our country disgusted!!How can they continue to get by with destroying the formerly beautiful capitol building,and acting like idiots?Law enforcement contributed to this disgrace by not doing the job they are paid for,enforcing the law!!The liberal media has perpetuated the LIES protesters are “democratic,for workers,etc.”
    The capitol is filthy and stinks like a hogpen!!!


    China thanks all the unions in America, maybe they helped the unions take over all those CO.

  • lilolady

    As we watch the demise of our Beacon of Light to the Rest
    of the World, the insidious creeping parasitic Unions are
    once again killing the host. Sucking it dry, With no thought for its future life. Only gorging brings comfort to it’s insatiable appetite! Marxism and Communism use Unions
    as tools for killing the larger host.

    • poogymom

      I am not watching the “demise” of our great nation. I am watching the latest Obama extravaganza show with his performing “Flee Baggers” and “Flea Baggers”…complete with T-Shirts and non-Gregorian chants & drums. He has changed the Democrat Party, just like he promised he would!!!Meanwhile, takes one to know one…too late Michael Moore, you are a Flea Bagger.

    • Chuck

      Now keep in mind while insidious they have friends [politicians] providing them the tools to cause this problem and the current administration like so many before are protecting them………. 8^Þ


    Forgot to say,Thomas Sowell has long been my favorite economist;God bless him for telling the truth about the destruction unions have brought to so many companies;Right to work states are the ones folks are moving to,NO ONE SHOULD HAVE TO PAY UNION DUES IN ORDER TO GET A JOB!

  • ARMYOF69

    Tax payer paid union people should wake up to the fact that the rest of us non tax paid people are up to your games and they are coming to an end very soon. You are NOT special, and we do not need most of you where you are. I always find it amazing that the smallest ding on the freeway demands 3 or 4 police cars with 2 cops per car, an expensive fire truck, and at least an ambulance. What is that, like $10,000 per little accident? Fire half them , and the worst teachers. Make teachers take tests every other year if they want to keep their jobs.

    • knows about police and fire

      Armyof69, you obviously don’t know how many highway deaths occur to emergency workers on roadways do you. There are national standards on response so that people stop killing police and fire workers on roadways. Does it cost money? Yes. Bet you’ll scream when your house is on fire or being robbed that there aren’t enough emergency workers. Keep your eyes on the road, and not counting, when your driving,and those emergency workers won’t get killed as much.

    • ernest martin

      I call a cop one shows up maybe in 2 or 3 hrs I call a fire department and they want to know if they come will the structure still be standing in an hour or so The have tenure so what can be done about it ?? I’d probably be better off if I din’t listen to the complaining a$$ Ho!!s gripe because I disturb thier poker game or some meal . I’d really hate to see some one replace them that either works and responds or gets fired , that would make my day

    • Dave

      You must live in a horrible place. Thankfully I have never had to call the fire department but I called the police once because our house was burglerized. They weren’t so fast but when the criminals came back to try and steal my car, the police took about 5 minutes to show up.

    • BruceD

      I really think lumping emergency responders into this whole discussion is a more than little unfair. They are being paid to do what they do. Past experience has shown the numbers needed to do that job safely. Idiots on the road rubber necking and not paying attention puts their lives at risk. So concentrate on those union groups that need to be held accountable and get in line with the private sector.

    • Tom

      Why stop there?? Lets make everyone test for the jobs every year! Let’s start with you. Wanna keep your job, you gotta test

  • Bingo

    As a teacher i needed the union to negotiate class size. In a lab class there is a limited number of student who can safely work in the lab. Administrators do not appreciate this space limitation. If you have children in any lab class, their safety is in question if we can not limit class size.

    • http://N/A June

      Today Labor Unions are for Unions, nothing more and nothing less. Look at Wisconsin and how Quiet it is after the Anti-Union Vote. The Union Bully demonstrators just magically disappeared from the capitol, you can’t expect people to protest for their rights if nobody is gonna pay ’em and the money has run out. The cause is gone. All the unions wanted to do was stop the so called Anti-Union Vote, as for the people they represent screw them and so many of these folks are too dumb to understand.

    • rimshot75

      But Bingo, that’s like saying you had to belong to Hitler’s brown shirts to learn how to march! You can’t tell me that negotiating with adminstrators is only possible with a union! For crying out loud, we have had schools in the country for 3 centuries without union intervention; and we had the best in the world at that. Now we are a distant 20th in world ranking; and we spend more per student than ever before; sounds like unions have not been the good investment they promised…at least not to the taxpayer nor the students.

    • poogymom

      At least you have a job now. Take turns in the Lab like we did. There’s no excuse for turning an honorable occupation into a mob riot and destroying a state’s capitol bldg. Hope your “needed” union has enough of your dues to pay for all that damage. Meanwhile understand this, all you did was turn yourselves into Liberal Flea Baggers in concert with the “Flee Baggers”.

    • Jane

      While teachers are being cut and class size increased in states that are not union run, they should fire those teachers who do not care about the students and give the teachers who want to work their jobs. I am a teacher who was cut due to downsizing and an now working two part time jobs to make ends meet, and I am NOT on the government payouts like unemployment or food stamps. People need to stop griping and get to work!

    • ernest martin

      There are certan classes that should be limited but I really think if you can’t teach 30 to 40 students with a teachers aid you need to seek other employment. You are not an educater you are a pay statist nothing more

  • Texas John

    Simply put, public unions steal from the taxpayer. Private company unions depend on taxpayers as customers, etc. Taxpayers are not forced to give them money.

  • Gurley L Martin


  • Gurley L Martin

    ALL “UNIONS” LIKE ALL “UN”-CONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENTS ARE PARASITIC PARIAHS. Just try & name ONE of either that is NOT. This has always been SO – Individual Responsibility “IS” the Only solution – even to escape Hell & EARN heavenly REWARD.

  • Scott Ballstadt

    Let the public sector unions pay the taxes that support them and not all the taxpayers that don’t recieve any benefits because they are not in the public sector.Then we will see how ready they are to support their high wages super pensions and extreme health benefits!

  • poogymom

    The new Democrat Party has already rebranded & divided itself. There are the Flee Baggers and the Flea Baggers. It is too late for Obama to toss them under the bus. They are now and forever will be his claim to fame.

    • rimshot75

      ‘Flee Baggers’…Ha! I love it!

  • http://facebook Baby

    Sure..Tell them that..Lmao!..It’s like saying Obama is a Good President!..Bet you can’t do it with out laughing..Go ahead..Try it..;-)

  • Roger

    !! UNIONS SUCK !! not the people in them just the scumbag union bosses…

  • Hank

    Jimbo Says:

    Hey! I live in one of those states you refer to as home to ‘lazy white trash that wants a free handout before they vote’ and I take great offense at that ‘wide swipe of your paint brush’. You seem to have a good wit but you lost me on that one. Also, I am not inclined to accept your position that the original Republicans were so ‘progressive’ unless you want to redefine what ‘progressive’ is now as opposed to the term as it was understood in the 1850s.

    Progressive in the context of early American history seems to have indicated a stance on which one looked out for others as a Christian virtue; today, progressive paints a very different picture.

    Today, ‘progressive’ seems to indicate that there are no limits to behavior or language in the public sectors. When the Republicans asked for slavery to be abolished, it was fought hard by southern Democrats. Democrats to this day still enjoy slavery; in the sense that every child born today is born with a debt of over $30,000…they are slaves to a political system that has sucked the lifeblood out of a once great economy (and I mean that in the Greek sense as well as our American sense of economos).

    Anyway, I and most of my fellow citizens are FAR from lazy white trash. I invite you to come visit and find that out first hand.

    Hank Responds:

    My apologies Jimbo! I live in one of those “lazy white trash that wants a free handout before they vote’ states as well, Montana! Nothing against Montana, but Schweitzer and Baucus and Tester are all progressives, and they facilitate that farm subsidy mentality that makes me sick! Even one of my favorite uncles, a decent and conservative guy is ok with Baucus and Tester, because they give him a handout.

    Anyways, the Progressivism is directly linked to Early Republicanism, and flawed Christian theologies. The Social Gospel, military interventionism, prohibition, equality of outcome, handouts, etc. are all found in the earliest Republican platforms, and in some form or another have passed down through both parties to modern political platforms, especially on the democratic side.

    The founder of the Wisconsin Progressive Party, Robert M. LaFollette, was a Republican in the same camp as Teddy Roosevelt!

    Even the abolition of slavery was a proto-progressive excuse for the extension of Federal Usurpation of State Sovereignty and the right to secede (the same unalienable right exercised by the founders in 1776).

    I assume you live in Nebraska? Look up the Farm Labor Party, the Greenback Party, and the Populist Party of William Brian Jennings (one of the first Democrats to adhere to Progressivism) fame. You will see what I mean when I criticize Nebraska. No hard feelings, it may have been a minority of Nebraskans that were that way, but there were still a lot more of them there at the time than there were in many other places.

    It might be different now, but we are talking about actual history, not current populaces.

    Montana, Idaho, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Colorado, the Dakotas, Kansas, and others have all had some fairly Progressive leanings in the past, not necessarily now.


  • Kim

    Well I work and live in a right to work state and I can tell you that it is not cracked up to what you think it is. If your boss does not like the color of shirt your wearing or their niece or son need a job then guess what? You are out of luck! Many in my profession (health care) work long hours for little pay. They don’t even reach the poverty line in wages earned. It takes years and years of work to make a decent living and the way things are now, if they want to cut costs they do it with salaries. They hire new workers at much less and force the veterans with experience out by cutting their hours to nothing or even laying them off! We are skilled workers with degrees and need continuing education to maintain our licenses. This attitude by today’s employers is not just or right to the millions working and doing more than most just to keep their job.

    • Hank

      That is their right! To fire YOUR sorry
      unproductive ass from THEIR company, not yours!

    • dfrank

      Kim, you might be telling the truth; but, I’d bet you’re simply a unionist trying to convince people ‘right to work’ states are not more beneficial than your average unionized gulag. Get outta here: Nobody’s buying that crap.

    • Roger

      Ya know what Kimmy…Your right we should shut all those sorry ass business down and that would fix them right…WAIT…Then we’re all out of work and OBUMMER would support us RIGHT….WAIT…NO jobes…NO companies…WHERE DOES THE MONEY COME FROM..??????

  • Greg H.

    I’ve been in three unions during my working life. The first was the American Federation of Government Employees. They were too passive for us, so like dummies, we voted in the Teamsters. BIG MISTAKE! We elected Shop Stewards right after that, and they got sent off to Pa. for 3 days of shop steward “training”. Brain washing was what it actually was, because when they came back, they were talking like a bunch of hammer-and-sickle-red-flag waving 1930’s Bolsheviks! The Teamsters wasted our dues money on office space, office furniture, TV’s and cars for the wannabe Bolshevik shop stewards who were fatcatting it in grand style, as opposed to the austere conditions the previous AFGE shop stewards worked in.
    Eight years later, we tossed the Teamster thugs out and elected the Fraternal Order Of Police as our bargaining unit representation after a long and contentious campaign in which Teamsters thugs vandalized the cars of some supervisors and some pro-FOP employees. The FOP was a 180 degree turnaround from the corrupt Teamsters. We should have went with them in the first place.

  • Max

    We once had a real need for unions but that day has pretty muvh gone now. Now the union bosses are nothing but crooks stealing from the members and distroying this country with thier greed and curruption. I have never been in a union but swick of all the greedy union people wnating so much for so little.

  • Bobm

    Unions are a protection racket. You either pay up or you face their thugs. All companies pay what they do in order to have able workers. If you aren’t being paid enough then move to where you will be. If they can’t replace you at the same wage they will increase it. If no-one will pay you more? Guess what? Your work isn’t worth more. Get into another line of work that pays more. You might even have to learn a new trade studying at night!
    That is the American way!

  • LJ

    There WAS a time when unions were needed to combat the abuse of employers. just LOOK at the past and the history of unions. They are NOT needed today because of what the DID in the past. They are a relic of the past and labor laws on the books, if strengthened, would make them totally unnecessary. I have had the misfortune of being FORCED to belong to a unions or, like many others commenting, not work.
    If you haven’t seen and heard the NEA’s lead attorney talking about the union, he comes out and says they don’t care about the children since they have a few million teachers willing to pay them multiplied millions of dollars in dues each year that they can use for P-O-W-E-R! That’s right, power. Granted, there are a relative handful of teachers that really do care about the students they teach and would rather NOT belong to a union, but the majority of them are stupid, arrogant a-holes. If they had ANY real education at all, they would be the first to see the writing on the wall that our Republic is going down in flames, but instead they follow the pied piper (union bosses) like sheep to a slaughter and march in “demonstrations.” I fully believe that the unions, communists, and other socialist organizations want to start a riot. Hell, they damned near did that in Wisconsin and really got out of hand. And they are peaceful? GIVE–ME–A–BREAK! They are anarchists and if the taxpayers understood the implications of bargaining with these mafia-controlled groups, they’d realize how much more it is costing them to live! Time to wake up America–but what do I know. It’s already too late, Obama has seen to that.


      WELL SAID. I agree 100%.

  • ernest martin

    Not too many remember Hoffa they blame the mafia for his disapearance but he was elected president of the teamsters even in prison and one of his release terms was stay out of the unions RFK framed him in my opion but noone knows for sure .

  • opar5

    I see no logical reason that anyone be required to be paying union dues to get and hold a job, but helping get slime elected can get legislation enacted to benefith those “special interests.” Put that union representative across the collective bargaining table from the politician the union got elected outs our tax-dollars in peril!
    The best explanation of todays unions is by Albert Shanker, President, American Federation of Teachers: “It’s time to admit that public education operates like a planned economy, a bureaucratic system in which everybody’s role is spelled out in advance and there are few incentives for innovation and productivity. It’s no surprise that our school system doesn’t improve: It more resembles the communist economy than our own market economy. I don’t represent the children, I represent the teachers.”

  • MIKE

    Probably, the only companies that will profit from all this Union bashing business, are those who make Baseball Bats, they seem to be the bargaining tool of choice of the Union Goons of America.

  • Cyborg

    What the unions did in WI did nothing but hurt their cause. 99% of the people I talked to was shocked by what they saw and heard. It’s a good thing that these liberal morons can not see this. All they have to do is keep on doing what they are doing and the tax payer wins by default.

  • GingerB4

    It appears that the unions are at the top of both the private and the public sector pyramids. What a scam!
    We’re all idiots if we don’t defund from both ends.