In the Labor Day edition of The Nashville Tennessean, Mr. Gary Moore, President of the Tennessee AFL-CIO, urged working people to “counter the power of big money” by demanding that our elected officials work not for “billionaires and corporate special interests” but for “the working people in Tennessee.”
Mr. Moore apparently is unaware that according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, labor unions spent $1.5 billion in support of federal candidates through their Political Action Committees from 2005 through 2011. Over that same period, reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor reflect an additional $3.3 billion that unions spent on political activity. When Mr. Moore refers to the “wealthy and well-connected,” maybe he is referring to his own brothers and sisters in the labor movement.
Although some Tennessee manufacturing jobs have been lost to overseas employers over recent years, many of these jobs have been replaced with higher paying jobs — many of which were created by foreign owned companies investing in new manufacturing facilities in Tennessee. On the other hand, several hundred high paying jobs at the Peterbilt plant in Madison, Tenn., were lost solely because of unreasonable demands by the union representing those employees and a succession of costly strikes which caused that company to relocate the production from that plant to plants in other states.
Since the 1950s, the ranks of organized labor have steadily declined. Recent numbers published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reflect that union membership among private sector employers in Tennessee is well below 5 percent. Were it not for the public employee unions, the organized labor movement in the United States would be out of business. In 2012, public sector workers had a union membership rate more than five times higher than that of private sector workers.
The truth is that organized labor has nothing left to sell to working men and women in the United States. Since the 1960s, Congress, and virtually every state, has passed a long list of protective legislation, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Equal Pay Act, OSHA, FMLA, ERISA, COBRA, and on and on. In today’s world, employers – both large and small – recognize that to hire and keep good employees, they must provide competitive wages based on the skill of their workers and excellent fringe benefits.
Tennessee is enjoying an explosion of new jobs in the automotive, health care, distribution, and other growing industries. Many of those jobs are coming to Tennessee because of the low rate of union membership. A right-to-work state which protects the right of employees to get, and keep, a job without being forced to pay union dues produces a work force that employers are happy to employ.
Instead of railing against the wealthy and a Governor and legislature that is working to help make Tennessee attract new businesses and more and better jobs, Mr. Moore and the AFL-CIO should join in the Governor’s efforts to improve the education system in Tennessee so that the ever-increasing number of high tech and highly skilled jobs that are going unfilled every day can be filled by Tennesseans who do not need, or want, a labor union interfering in their lives.
William N. Ozier is chairman of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry.