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February 9, 2006

WAL*MART & Union Busting

Norman M. Covert

Who would believe that in just over a decade we could foresee the demise of America’s dominant ruling party – the American labor union? The malady afflicting labor has been building; and its fall to irrelevance is about to be written. It wields increasingly less influence in politics and is a negative for the economy.

Thus, it is a surprise that the majority party in Annapolis may be the last to read the tea leaves. Its tenacious veto override on behalf of the AFL-CIO to impose health insurance penalties on is misguided and typical that Maryland’s “Dumocrats” just don’t get it.

We expect to announce soon that it is pulling plans to open a major distribution center in the state. There will go needed dollars and jobs!

is a pride of American commerce, a wildly successful non-union shop. It survives on massive purchase orders from a variety of manufacturers and suppliers of everyday goods and sundries. These products are offered at easily recognized community based outlets, which compete well with other retail mega-marts.

Despite union claims, benefits everyone – from industry to consumer. It is no insult to their employees to say they may be new in the workforce, toiling both full and part time with nondiscriminatory opportunities for retired and other senior citizens.

Speaking historically, we “war babies” learned the rite of survival as we entered the work force at the end of 1950s. No matter your profession, everyone was “organized.” Even if Daddy had lots of bucks, his influence often was founded on union trust.

Any candidate seeking votes had to ensure his literature was emblazoned with the “Union Made” stamp. He would certainly fail without the power of the union organization.

Franklin D. Roosevelt learned that in 1933. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) and John L. Lewis’ newly formed Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) turned out their rank and file to vote for him – and did so through the 1944 election, FDR’s unprecedented fourth term.

My first “real” job was in the Newport News (Va.) Shipyard, where a close friend of the family and paid union officer got me in the door. I wore my union badge on my work clothes with pride. Through the years, members of that independent union regularly defeated the United Steel Workers (USW). It succumbed in recent years when the facility was sold out of private ownership.

Fifty years ago you had to seek out the union if you wanted a job in the Baltimore shipyards or foundries. Today, a virtual wasteland of steel skeletons and rusted fences remains in the Dundalk area of “Balimer,” former domain of USW and AFL-CIO. The corporations could no longer compete in such things as cost of labor and benefits.

Close to home, the USW represented the rank and file of Alcoa Eastalco Works in Buckeystown until Dec. 31, 2005. The union couldn’t stop the production shutdown, which Alcoa transferred to other countries where production costs (including labor) were significantly lower.

Early in the 20th century, predecessors of the United Auto Workers and their AFL-CIO brothers used “axe handle diplomacy” to turn around the servitude of America’s industrial work force. They achieved significant work-day, financial, safety, health and other important concessions.

America’s industrial barons lost their iron grip to the “everyman,” who found dignity and security in his work as long as he paid his dues every pay day.

Labor and America blossomed as Henry Ford’s genius turned unrest into brilliant success. Budding industries adopted Ford’s innovative assembly line schemes helping it survive the lean years following the Wall Street crash of 1929.

Preparation for the impending world war brought massive industrial demands, and union bosses became important consultants to the War Department. The world would soon find itself awash in the abundance of American production genius.

Many major unions picked up partners in the criminal underworld and prospered in the wild ride. However, decades of ever-growing labor costs throughout the industrial food chain and greed could be fingered as culprits in the wakeup call that has hit American industry.

Despite glowing reports of a healthy and growing U.S. economy from the Fed, Ford Motor Company announced massive job cutbacks in its American assembly plants two weeks ago.

General Motors, citing falling product sales and heavy debt, has done the same in recent days. The United Auto Workers and their rank and file are in shock.

Major airlines are folding to massive debt as the cost of fuel rises dramatically, coupled with demands of the labor unions.

Unions no longer serve the function they did in 1915 and must find a way to work with industry so everyone survives. A company that goes bankrupt takes its employee pay and benefits packages with them to the poor house.

The usually dependable corporations and small business owners who hire Maryland’s capable work force must get some relief from the legislature.

Perhaps it was the demise of so many major manufacturing jobs that sent the union bosses scrambling for new members. And the place where they have sought them is government, the largest and fastest growing segment of our economy.

As my form of “Union Busting,” you may find me at shopping for products my grocer no longer offers. New and improved is not always better and unions better adopt slogans like, “How May I Serve You?”

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