The Professor & Unions

In an op-ed of 10 December In the Lexington [Ky.] Herald-Leader, University of Kentucky professor Ron Formisano, currently on leave, stated that “inequality in the nation has reached record heights not seen since the 1920s,” and that “a prime cause has been the decline of labor unions.” He claimed the result to be “its middle class getting smaller.” The inequality he noted had mostly to do with wages, though wages are often affected by inequality in such things as IQ, risk-taking, education, personal incentive and, often, plain luck.

Formisano did not define the middle class. According to PBS in a September 2012 report, both Romney and Obama (both millionaires) agreed that it consisted of folks making below $250,000. Most others, Formisano included, probably would not agree. The government has never defined the middle class, so it actually is what anyone says it is.

According to the federal HHS Department, the poverty level for a family of four stands at $23,550. According to an American Community Survey report in September, the median household income in 2012 was $51,371. The census is split into five classes, each involving 20% of the population. The middle 20% of households ranged in the $38,500 – $62,400 category. This group is probably not the middle class, with 40% of 310 million in population both above and below it financially.

This is from TIME magazine in February 2009 (Claire Sudath): “Today, most middle-class Americans are homeowners. They have mortgages, at least some college education and a professional or managerial job that earns them somewhere between $30,000 and $100,000 a year … and 70% of them have cable and two or more cars. Two-thirds have high-speed Internet, and 40% own a flat-screen TV.” Blue-collar, unionized workers also fit her description.

There’s been some change account the continuing recession (despite the government’s insistence that it’s over) but the above seems accurate for working-class families now. The major decline during the last three years is the huge loss of jobs and an unemployment rate that’s actually close to 20%. This loss – and consequent middle-class shrinkage? – has nothing to do with labor unions, notwithstanding the hundreds of billions of “stimulus” dollars wasted on non-existent “shovel-ready” jobs presumably designed for union members, Obama’s locked-in support group.

Thirty-five percent of the work-force was unionized in the 1950s, mostly in private companies. Today, that figure is at 6.6%, with unionized government workers at 4.7%—total, 11.3%. It would be much lower if Obama had not bankrupted General Motors and Chrysler in 2009, slamming shareholders but protecting union jobs. The government has just made the final sale of taxpayer shares, with $11.8 billion in losses to the taxpayers.

The union-decline began when huge numbers of women entered the work-force during and following WWII, but between 1967 and 2011 the number of female workers increased rapidly by 343% while the male work force merely doubled (103%), according to the Census Bureau and Dept. of Labor statistics. Two-earner households meant men alone no longer had to bring home the bacon, consequently did not pursue perks and raises that unions stood for. In addition, women now outnumber men in higher education and are entering professions, not manual labor.

Formisano cited the most unionized and least unionized states concerning middle-class households (whatever they are) as realizing 47.4% and 46.8%, respectively, of total state income—virtually no difference, actually destroying his own argument. The loss of manufacturing jobs has all but killed the economy, not the weakening of unions.

Blame for losing these jobs is equally shared by unions and management, each inordinately greedy and corrupt to the point of pricing U.S.-made goods out of the market, domestic and global. I belonged to blue-collar transportation unions for decades, mostly as a locomotive engineer, and certainly appreciated union achievements, but I examined the rail (132 lbs to the linear yard) on which I operated trains one summer day some 30 or so years ago and discovered it was made in Japan, where there were/are no iron-ore mines and from where it had to be shipped 6,000 miles at great expense, but still undercutting U.S. steel-makers.

I also lived in Ashland, Ky., in the 1960s and watched industry-giant Armco Steel begin sinking into demise—greed. Technology has played a part, too. In my tenure, I witnessed labor-intensive train crews reduced from five to two men, no matter the length or tonnage of the train.

The prime cause for inequality has little to do with unions.

And so it goes.
Jim Clark