As President Bush begins the process of intervening in the West Coast port debacle, America is baffled that a small union local of
10,500 longshoremen has been able to gain a chokehold on the flailing economy. Indeed, concerns are increasing that the $2
billion-a-day port closures could push the nation into double-dip recession. This is a threat to the nation's well-being, and it deserves
a response as resolute as the one the president is making on the international scene.
Although invoking the Taft-Hartley Act may temporarily reopen the ports, it does not confront the underlying problem --
government-granted union coercive power.
America's labor law, crafted almost 70 years ago, concentrates numerous coercive powers in the hands of union officials -- powers
not held by any other private citizens. Though they include immunities from antitrust and anti-extortion laws, the chief of these
privileges is compulsory unionism in the form of union monopoly bargaining and forced union dues.
Monopoly bargaining creates -- and then perpetuates -- a conflict-based collective bargaining system and forces employers to
bargain with union officials on behalf of all employees. Union officials control union treasuries, union offices, strike votes, and contract negotiations without fear of workers exercising any
practical restraint. Meanwhile, rank-and-file employees are denied the right to make their own contracts based on individual merit.
Under this system, designed to pit business against unions, it should come as no surprise that union officials make their demands when they have the greatest leverage. And now is the
ideal time to stage a fight at the West Coast ports. You see, not only is the fourth quarter the busiest time at the docks, but companies increasingly use "just-in-time" inventory systems
and rely heavily on an uninterrupted flow of goods.
Contrary to union propaganda, union negotiations usually come down to the core issue of union power, not worker benefits. Na´ve employers are often stunned to find that union
negotiators will sacrifice higher wages, shorter hours, and better working conditions for their members to induce employer cooperation in stripping union-dues money from their
employees. In the case of the ports, for example, the main sticking point is whether employees added or reassigned through modernization should be included in the bargaining unit and
be dues-paying members.
Sadly, union officials have employed this strategy of reaching for power during previous periods of national crisis as well. Take their spectacular successes during World War II. Big
Labor's power-grab began in 1941, when the federal government became more deeply involved in key defense-related industries. Realizing that their leverage would increase due to the
national crisis, union officials instigated a series of 13,000 often violent and crippling strikes.
In one of the most notorious of these strikes, mineworkers' union bosses shut down the coal mines owned by steel firms (steel was, of course, vital to the war effort). The union officials'
chief demand was that all mining employees be forced to pay union dues as a condition of employment. When a federal agency recommended a settlement that did not include this
requirement, President Roosevelt turned the matter over to an arbitrator who ruled in the union's favor.