The union crack-up continues

Andy Matthews

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The union crack-up continues

A bit over a month ago, I used this space to highlight a wonderfully ironic development in the still-unfolding Obamacare saga: the defection of Teamsters chief James Hoffa and other national labor-union leaders from the ranks of the health-care law’s supporters.

At the time, I was careful to temper my enthusiasm. The about-face from Hoffa, et al., was most welcome, but it hardly represented some fundamental ideological shift on the part of Big Labor. It was simply a case of looking out for one’s own.

That said, something peculiar does seem to be going on in Unionland these days.

An Aug. 21 story in the Las Vegas Sun detailed a Nevada State AFL-CIO resolution blasting away at the Affordable Care Act, as Obamacare is more officially known, lamenting that the law would visit destruction upon the health-care plans currently enjoyed by union members. As the Sun’s Andrew Doughman reported:

Union leaders are concerned with a provision of the law that call [sic] for the provision of health insurance for people who work more than 30-hours per week, meaning workers’ hours could be cut so that employers don’t have to provide health insurance.

“The unintended consequences of the ACA will lead to the destruction of the 40 hour work week, higher taxes and force union members onto more costly plans,” the resolution reads.

Since the Nevada AFL-CIO is essentially echoing the concerns already raised by Hoffa and others, what I wrote in July applies anew: Few things in life are more enjoyable than seeing union leaders describe the harmful consequences of government meddling in the marketplace. I’ll happily take another helping.

But the Nevada AFL-CIO’s sudden beef with leftist policies isn’t limited to Obamacare. A second Doughman story, from this past Wednesday, highlights another development that’s likely to be even more consequential. It seems the Nevada AFL-CIO is starting to fall out of love with another liberal idea. This time, it’s the margin tax.

As Doughman explains, “an early sponsor of the Education Initiative campaign” — that’s the official name for the margin-tax proposal that will appear on the 2014 ballot — “has signaled that it may not sign on to the campaign to pass the tax.”

Danny Thompson, who heads up the Nevada AFL-CIO, told the Sun that “[t]he measure needs to be studied for its impact on our members and its impact on our jobs in our community. No decision will be made until the Nevada State AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Education (COPE) Convention in April of 2014.”

What’s going on here? To say that the Nevada AFL-CIO had been a supporter of the margin-tax initiative is to understate the situation dramatically. As Doughman reminds us, the state teacher union — which has been and remains at the forefront of the campaign (the ostensible purpose of which is to raise more revenue for education) — “has routinely listed the Nevada State AFL-CIO as its chief partner” in the effort. (Emphasis added.) Now Thompson’s crew is hedging on whether to even support the measure at all?

It is again tempting to wonder: Are unions finally starting to realize the folly of big-government liberalism, and are they ready to embrace free-market policy ideas?

Nice as that would be, I’m still skeptical. In all likelihood, this is, just like the reversals we’ve seen on Obamacare, a case of self-preservation. But the development is still significant, for two reasons.

The first is that, given the usually reliable support unions show for higher taxes and bigger government, the failure to secure that support immediately for such a proposal shows that this proposal is really, really bad. And indeed, while liberal ideas are bad across the board, what we have with the margin tax, as with Obamacare, is a policy proposal that’s much more dangerous than your typical, garden-variety liberal policy prescription. That the Nevada AFL-CIO is waffling only underscores that point, and is a gift to those looking to combat the effort. The margin tax: an idea so bad, even unions don’t like it.

The second reason is that, while the unions may not intend to cede any ideological ground with their changes in position, that’s exactly what they do. And this matters a lot.

If the unions’ opposition to Obamacare and (potentially) the margin tax is based on self-interest, then the natural question that arises is: Why are those policies so bad for the unions? In both cases, it’s because the effects of those policies would be devastating for union workers. But why would those policies be devastating for union workers? It’s because both result in increased government intrusion into the economic process, and the effects of such intrusion are always devastating. Perhaps not always for union workers, but for someone. Economic harm is an inevitable consequence of inappropriate government interference with the economy, because when government gets in the way, the marketplace functions less efficiently. And somebody has to pay the price. Union workers just happen to be among those harmed most severely in these particular cases.

That’s why the unions’ change of heart on these policies matters so much. It’s an acknowledgement, if an unintentional one, that liberal, big-government policies are fundamentally destructive to an economy. While the unions’ opposition to liberal ideas might be limited to these particular cases, the principles on which that opposition rests are not.

My friend, we’re winning the intellectual argument. Now our challenge is to turn that victory into tangible results.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time.

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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