LABOR PAINS

Michael Barone weighs in on the unions with an article over at Townhall.

The labor union movement is in deep trouble. Only 6 percent of private-sector employees are union members.

Voters are beginning to realize, thanks to governors like Chris Christie of New Jersey and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, that public-sector unions have negotiated unsustainable levels of pensions and benefits — and that public-sector unions are a mechanism for involuntary transfers of money from taxpayers to the Democratic Party.

Michael points to a “supposed pioneer of scientific management” named Taylor who encouraged “managers of assembly-line industries like autos and steel” to engineer their assembly lines so each worker did repetitive work. Then “merit pay” pay was set according to the speed of the laborer. I remember a variation called “piece work” in which the worker was paid according to how many “pieces” he completed. The amount paid per piece would be set at the lowest wage at which management could get workers. Then by adjusting the amount paid per piece, management could govern the speed of the workers, like adjusting the speed of a machine, for maximum output. It’s this abuse that gave rise to the labor unions.

[Unions sought to] prevent management from ordering dreaded speedups, based on Taylorite analysis, by insisting that every change in work rules must be negotiated between shop stewards and foremen. [And] by insisting that promotions be based on seniority and preventing any hint of merit pay.

All that made a certain sense — in the 1930s and in decades afterward, when auto and steel managers, full of contempt for their workers, clung to Taylorism. Unions in turn clung to an adversarial model that assumed that workers’ interests were diametrically opposed to management’s.

Therefore,

[Union leaders determined] they would never allow management to speed up their work. Promotions and firing would be governed by seniority. They would never, ever allow merit pay.

As a result, non-union private-sector companies have thrived, while unionized companies have gone under. And public-sector unions, with their bought-and-paid-for politicians, have produced public-sector workforces that are unresponsive, unaccountable and impossibly expensive.

The sins of our fathers are visited upon us.

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