Workers of the World (and Ohio), Compete!

By Marc Kilmer

This Labor Day, many people used their extra day off from work to take a trip, cook out, and do other end-of-summer activities. However, Labor Day, according to the Department of Labor, is “dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.” Only by recognizing these workers as individuals and enacting policies to let them compete freely can our state and federal governments truly allow them to obtain the social and economic achievements they deserve.

It goes without saying that every worker is different — each has different skills, education, work ethic, and other attributes that plays into how that worker does his or her job. And while some workers may have some common goals, allowing workers the freedom to compete with each other serves their interests best. Only through competition can a worker achieve the level of success that his or her attributes will bring.

When it comes to businesses, there is near-universal acknowledgment that competition is good for consumers. But competition is also good for businesses. When businesses must compete with each other for customers, they become more efficient, produce better products, and innovate in ways that improves themselves. The same principles of competition also apply to workers.

Unions are strong supporters of anti-trust laws aimed at preserving business competition. But when it comes to workers, unions aim at stifling such competition. As a result, many of the laws supported by labor unions — the very organizations that have appointed themselves to speak for American labor — hurt individual workers. Ohio’s prevailing wage mandate, the state’s coercive unionization law, federal barriers to imports, and other policies are designed to stifle competition and which keep workers from achieving higher wages and better positions in society.

At the federal level, union leaders long been a supporter of trade barriers, for instance. While some American workers may benefit by being shielded from competition from foreign workers, many more workers are hurt. Those who are employed by exporters or who rely on imported products or services are penalized by these union-supported policies. And, of course, every American who pays more for imported products has less money to spend because of high tariffs.

In Ohio, the law that allows unions to force workers to join them as a condition of employment has certainly kept businesses from locating in the state. It’s not a coincidence that workers in states that have enacted “right to work” laws have done far better economically than Ohio’s workers.

Similarly, the state’s prevailing wage law, which rigs the bidding process for government building projects, only benefits a small percentage of workers. Those who are employed by unionized firms that are long-established in the state win. Every other worker who works for a firm which is arbitrarily shut out of bidding on these projects loses.

The type of thinking which seems to be prevalent in unions is to try and protect what they have right now. That may work as a short-term strategy, but it’s an ineffective policy in the long-run. The world changes and only through competition can workers adapt to that change. While union leaders may not realize this, workers do. Private sector unionization has been falling for decades. Today, fewer than 8% of private sector workers belong to unions.

Instead of protecting workers from competition, the government should encourage competition. By erecting artificial barriers in the attempt to shield a select few workers from competition, both the state and federal governments have prevented many workers from being able to obtain the employment or wages for which they are capable. The best way to honor the workers of our country is to free the labor market from these government restrictions.

Source: Buckeye Institute’s, Weekly News Digest, September 8, 2009

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