The U.S. Congress first voted in 1894 to set aside a Labor Day holiday on the first Monday of every September. And according to the federal Department of Labor’s own website, the holiday is “… dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
You’ll notice nowhere in that verbiage, however, does it suggest Americans owe any debt of gratitude to, nor would it be appropriate to celebrate, organized labor. And if that was evident 126 years ago, it’s only been reinforced in the decades since.
Union leaders are fond of taking credit for the introduction of the 40-hour work week, weekends, vacation pay, child labor laws and other positive labor developments — none of which, it’s true, existed at the dawn of the last century, when the American Industrial Revolution and the labor movement were both in their infancy. But while unions certainly helped the process along, renowned Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises — a firsthand observer during the era — insisted the nation’s prosperity under capitalism was the root cause of these reforms.
“In the capitalist society,” he explained, “there prevails a tendency toward a steady increase in the per capita quota of capital invested … Consequently, the marginal productivity of labor, wage rates, and the wage earners’ standard of living tend to rise continually.”
But even if unions had done all they claim for your great, great grandfather, those are laurels on which they’re no longer entitled to rest. Modern workers are increasingly asking their dues-collectors, “What have you done for me lately?”
And the answer is, very little — unless you happen to be a leftist politician or enjoy having your paychecks skimmed to support them.
Workers in the private sector, of course, have been voting with their feet for years. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, currently only 6.2 percent of non-governmental employees belong to a union, with the numbers continuing to dwindle every year. While nonaffiliated workers may earn somewhat less than their unionized brethren, the difference doesn’t seem to justify the indignity of watching as their hard-earned wages are funneled into the coffers of Planned Parenthood, radical environmentalists and groups that advocate defunding police.
In fact, there might be no unions at all these days if not for the public sector, which boasts a shrinking but still healthy union participation rate of 33.8 percent.
Why the difference? First, government and private employers are fundamentally different in terms of where the money comes from. No matter how greedy union leaders may be when negotiating a new contract with, for example, Boeing or General Motors, they fully understand their demands must be reasonable enough to allow the company to earn the profits necessary to pay for them.
Government employee unions are burdened by no such limits. When someone from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) or the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers (AFSCME) sits down across the bargaining table from a government negotiator, as often as not he or she accepted a sizeable campaign donation from the same union during the last election — and both understand that investment can easily be repaid simply by raising everyone else’s taxes.
Then, too, there’s the reality that, until very recently, public employees had no choice but to pay the union either dues or so-called “agency fees” if they wanted to keep their job. In 2018, however, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in Janus v. AFSCME affirming that mandatory union membership, dues and fees amounted to unconstitutional forced political speech.
The decision made it possible for government employees to opt out of union participation if they choose to — and tens of thousands of workers around the country have done just that. But the unions challenge every defection and do everything in their power to make each one as difficult as possible.
Because they have to. For generations, the country’s last remaining pocket of union strength has enjoyed the luxury of a publicly enforced monopoly over the government workforce. But now government employee unions have been told that, instead of force and intimidation, they must attract clients the old-fashioned way — by offering a quality service at a reasonable price.
And they’re just not equipped to compete.
If that’s the sort of institution you want to honor every year with the last holiday of the summer, you either don’t know any better or you’re in on the union scam. Either way, a principle far more deserving of tribute is the ascending right to work with or without forced representation.
Or better yet, simply honor workers themselves and their contribution to the American way of life — the way the people who approved the holiday in the first place always intended you should.