Daily Planet, 11/2015

If anybody – anybody in the whole world – should be fanatic supporters of labor unions, it’s the working people of North Carolina.

In this space recently, we quoted what Forbes Magazine had to say about North Carolina as a good place to do business:

“North Carolina has the smallest union workforce in the U.S. in terms of percent of total employment. The resulting benefit [to business] is labor costs that are 16% below the national average—third lowest in the country.”

I sit here pounding my hand to my head.   Arrgh! Sixteen percent below the national average!

And my fellow North Carolinians don’t seem to want to change things.

I say this because studies have shown that large majorities of North Carolina workers do not support the one factor that have the best chance of increasing their incomes: labor unions.

An Elon University Poll in 2009 asked North Carolina residents whether they tend to sympathize with unions or companies in labor disputes, and 47% said companies, versus 26% for unions.

North Carolina is a “right to work” (RTW) state and has been since the 1940s. In fact, the entire South is RTW. A map of RTW states looks like a map of the old Confederacy (plus some farm states and three of the states Republicans took over in 2010).

And as an Economic Policy Institute study reported:   “It is not surprising that research shows that both union and nonunion workers in RTW states have lower wages and fewer benefits, on average, than comparable workers in other states.”

On one level, I find it really hard to understand this anti-union attitude. If unionization will help somebody’s income, why be hostile?

But on another level, I do understand. There are reasons. Some say it goes back to the disastrous Textile Workers Strike of 1934, when a premature strike failed in three weeks and thousands were blacklisted.

It may be true that the bitter taste of that defeat has been passed down through generations. But I see two other factors as more likely.

One comes out of studies that show a strong correlation between job satisfaction and anti-union feelings. In other words, if a worker is happy on his job, he is unlikely to vote for unionization – and a whopping percentage of workers have high job satisfaction.

All of us would rate contentment as a positive trait in people. But when people can’t make ends meet, some taking second jobs, it’s time to be dissatisfied. Satisfied workers MAY NOT KNOW that people in other parts of the country are being paid considerably more than they are. This is not greed. Being paid a proper wage is a person’s right.

Another likely factor I see comes out of conversations I’ve had with conservative Republicans. These people were vocal against unions. But they hold these opinions, it seemed to me, because anti-unionism is part of the conservative, Republican package. They seemed to take the Party line without much thought.

When Republicans took control of Congress in 1947, they filed 250 bills to curb union power, the most important being the Taft-Hartley Act, which established RTW. And we saw our own Republicans in Raleigh taking actions against labor as soon as they took power in 2011.

Why are Republicans against unions? Two words: business lobbies. Business supports Republicans, and business doesn’t like unions.

So North Carolina workers are paid less than they should be paid. Unions would help. But most workers don’t want to join unions. Employers win by default.

Laws need to be changed, yes, but more important, minds need to be changed. Almost all workers can organize right now.

I’m solidly behind North Carolina working people.   I just wish North Carolina working people were solidly behind North Carolina working people.