There was a get together at the White House yesterday which attracted almost no media attention amidst the various food fights of the day, dubbed the “Worker Voice” summit. It was a meeting between President Obama and a group described as, “workers, union leaders, lawmakers and employers,” but it was obvious from the outset that this was a sop to the unions who are furious over the recent Pacific trade deal. To understand that aspect of it you need look no further than the fact that two of the chief attendees who are credited for organizing the event were Nancy Pelosi and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. It was a soft sell of the deal to say the least. (Reuters)
President Barack Obama called for higher blue-collar wages and benefits and promoted collective bargaining on Wednesday, courting workers’ unions in a day-long event as his advancing Pacific Rim trade deal has left many labor groups disenchanted with the White House.
In a speech to workers, union leaders, lawmakers and employers, Obama supported the defense of workers’ rights and urged workers to band together in an increasingly technology-driven economy.
“I believe when people attack unions, they’re attacking the middle class,” Obama told attendees of the first-ever White House Summit on Worker Voice.
“We’ve got to make sure … working Americans don’t get lost in the shuffle,” he said. “They can come together and they can win.”
The speech was full of the usual offerings at the alter of the labor unions and the unspoken reason is pretty obvious. The Big Labor organizations have been feeling a bit left out by Obama of late and they’re not too thrilled with Hillary Clinton either. This started with Keystone XL and continued through to this most recent trade deal. There was, until very recently, talk that the unions might hold back their endorsement of Hillary. It doesn’t take much of a leap of the imagination to conclude that Hillary’s half baked rejection of TPP this week and the summit yesterday were both olive branches to get union leaders back on the team.
Overlooked in all of this glad-handing was the fact that the fundamental premise being espoused by the President is rooted almost entirely in politics rather than reality. The wage problems that Obama was highlighting in his remarks are not an issue which is going to be magically cured by resurrecting the “golden age” of powerful labor unions. In fact, they would most likely be exacerbated by such a shift. Glenn Spencer and Randy Johnson made this point before the summit even began. (Workforce Freedom)
There are a few talking points one can expect to hear at the summit. The first is that workers’ compensation has failed to keep up with productivity, and that this trend moves in correlation with the strength of union membership. This has been a favorite theme of the current secretary of Labor.
It is, however, incorrect. In fact, when one uses the proper data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the correct inflation adjustment, worker compensation and productivity rise almost in tandem (below). The secretary’s argument only works when comparing incompatible data — essentially apples to oranges.
Spencer and Johnson really put the lie to a lot of the talking points being promoted by Barack Obama and their analysis is well worth reading in full. They go on to tear down the widely touted myth that the Democrat platform plank of reducing income equality is somehow going to be brought to fruition if we only build the unions back up to the power they held in their glory days. Democrats cite many factors in the history of wages, productivity and government policy, but it’s almost entirely smoke and mirrors.
The fact is that unions in the modern era have been a destructive force to not only struggling businesses in the United States but to the long term health of the work force. Once they became a political branch of the Democrats and began pouring their members’ dues into winning elections rather than improving working conditions and securing reasonable, but sustainable benefits, they turned into the poison which killed the goose with the golden eggs. Unfortunately, when the White House rolls out the red carpet for them like this it only reinforces the fantasy they are selling to their members.