But doing this would require unions to abandon outdated work rules, which prevent union members from doing jobs outside their specific category, working flexible schedules without demanding overtime or sitting on employer-employee committees except those sanctioned in collective bargaining. As a result, non-union companies often offer workers more individual choice.
In a non-union environment, a mother who wants to work a few extra hours one week in order to take time off to attend a school activity the next can do so without making it more expensive for the company through mandatory overtime pay rules. Similarly, unions prevent employers from rewarding the best hourly workers with bonuses and other special benefits outside the contract, and they won't allow penalizing, much less getting rid of, slackers. But a non-union company can reward innovation and industry among its workers.
The most constructive thing unions could do to help their current members is to ensure that those workers are more, not less, productive. But even a union's best efforts to hold onto its members' specific jobs won't stop capitalism's creative destruction engine. Some jobs in some industries will always be lost in order for other jobs to be created.
The UAW's new contract with GM promises to limit outsourcing of certain jobs and commits the company to hiring 3,000 temporary workers as permanent employees. The union hasn't yet made public the details of its deal with Chrysler, but it's a safe bet they've attempted a similar bargain there.
In the end, however, it will be the companies' profitability, not the union's efforts, that will keep good-paying jobs available for those workers.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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