Labor on the Ropes

Ivan Osorio sits down with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review to discuss the state of the modern labor union: 

Ivan Osorio is the editorial director and a labor policy specialist with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank dedicated to advancing limited government, free enterprise and individual liberty. He spoke to the Trib regarding the state of labor unions.

Q: With the nation on the cusp of another Labor Day, how would you characterize the current state of organized labor?
A: Unions have made some strides recently, but not as (many) as they would have liked.
The (National Labor Relations Board) just changed the standard for joint employer status. ( Editor's note: The broadened standard could make corporations liable for the labor law violations of their subcontractors and franchisees. The CEI contends that it could lead to job losses and increased labor-related litigation.) That's another example of unions going the regulatory route to get what they want after failing to get the big change they wanted a few years ago — card check — through Congress.
President Obama relied on a lot of union support in both of his elections, so he's trying to do something (good) for organized labor. The policy changes (the NLRB) is pushing through right now are it.

Q: Do you think Congress has provided sufficient checks and balances to the administration's pro-labor stance?
A: They have tried. But rather than Congress, I think the key is whether the policy changes that labor is seeking would help reverse years-long decline in membership and that's very doubtful.
Now, it might be able to get some new members through a changing of the rules, but the changes in labor law would not change the fact that unions are basically conceived to function within fairly hierarchical business structures.
So now that the American workforce has moved away from lifetime employment, where very few people go work for the same employer most of their career, you have a much more arduous environment for unionization. I think that's one reason why you see unionization remains much higher among government employees. (The government) is very structured and government employers don't face the competitive pressures of the market.

Q: What do you see happening with organized labor in the waning days of the Obama administration?
A: (We've seen) changes to the joint employer rule, which is very important because it impacts franchising, self-contracting and temp work, which affects a large percentage of the workforce.
Then there's the “ambush election” rule, which shortens election times for organizing unions, gives employers much less time to respond to organizing campaigns.
Unions also are seeking changes to the Labor Department's overtime rule that would expand the number of employees who qualify for overtime, which could be very costly for businesses in terms of compliance.
Unions are making some advancements as Obama's term winds down, but how far they (ultimately) go is open for debate because I'm sure you'll see push-back from employers. These changes are very likely to be litigated.

Q: How well has business weathered the pro-union push of the Obama presidency?
A: As far as challenges (to business) coming out of Washington, labor is only one of them. You have other comparably burdensome regulations on energy and of course Dodd-Frank has been a huge damper on the economy.
But, overall, businesses have weathered about as well as they could the most aggressive pro-union push of any administration since probably the (Jimmy) Carter administration.