Joseph Wyatt

Joseph Wyatt

I like a good work of fiction, so I enjoyed Bill Bissett’s recent attack on labor unions (The H-D, Nov. 11, 2019, “It’s time to tell the truth about unions”). Bissett is president of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Bissett praised the unfortunately named Right to Work legislation, a law that is justified, in part, on the basis that workers shouldn’t have to pay union dues because they may disagree with some of the union’s aims. But, in truth, the law was enacted so that unions could be busted and so that employees would work for lower wages. Nothing more.

To his credit, Mr. Bissett accurately wrote that “…unions are focused on increasing the pay and benefits for their dues-paying members…” But then, as if he was disclosing a lightning bolt of revealed truth, he added that unions also focus on “propagating and maintaining their own existence.” True, but would he expect a union to disband once it improved its members’ pay and benefits? By comparison, does he think that a corporation should shutter its doors after turning a profit for its shareholders?

If workers are unionized, Bissett argued, they would be “…handing a portion of (their) paycheck over to a group that is focused on its own survival and political goals that likely do not match (their) own.” Additionally, Mr. Bissett groused that unionization leads to “combativeness and a lack of communication,” and other devils such as, “…lost flexibility, increased costs, an adversarial work environment, and an anti-economic growth agenda…” Whew! That is a steaming stew of problems, although the gumbo rapidly cools to room temperature when compared with the history books’ descriptions of America’s greatest era of prosperity, the 1950s when unions were strongest.

It is worth noting that union members do not, as Mr. Bissett alleged, have to endure a portion of their dues going to political issues that are not to their liking. Their dues can be walled off from political activities, if they wish.

Aside from that, Mr. Bissett failed to mention that unions benefit more than just their members such as by giving employers a stable, well-trained workforce and the ability to accurately predict future operating costs and by reducing turnover. Besides their pay boosts, workers also benefit from increased safety and fewer episodes of favoritism and discrimination. Additionally, their pay increases benefit the community economically because their earnings are spent at local businesses.

Unions and businesses are more alike than one would suppose. Unions have bargained for the 40-hour work week, overtime pay, paid vacations, safety standards and for recourse should a worker face unfair practices at work. Similarly, businesses bargain for the costs of their supplies, their raw materials, the leases on their buildings and even for reductions in their business taxes. Why should bargaining for their employees’ wages be off limits?

I am a board member of the Southwestern District Labor Council, an AFL-CIO organization that advocates working with the business community rather than engaging in rancorous attacks that are filled with misinformation. In the past dozen years, even as our group has honored numerous labor activists by inducting them into our Hall of Fame, we have similarly honored members of the business community who have recognized the value of collaboration with their workers. Business leaders in our Hall of Fame include a CEO of Cabell Huntington Hospital, the CEO of Neighborgall Construction, the owners of Childers Construction and Leach Construction, the CEO of Dixon Electrical Systems & Contracting and the Director of Public Relations of American Income Life Insurance Company. To us, it is partnership, rather than misguided attacks, that get the job done.

Joseph Wyatt is a board member of the Southwestern District Labor Council Board and emeritus professor at Marshall University.

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