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January 18 2013

Big Labor Making Big Headlines

Sabrina Schaeffer

Big labor is making big headlines again this week in New York City where school bus drivers went on strike on Wednesday, forcing roughly 113,000 kids and their families to find alternative ways to school.

The strike comes as no big surprise, as New York has been battling with a corrupt school transportation issue for years. As the New York Times reports:

For decades, the city has embraced anticompetitive measures and carried on business relations with an array of bus companies, including some that have been implicated in bribery, been under the sway of organized crime and, in one case, run by a man who displayed a pistol at a negotiating session.

Both union leaders and city employees have gone to prison for shaking down bus companies, offering in return labor peace, advance notice of inspections or approval of lucrative extra routes.

But at a time when public perception of unions has declined significantly, this can’t be the kind of public relations campaign labor unions are looking for. The fact is more and more Americans now view unions as a liability.

In a survey conducted last summer, Gallup found that 42 percent of Americans would like to see unions have less influence. And that’s largely because many more Americans view unions as benefiting unionized workers at the expense of all other workers. Or, in this case, at the expense of hard-working parents trying to juggle the normal routine of getting kids to school, getting to work on time, and running a household.

As the New York Times reports, the public school bus system is one of the “most inefficient transportations systems in the country” and it costs – get this! – almost $7,000 a year per child! To put that in perspective, the vast majority of private schools charge less than that for annual tuition! As John Podhoretz points out in his column for the New York Post today, that’s “$1.1 billion on school busing.”

People are often uncomfortable talking about events like this, at the risk of looking like they don’t care about the needs of workers, especially those lower on the pay scale. But these incidents are actually a good time to have an honest conversation about the challenges labor unions pose to our economy.  

It’s true that unions increase compensation for their members; but they also create a less dynamic economy – which fails the long-terms interests of all workers.

And since this is the Independent Women’s Forum, I want to point out that women pay a particularly high price for this intervention. Women are more likely than men to seek out part-time positions or non-traditional work arrangements. And they are also more likely than men to trade higher pay for more flexibility. But that’s exactly why they lose out from the kind of “one-size-fits-all” compensation regime big labor negotiates.  

But when unions force businesses to pay higher wages, it takes a toll on businesses – making them less competitive, less profitable, and creating fewer jobs. And in New York it brings everything and everyone to a standstill.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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