Are Unions the Same as “Labor”?

“Labor pushes to protect California ruling that redefines who is an employee,” reads the headline in the Sacramento Bee. The December 3 story refers to “organized labor and its allies,” who are out to bolster a state court decision on independent contractors. Organized labor is the default media code for unions, and readers might get the impression that unions are the same as labor. That is not the case and it’s not even close.

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 15.5 percent of wage and salary workers in California are union members. A full 84.5 percent of California workers, the vast majority, are not union members. Unions are not the same as “labor” and better described as a special interest. For decades, government employee unions had been confiscating money from non-members and using it for political causes the non-members oppose. The U.S. Supreme Court put a stop to that in the recent Janus decision, but the abuses are much more extensive.

California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board had been acting as an advocate for the United Farm Workers, imposing a contract on growers and refusing to reveal the results of the worker’s 2013 decertification vote at Gerawan Farms near Fresno. Last summer an appeal court ruled that the ALRB, composed entirely of government appointees, must reveal the results. As it turned out, the workers voted 1098 to 197 to reject the UFW as their representative, a triumph for the workers over an axis of union and government goons.

Government employee unions still wield incredible power. They demonstrate outside the state capitol proclaiming “This is our house!” Court decisions still tilt to their favor but that is not always good for consumers. The decision to change independent contractors into employees forced a nail salon to increase the cost of manicures and pedicures. And as hairstylist Anthony Gianotti told reporters “they’ve just destroyed the pay structure for the barber and cosmetology industry.” California maintains a state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology with a mission to “to ensure the health and safety of California consumers.”

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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