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LANGER: True cost of the union label

Protectionist causes could cost Americans trillions

- The Washington Times - Friday, September 3, 2010

Here's a Labor Day factoid: The total economic loss we'd feel from labor bosses' and environmental activists' joint "cap-and-trade" tax scheme - $10 trillion from 2012 to 2035 - is roughly the same as all of America deciding to completely cease all economic activity from New Year's Day to, well, Labor Day next year.

That's just the beginning.

While some consider American unions a dinosaur of a bygone era, they are far from extinct. Now instead of flexing their muscle on the picket lines, they are stuffing campaign coffers for friendly politicians and teaming up with environmental activists to seek special rules to avoid the rigors of the competitive market that has produced so much wealth.

Time after time, union bosses have held one hand out while curling the other into a fist, ready to punish politicians who don't toe their line. (Perhaps that's why President Obama is spending the holiday with his biggest special interest.)

Americans nationwide are increasingly aware of the major state fiscal burdens being imposed by organized labor's public-sector unions. In California for one, the state's projected total of underfunded liabilities for public employee retirement is as much as a half-trillion dollars, while the nation's total tab rings in closer to $3.5 trillion. That, by the way, approaches $12,000 per person (not all of whom will pay taxes to reduce that amount).

It's not just public pensions that are in the sights of labor bosses, though. They are seeking a special bailout that would put taxpayers directly on the hook for failing union pension funds, which would create a brand new entitlement. Cost: Billions.

But what's a few billion or trillion among friends, right?

According to a study by Dr. Anne Layne-Farrar, the "card-check" bill known sneeringly as the "Employee Free Choice Act" (EFCA), would kill 600,000 jobs the first year after it is enacted and destroy as many as 5 million jobs over the course of the time period examined. That's trillions in lost wages.

And, sadly, don't forget the as-yet-unknown trillions lost in economic activity to the health care "reform" bill union lobbyists were instrumental in pushing through. Even then, the AFL-CIO sought to exempt its members from a heavy, new tax while being only too willing to throw under the bus the vast majority of Americans who have chosen not to join a union. (Apparently, membership has its privileges - while nonmembership has its punishments.)

The costs just keep on coming, and often in small increments that don't make big headlines.

Among the president's first actions in office was to issue an executive order "encouraging" the use of "project labor agreements" on major federal projects, which basically means that unionized contractors get preferential treatment in bidding for taxpayer-funded construction jobs.

Now the Department of Commerce is set to decide the fate of protectionist policies being requested by the United Steelworkers, its newly acquired allies in the environmentalist movement, and a couple corporate cronies who seeking tariffs on paper products.

All that might not sound like much, but it could mean massive new tariffs on foreign products, which means domestic companies will also raise their prices. An Australian think tank found earlier this year that similar collusion by labor, green groups like Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and industry groups had consumers flushing 42 percent more money on toilet paper costs.

While these costs are detrimental for the pocketbooks of western consumers, they are devastating to the very livelihoods of those in the developing world who would rather work on creating paper or working in a clean, humane factory that have no job or food at all.

Yet that's precisely the impact of polices pushed by global labor groups and international nongovernmental organizations with recognizable names like Greenpeace and WWF.

Trade barriers and tariffs help labor officials and their members, and environmentalists would just as soon we all play with hemp dolls, but they have very little care for the real hardships of others less fortunate. Yet the colluding groups fight against free-trade agreements, which are one of the easiest methods of liberalizing trade and starting the long process of lifting the world's poor out of poverty.

This year, those who are lucky enough to have jobs in this economy helped keep the world's economic engine moving. If we pass cap-and-trade, we may as well have all stayed home. If we pass the EFCA, fail to repeal the health care insurance law, and allow everything from paper to tires to face trade barriers, we may as well take the whole year off.

Bottom line: The cost of the union label looks steeper than ever.

Andrew Langer is president of the Institute for Liberty, which recently launched the Consumers Alliance for Global Prosperity.

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