Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Spending a day driving from New Delhi to Agra would be an eye-opening experience for any American. On a recent delegation of world technology leaders to India, I saw how plumbing and running water are rare, the air is dirty from ubiquitous two-cycle engines, and electricity is sporadic at best. Life is tough and daily survival is a challenge.

In times of economic crisis, it can be easy to forget how good we have it in this country. We have a working infrastructure and reliable electricity. Our plumbing works and we enjoy clean water. Even our poorest neighbors do not face the fear of starvation or seeing their sick children waste away without proper medical care.

Yet, we are quickly putting our American way of life at risk. In the last few months our government has spent nearly a trillion dollars we don’t have to bolster a few companies considered too important to fail. We are on the verge of spending billions more to temporarily bail out three American car companies, while doing nothing to resolve their core problem - bloated autoworker union contracts.

Those same unions gave half a billion dollars to Democrats this election cycle, with their No. 1 priority the forced unionization thanks to “card check” legislation pushed by certain newly empowered Democrats in Congress.

Card check would dramatically change U.S. labor laws, overturn a half-century of balance in labor-management relations and strip workers of core protections. By depriving workers of a secret ballot vote in union elections, this legislation would allow for coercion of workers who don’t want to unionize and could force millions of Americans to join unions against their will.

Democratic members of Congress struggle in how to say card check is good for the nation, for productivity or for creating jobs. Yet they are eager to pass this legislation to pay back unions for their support. One prominent union leader said publicly he would gladly use union opposition to pending free trade agreements as a political bargaining chip to get card check passed quickly.

I wish union leaders and the politicians supporting card check would have been with us on the road from Delhi to Agra. They would better understand that America’s success is not God-given destiny. We have come far with hard work and creativity and a focus on education and investment.

Unions once shouldered a burden of protecting worker safety, but these protections are now law and unions and their supporters ignore that we are competing on a world stage. More, they are using their political force to block free trade agreements with countries that can add to American jobs by removing tariffs on our exports. Unions are making our companies less competitive.

Today, our nation is a world leader in technology and all the content creation it allows. From our semiconductor companies to our computers, from Hollywood to music, from games to Internet services, the United States remains the world’s innovator. Our strategy should be to allow these companies to prosper and export - not to burden exports with tariffs, tax their output at the second highest rates in the world, or restrict their flexibility with union rules.

A fast-moving, successful tech company with differential compensation and incentive compensation and the need to adapt quickly is inconsistent with the straitjacket of a union environment. The tech industry executives I represent simply can’t believe Congress would enact a card check law that could force jobs overseas.

We have lost our way. A misplaced sense of entitlement is creating hardships that may push our innovation economy overseas. Our mounting debt is fueling our last grasp on primacy. Our laws are discouraging innovation and investment. And soon our crumbling infrastructure and faltering economy will hasten our fall from the top.

We need not take the road to poverty. But it requires a strategy of investment and trade rather than new taxes, trade barriers, regulatory straitjackets and union intimidation.

Gary Shapiro is president and chief executive officer of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), a U.S. trade association representing 2,200 consumer electronics companies.

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