Feature:Opinion

My dad vs. the unions

Jack Hunter Contributing Editor, Rare

My father has always been my hero. His story is the classic American story of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, working hard and enjoying the fruits of America’s free market system.

In 1968, after he was laid off from his job as an electrician, Dad started his own electrical contracting business, literally out of the trunk of his car. Today, he’s a successful businessman — and believe me, he has earned every bit of his success.

His attitude has always been that he’d be damned before anyone took his business away from him. In an email exchange with me about how right-to-work South Carolina is far preferable to non-right-to-work states, Dad explained how the unions once tried to muscle into his business at the height of his success:

In the 80s when our business was big, 240 employees, 2 planes, worked in 3 states, they tried to get in my door and others. We had a strong Open Shop policy among many major local electrical contractors … Unions [were] losing ground in every direction. I had always said I would close my shop if it were to go union [and] I presided over the [Associated Independent Electrical Contractors of America] Charleston Chapter for 3 years. We operated Merit Shop … we did not believe all should get same pay and benefits, just on years of service alone. We left room for advancement based on personal performance … merit … it works and I still have dedicated employees today.

Dad added, “The country should run that way.”

He’s right. Before I became a conservative political pundit, I worked for my father’s company in the field — digging ditches, running conduit and wire, installing electrical equipment, you name it. I did this off-and-on throughout high school and for a solid eight-year stretch later in life. Most of the job foremen at the various construction sites where I worked were men I had known since I was a child. They were hard workers and good people, and because they were always treated accordingly, they were always there. Some are still there. And my father would be the first to admit it would be hard, if not impossible, to run his business without these talented and dedicated workers. “Merit” pays.

But the very notion of a union coming in and telling Dad how to run his business: Who he can hire, fire, where he can work, where he can’t and all the other dictatorial aspects characteristic of organized labor — this is anathema to anyone who has managed to build their own American dream from scratch. Of course, at various times in this country’s history, unions have done some good, protecting workers and correcting injustices. But today, unions mostly damage the states and industries in which they hold sway, precisely because they demand far too much while offering comparatively little in return.

By their very nature, most modern unions are top-heavy bureaucracies that reward members based on longevity and seniority, not necessarily quality and merit. The results of such a system are often disastrous. What the United Auto Workers have done to the automobile industry in Detroit and elsewhere is a perfect example. So is what teachers’ unions have done to public education. So is what the National Labor Relations Board has been trying to do to Boeing in South Carolina, where unions are attempting to take away merit-based jobs for those in my home state and give them to organized labor in Washington state — simply because working in cahoots with the federal government allows them to do so.

As a traditional conservative, I am suspicious of all concentrated power, public or private. While free markets are always preferable to big-government collectivism or socialism, this does not mean they are always perfect. I’ve penned columns championing mom-and-pop stores over mega-chains, denouncing corporate bank bailouts and decrying other forms of crony capitalism, on precisely such grounds.

That said, the concentrated bureaucratic and nightmarish power that defines modern unions makes them perhaps the most useless, archaic and anti-American of institutions in this country today. I have a hard time saying a good word about most unions, not because I’m some mindless partisan, but because there truly is little good to say about them at this juncture. Funny enough, my father’s first job as a teenager was a union job — where he was asked to keep an eye out for wandering bosses while his superiors slept and played cards.

As Dad notes, “the country should be run” by rewarding hard-working men and women for their merit and not punishing non-union workers or the businesses that hire them for daring to operate on free market principles.

My father is right. This really is how the country is supposed to work — and the extent that it does will be the extent that we are free from the ridiculous and stifling policies of modern American unions.

Jack Hunter writes at the “Paulitical Ticker,” where he is the official Ron Paul 2012 campaign blogger.