When America’s powerful labor union movement reached its peak in the mid-1960s, embracing almost half of the active U.S. workforce at that time, it seemed that organized labor was here to stay and grow.
Much of this was due to the imposition of union shops in the manufacturing industry, especially during that sector’s heyday in the post-World War II period. This made it mandatory that all employees hired also would have to become union members. This was reinforced by such powerful titans as John L. Lewis, founder of the Congress of Industrial Organizations and Harry Bridges, the charismatic head of the Longshoreman workers’ group, who controlled the total labor force employed in all import/export U.S. trade activities.
This scenario has changed dramatically in the last few decades, as union membership in both public and private sectors has diminished to a mere 10% of America’s total active employment of a potential 140 million workers. Much of this is due to the flight abroad of a sizable U.S. manufacturing segment.
But it also has been buttressed by a public attitude that is less supportive of union membership due to mandatory dues-paying requirements without resultant benefits. This has been stirred up by the politicization of the shrinking union movement, which is almost totally dedicated to supporting the Democratic Party.
A good example is the showdown in Wisconsin, where only a few years ago most public workers were practically stripped of collective bargaining rights. It is more difficult for the public sector to unionize. In 2014, this resulted in the start of union membership’s tumble from 11.7% in prior years to 8.3% currently.
Although union membership held steady in 2015, as compared to most prior years, a majority of the new hires came in education and health services (139,000), wholesale and retail trade (102,000), professional and business (39,000) and social services (22,000).
At the same time, union losses occurred in transportation and warehousing (44,000), manufacturing (40,000), construction (28,000) and telecommunications (17,000).
The unavoidable trend is that union membership reduction is in lockstep with manufacturing dissolution, and a growing public attitude of resentment against their pension and other retirement funds. These opulent commitments, negotiated by unions, have left the states, municipalities and the federal government with overhanging debts, choking their respective treasuries’ debt responsibilities.
According to the U.S. Commerce Department’s lagging indicators, long-lasting durable goods products ended December with a thud of 5.1%, down from the month before, with an annual 2015 decline of 3.5%. This is the largest nonrecessionary downturn since 1992.
Whether this was caused by a rising dollar, global economic reverses or a continuation of flights abroad by U.S. manufacturing companies, the evidence of U.S. manufacturing’s contraction seems ongoing.
Competition from despairing global competition in such major commodities as steel, copper, palladium, etc., plus the dollar’s upward thrust, combined with a static domestic demand to further restrict manufacturing growth. Declining exports put additional pressure on U.S. manufacturing capabilities. Also heavily oppressive to order levels was the “fall from grace” by the energy sector’s technical and other productive services, which had shot up during the last seven years of the hydraulic fracking revolution.
Barring a major reversal of such demand direction during 2016, it’s doubtful the once dominant American manufacturing sector will find an effective footing this year.
While such major U.S. industry leaders as Boeing, Caterpillar and distributor/retail complexes such as Costco, WalMart, Walgreen’s and Kohl’s have found their day-to-day businesses hard-put to maintain previous levels, the federal government is showing no signs of digression from its extreme policies of renewable energy conversion, or forcing businesses to accept Obama health-care and insurance coverage, further discouraging full-time hires.
In light of the crises affecting the nation’s overall employment picture, it seems ludicrous that the $15 per hour minimum wage is not only supported by politically liberal organizations but by pressure from the federal government.
It would seem, based on the campaign rhetoric from both major political parties, there is little understanding that this sector is facing increasing barriers when every effort should be made to preserve this critical basis of America’s solid definitive future manufacturing growth.
With all targeted expectations featuring further downward direction, it’s shameful more effective political voices are not being heard to stand up for the independent businesses that still make up underlying solid values. They had made American manufacturing and its post-World War II Marshall Plan the world’s most envied economic success extravaganza.
Supreme Court halts EPA
In a surprising move, before Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 5-4 majority, put the previously unrestrained Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to further minimize fossil fuels for power generation (oil, natural gas and coal) on hold.
Although this “climatological purity” action signed off by President Barack Obama’s executive order is only held in limbo while attorneys general objections from 27 states are being considered at lower court levels, it stops arbitrary regulatory action by the EPA dead in its tracks. The administration will have to await consideration of the multitude of lawsuits before final action by the Supreme Court, which will review the lower court’s disposition.
If the Supreme Court had allowed further action by the EPA while consideration of the state complaints could be heard, this would have tentatively approved the agency’s restrictions on power plants, utilities and various other upgrading and expansions. Opening the door to EPA’s aggressive initiatives might have become irreversible in the meantime.
The Supreme Court action mandates that the EPA’s involvement during the lengthy time in which the objections against administration executive orders are evaluated prohibits it from interfering with those particular operating units now in place, with state authorities in charge of their utilization. While the EPA can file complaints about clean air violations, the state authorities remain in charge of authorizing and “policing” the necessary stewardship to make sure that the economic aspects of power generation, transmission and optimum electric viability will be properly enforced.
Without the Supreme Court’s stay, the EPA would have functioned under the president’s executive orders, making climatological purity the overriding decision base for supplying the “power feed-in resource.” Under the Supreme Court’s direction, the federal enforcement agency will be limited to observation, but not activation status. The latter will be primarily attended to by state authorities.
The bottom-line decision-making by the various states tends to put economic reality for its constituents and their serving utilities in first place — a factor totally ignored by previous EPA dictators. This has almost always happened in areas of ultimate EPA control.
As it now stands, the Clean Power Act, which would have put ultimate authority in the hands of the EPA, will now have to await preliminary lower court judgments, a time period easily transcending the termination of President Obama’s second term. Obviously, the final hearings by the U.S. court system will be evaluated by the presidential successor, who will have been thoroughly briefed on the pros and cons of this issue, and make final judgments accordingly.