NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Unions Asleep On The Job

December 9, 1997

Some labor unions are failing to protect the interests of their members, according to labor monitors including the U.S. Department of Labor. The Los Angeles-based Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) has been particularly lax in its duties, observers report.

  • In a recent investigation into overtime and minimum-wage violations in New York sewing contractors' shops, UNITE represented workers in 75 percent of those shops found to be violating the law.
  • At the same time, violations were found at only 59 percent of nonunion shops.
  • Labor Department investigators suggest that industry-led monitoring programs may now offer workers more effective protection than unions do.

In California, where less than 1 percent of garment workers belong to unions, manufacturers have adopted tough and seemingly effective monitoring programs. In San Francisco, the Labor Department found that 68 percent of nonmonitored shops and 87 percent of monitored shops were in compliance -- a far better record than in heavily-unionized New York.

In Southern California, UNITE has no more than 500 members. Most of them are under the union umbrella, not because they voted for the union, but because of "top down" agreements whereby manufacturers agree to ship their sewing only to unionized shops. Some of these unionized workers have found it hard to escape UNITE's grasp, according to reports.

  • After 42 out of 50 workers at a mill in San Bernardino voted to decertify UNITE, the mill lost its prime contract with a unionized shop in Los Angeles.
  • The mill's workers blame UNITE for the ensuing layoffs, contend the union is trying to destroy their jobs and see the union's action as punitive.

Labor-relations specialists point out that such union activities are a significant factor in the decision of many garment firms to pack up and move to Mexico and other countries.

Source: Joel Kotkin (Pepperdine Institute for Public Policy, Pacific Research Institute), "A Union's War on Workers," Wall Street Journal, December 9, 1997.


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