NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Blame The Clayton Antitrust Act For Recent West Coast Dock Upheavals

November 14, 2002

Labor relations experts note that since 1953 the union share of the private sector labor force has shrunk from 36 percent to a shade under 10 percent. Yet in areas where strikes are deemed ruinous or unacceptable, union monopoly power still thrives.

That certainly was evident during the recent slowdown by union workers at West Coast docks.

Despite their dwindling membership numbers, labor unions enjoy a tremendous legal advantage against target corporations: they are immune to antitrust restrictions thanks to the Clayton Antitrust Act passed in 1914. Corporations, of course, enjoy no such immunity -- which tilts the playing field during negotiations steeply to the unions' advantage.

That explains why:

  • Some West Coast members of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union make in excess of $100,000 a year.
  • Top Broadway stage hands in New York City -- represented by the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees -- reap $1,300 a week.
  • Unionized teachers at a Winnetka, Ill., high school average around $75,000 for a nine-month year.
  • Apprentice electricians in Los Angeles can make up to $29.65 an hour.

Critics argue the Clayton Act was based on a foolish premise, that "the labor of a human being is not a commodity." This meant that there was no such thing as a labor market in which supply and demand governed prices -- hence, that antitrust had no place in labor's realm, and the unions could not be prosecuted as "illegal combinations or conspiracies in restraint of trade." As a result, labor was granted monopoly status.

Source: Dan Seligman, "Labor's Lingering Monopoly," Forbes, November 11, 2002.

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