Unions and Illinois

Seeing a giant rat outside your business isn’t exactly a red carpet for enterprises considering locating in the state of Illinois, especially while states right next door like Indiana are “right to work” states.

Caterpillar is currently locked in a strike with their workers at a plant in Joliet.

Roughly 800 union members walked out of the Caterpillar Inc. plant in Joliet on May 1, rejecting a proposed six-year contract that would freeze their wages, double health care premiums and eliminate pensions and seniority rights.

Caterpillar has been battling unions in Illinois for decades. Caterpillar is very familiar with how to operate during a strike and they have retirees and trained engineers, replacement workers, and individuals who crossed the picket line to run the plant. Caterpillar claims that output hasn’t been impacted by the strike. Caterpillar recently closed a Canada plant after workers refused to accept reduced pay and benefits and… moved those jobs to Indiana.

Employers are incredibly leery about adding jobs that might be unionized; while they are often leery of leaving behind assets and customers that are on the ground, new and incremental investment is another matter, entirely.

When you go to Michigan today you can see the beautiful homes and the world-class universities that were funded by the industrial powerhouse that used to be the auto industry. Today the growth in that industry all happens in the south, in non-union states. Someday those states too will have the long term wealth, since industry spawns an entire ecosystem that you can see running in reverse in the heavily unionized “blue” states.

Unions used to say that their members provided higher quality products than non-union workers; in Illinois the construction unions still tout these supposed advantages (not that there is evidence that construction quality is higher in Illinois than in the non-union south). Today, however, union arguments move more towards “fairness” and this is not a convincing argument – it might work with public employers that often shy away from a fight, but for companies like Caterpillar with global operations and global competitors they need to strike a hard bargain else their competitiveness will slip away to foreign competition.

Cross posted at LITGM

7 thoughts on “Unions and Illinois”

  1. The lynchpin of the union system is “Closed Shop Contract”. Those contracts would not be valid or enforceable if the anti-trust exemptions for union contracts were repealed. It will take a 60 senator majority to do this though.

  2. Once upon a time, I joined the United Brotherhood of Carpenter’s and Joiners…then the union consitution was changed so that the Regional VP’s were appointed by the Union President. Also, the local business agents are now appointed by the REgional VP’s, and the business agents appoint delegates who vote for the Union President. The union is no longer operated for the benefit of the union members, but for the benefit of the union leadership. I quit…

    Unions today, aren’t oriented for growth, they operate to strangle business in higher costs and regulations. Instead of working with employers, they work against them…such is the rule in “blue states”…and will see the collapse of the blue economic model.

  3. I was always amazed at GM – before Obama saved them (and the Union, primarily). When you are on a path that you know can only end one way, and refuse to bend – I think if I were a manufacturer and wanted to put a factory somewhere union participation would be a deal breaker.

  4. I learned about unions when I was 16. I had a summer job working on a Coca Cola truck. It was hard work but I made pretty good money for the time. I had to join the union and went to a strike vote one time. It was an education. The older guys with families and kids in college didn’t want to strike. The young single guys, like my driver who drove a Cadillac convertible, used of course, were all for showing the company “who’s boss.” I think the strike lost the vote but it was an education. Coke was a very benign company to work for. They even had a college program for employees.

    The following summer, I worked there again and this time my driver had gotten married. The cadillac was gone and reality had set in. All in all, a good experience for me. The next summer, I got a job in the warehouse on North Water Street where my mother worked. The work was just as hard but I got a ride to and from work. Plus, Playboy was across the street and I could see the girls coming and going. THat was when they were just starting and they hadn’t moved to the Palmolive Building yet,

  5. It is instructive that over 50% of AFSCME members in Wisconsin did not reup when given the chance. The unions charge far too much for political lobbying that members don’t care about and may even oppose. The leaders are also often overpaid.

    I am a Federal Government employee who is represented by a union and I didn’t choose to join (we have a choice unlike many others). The dues are outrageous and obviously, I disagree with the politics of the union. When I first started out, the local had been suspended because the leadership had embezzled funds.

  6. I’m just loving that picture – is the union trying to organize the employees of the cantina, or the antique shop… or both?

    Because darn it, it’s about time someone took on Big Antique.

  7. We had a grey version of the rat outside our corporate offices a few years back (the company had decided to outsource the upkeep of the phone system in the building, which meant letting the last couple of union electricians go). The rat came, stayed for a couple of days, and then left. No one paid any attention, and the outsourcing went forward as planned. Just as with pickets, which you would see now and again at non-union worksites, as long as no one is actually obstructing you no one pays any attention. As with so many union jobs, it always seemed like the picket crews were being paid to show up – whether anything was actually acheived by the demonstration was beside the point.

    For real fire&brimstone unionism you need a public employee union. Most of the private guys don’t seem to have the energy for public protest.

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