If you wanted to find the poster child for out-of-control unions and a crazy worker pension system, France was where you looked. We took great delight sneering at its dysfunctional labor system that dates back to the 1789 French revolution.
Today, it’s America that has the dysfunctional labor system. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while 12 percent of the American work force belonged to a union in 2008 — down from 35 percent in the 1950s — their clout does not reflect the numbers.
In France, on the other hand, union membership has slid from 20 percent in 1960 to about 8 percent today, and what remains is heavily concentrated in the public sector. French union clout comes partly from a long tradition of public sympathy for their causes and partly because they have a direct influence on electing work councils that have a strong say in conditions and benefits in the workplace.
How crazy is the French labor market? Even when public-sector workers strike, they end up getting paid anyway once they call off a strike.
Yet while we have a president who appeases labor unions every chance he gets, according to The New York Times, “French President François Hollande has said that changes [in unions] are needed to burnish France’s international allure as a place to do business.”
The result is that French labor unions and business leaders “struck a deal to overhaul swaths of France’s notoriously rigid labor market, moving to tame some of the most confounding rules in the 3,200-page labor code as the country tries to increase its competitiveness and curb unemployment,” which stands at a 13-year high of 10.7 percent (youth unemployment is about 25 percent).
Imagine this: a Socialist president in Europe who recognizes high unemployment and union domination are counterproductive to his country’s growth. I wish our president thought that way.
Tell me if this sounds familiar. According to The Times, “Under current French labor rules, many entrepreneurs in France hesitate to hire large numbers of workers. Some employers even resort to operating several companies with no more than 49 employees each instead of running larger ones that employ hundreds. That is because after the 50th employee is hired, a stack of new regulations come into play, including long firing procedures even for underperforming employees and requirements for numerous union representatives.”
Hmmm. Where else do entrepreneurs get punished for hiring more than 50 employees? Oh yes, right here in the good ole U.S.A. where one of the mandates of Obamacare is that firms with 50 or more employees have to pay a penalty that starts at $2,000 per full-time employee in 2014 if they don’t provide health insurance or their plans don’t meet the government standard.
If you want to feel a bit better about the percentage of Americans belonging to labor unions, in Finland it’s 74 percent and in Sweden it’s 71 percent. Italy and Canada are both at 30 percent, while the United Kingdom is at 27 percent.
In Germany, where both the manufacturing and public sector are strong, the unionization rate is 27 percent.
But if you drill down on these numbers, three out of every four people employed in the European Union are not members of a trade union. Furthermore, in every EU country outside Scandinavia (except Belgium), union membership is either static or continues to decline.
What’s happening in France is happening all over. We need for the United States to follow in the footsteps of France in their approach to unions and recognize that economic growth and unionization are not compatible. President Barack Obama must risk alienating his union support and start creating jobs for our people, 25 million of whom who are unemployed or underemployed.
It’s not a coincidence that 22 states have passed right-to-work laws that let workers decide whether to support unions or not. Right-to-work laws prohibit companies from firing workers for not paying union dues. It protects employees’ right to work, whether or not they support unions.
When the United States lags behind France in economic reforms, something is terribly wrong. Surely our leaders can rise to the occasion and do what’s right when it comes to labor reform. And it shouldn’t take a revolution.
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