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Myth-Making about Unions

When Washington Post reporter Alec MacGillis tries to explain complex issues in a neutral voice, somehow the results always favor the Left.

In an August 16th guide to the health-care debate, MacGillis wrote, “Fixing [the system] could be very simple: a single-payer system. To the dismay of many liberals, President Obama and congressional Democrats think it’s more realistic to build on what’s already there, which is why legislation overhauling it comes in the form of 1,000-page tomes.” No substantive criticisms of single payer were offered anywhere in the piece.

On Sunday February 21st Post MacGillis purported to expose “five myths about the labor union movement.” The message: Organized labor isn’t declining, it does not have a negative effect on economic growth, its troubles are the result of unfavorable laws, and Democrats had better pay more attention to union demands.

MacGillis propagates more myths than he dispels.

“Myth” 1 is that unions are in “inexorable decline.” Here his arguments are 1) that in some industries organizing is going well, which doesn’t get him very far and 2) that changes in labor law will help them reverse their decline. But later in the piece MacGillis explains that the unions’ legislative goals do not include anything that would have a big effect on the labor market and that they are unlikely to get what they want anyway, since Democrats don’t listen to them. So that would make the unions’ decline. . . inexorable, right?

In his discussion of “myths” 2 and 3—that unions are bad for growth and that labor law is responsible for the unions’ decline—MacGillis ignores the evidence that even within the same industries, unionized companies have grown slower than non-unionized ones.

His discussion of “myth” 4—that the card-check bill wouldn’t do much to change the labor market—is almost pure assertion, so there’s no reason to spend any time on it.

MacGillis’s “myth” 5 is that the unions control the Democrats. He notes that they’re not getting their way on every issue. What interest group does? One of MacGillis’s pieces of evidence is that the Democrats may not end up exempting union health-care plans from the Cadillac tax they’re planning to impose. This is laughable. First of all, the mere fact that the Democrats are contemplating taxing non-union plans at a higher rate than union plans is evidence that unions have enough clout to force Democrats to do indefensible things on their behalf. Second, it is pretty clear that if the Democrats do not exempt the union plans they are not going to be able to get this tax passed at all.

In the battle between MacGillis and the “myths,” the latter won—because they’re mostly true.