Talking Heads Say All Unionized Business Fail as 1,000 Execs Endorse Pro-Union Bill

Art Levine

A day after the journalistic gabbers on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program claimed unions doomed all businesses to failure, it turns out that over 1,000 business leaders have endorsed the Employee Free Choice Act -- and many are part of a new coalition, Business Leaders for a Fair Economy, backing the bill with full-page ads today in The Wall Street Journal, Politico and The Hill. And that's supplemented by a letter to Congress calling for swift passage of the legislation. The chairman of the new coalition, Roger Smith, the President and CEO of American Income Life Insurance Company and National Income Life Insurance Company, proclaims: I believe that in these tough economic times we need solutions that protect workers and support long-term growth and sustainability for American businesses. It does not have to be an either/or scenario. I personally can attest you can be a responsible employer that respects workers' rights and have a thriving, profitable business accountable to its stakeholders. Historically, giving workers access to unions and negotiating with them in good faith to reach fair collective bargaining agreements has resulted in a dynamic workforce with shared prosperity. It is imperative for the future of American enterprise that business leaders support policies that create a robust middle class. The Employee Free Choice Act is good for the middle class, and what's good for the middle class is ultimately good for our bottom line. Compare those comments with the clueless smackdown of unions joined in by all the Morning Joe guests, sparked by Mad Money's Jim Cramer denouncing "card check" and The New York Times business reporter, Andrew Ross Sorkin , who said, "Name a successful unionized company. Think. You're gonna go to break before you come up with one." As Media Matters pointed out, "If Andrew Ross Sorkin's name sounds familiar, that's probably because he's the reporter who started the myth about the average GM worker being paid $70 an hour. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann named him "Worst Person in the World" for that bit of blatantly false anti-union, anti-worker propaganda." Indeed, Sorkin and his allies on The Morning Joe show came in for a thorough thrashing from union leaders and progressive bloggers yesterday for their ignorance. Media Matters capsulized progressive outrage at the show's mindless echoing of anti-union Big Business talking points: The Morning Joe crew was on an anti-union tear this morning, claiming the union label on a company means "sell." Mika Brzezinski went so far as to say of unions: "They cripple the system that makes a company work." Collectively, the journalists on Morning Joe couldn't name a single "successful" unionized company. This says more about their qualifications to discuss public policy and labor relations than it says about unions. To pick just one obvious example, UPS is unionized -- and the company made more than $3 billion last year. That's "billion" with a "b," and those are profits, not revenues. Oh, what the heck, let's take one more example. GE is one of the world's largest companies; in 2006, its revenues were greater than the gross domestic products of 80 percent of UN nations. The company made more than $18 billion in 2008 -- again, billion with a b, and again, those are profits, not revenue. All that despite (or, perhaps, because of) the fact that 13 different unions represent GE workers. Oh, and GE owns NBC-Universal, which owns MSNBC, which pays Joe Scarborough a handsome salary (and the unionized workers who help get his show on the air considerably less). Does Joe Scarborough think NBC and GE are not "successful" companies? Does Mika Brzezinski think the unionized workers she no doubt interacts with every day are crippling her ability to do her job, or her employer's ability to be successful? All this comes in the same week that the Chamber of Commerce is ratcheting up its lobbying pressure on moderate Senators even as the extremist legal expert it funded, University of Chicago professor Richard Epstein, announced in this month's In These Times that the nation would be better off without unions, minimum wage laws or the regulation of sweatshops. Apparently, Richard Epstein has like-minded allies among the nation's journalists, including Boston columnist Mike Barnicle, self-styled Democratic champion of the "little guy." Take a look at this video excerpt: The TPMDC blogger Brian Beutler, among others, aptly pointed to the countless businesses that support unions and flourish economically, as compiled by American Rights at Work: If you want more information than you'll ever need on the wealth of successful business employing unionized workers, you need look no farther than the group American Rights at Work. Every year they publish the Labor Day List, to "recognize successful partnerships between employers and their employees' labor unions that are working well in the global economy." You can download the 2008 report here (PDF), and see a full list of past reports here. Indeed, Talking Points Memo compiled its own list of successful unionized companies. Among the companies that Sorkin, Jim Cramer and Scarborough couldn't think of were these firms: UPS Kroger Southwest Airlines All six major Hollywood studios AT&T and Verizon (I think all the telecoms qualify as successful and unionized, but we're checking) Costco (not entirely unionized, but that gets at another issue, which is how many companies have important divisions or subsidiaries which may be heavily unionized, while other elements of their business are not) CSX, BNSF, Norfolk, (the nation's other major railroads also remain profitable and heavily unionized) Union leaders added their own views in comments to Beutler: I just got off the phone with Nancy Mills, the Deputy Chief of Staff for AFL-CIO, who had some thoughts for us on the substance and the implication of Sorkin's statements on MSNBC. "One of the things it points out is that the American public in general, and those who have an axe to grind, who are promoting this ignorance, don't seem to know who's in unions." Mills said. She noted that there's no shortage of companies with successful worker-employer partnerships adding that "People think of these as good places, successful, interesting, and they don't stop and think that they might be unionized, because there hasn't been a picket line." Andy Stern, the president of SEIU, zeroed in on the value unions bring to the economy, from strengthening the middle-class to boosting consumer demand with decent wages: "Unionized companies are a driving force in our economy, from Kaiser Permanente to Securitas," Stern said in a statement to TPMDC. The bigger question this country is really asking right now is how do we define a successful company? Is it a company that turns a profit by driving down employee wages successful? Is cutting off benefits or putting people out of work to improve the bottom line for shareholders a business model we as Americans want to embrace? Are we going to embrace the Wal-Mart model as the standard of success, or are we going to raise the bar and rebuild the middle class in this country? We think it's time to have a serious national discussion about what we want the future of our economy to look like--and the voices of women and men who work are critical to that conversation. That's why we're supporting the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill to help create an economy in which companies succeed based on the quality of their services, not on their willingness to exploit or silence workers. The business leaders in the coalition calling today for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act understand as well as anyone why partnerships between business and labor are essential to economic growth and recovery. As the coalition's leaders announced today: "As a business owner, I believe that workers should have the freedom to bargain with employers for good wages, health care and the opportunity to retire with dignity," said Diana Ortiz, owner of Colorado-based Ortiz Enterprises, LLC, and member of the coalition's advisory committee. "Better wages mean that the whole community has more money to spend and to build our economy." Ortiz's business was recently named "Small Business of the Decade" by the Pueblo Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Business Leaders for a Fair Economy was created to counter the myths and misunderstandings that unions are bad for business. The employers that support the Employee Free Choice Act say a level playing field will create a more sound economy and that when workers and business rise together, it's good for their bottom line. Measures like the Employee Free Choice Act will restore balance to our labor laws and help companies compete in this new and ever-changing economy. Smith affirmed, "A strong, solid middle class that is able to purchase our products and services will allow us to invest in our businesses, hire new employees, and give back to our local communities."

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Art Levine, a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly, has written for Mother Jones, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Slate​.com, Salon​.com and numerous other publications.
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