Labor’s Small Business Friends
by Dick Meister, June 9, 2010
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other outspoken foes of organized labor like to claim that small business owners are as anti-union as the notoriously anti-union Chamber and its big business members. But don't you believe it.
Unfortunately, plenty of people do believe it. They accept the conventional wisdom that employers, large or small, don't like unions in general and especially don't like their employees joining or organizing unions to represent them in determining their working conditions.
Certainly many employers resist unionization. But what the Chamber of Commerce and its corporate friends don't tell you is that many employers welcome unions for a variety of pragmatic as well as philosophical reasons.
Listen, for instance, to a small business owner in Virginia who was included in a representative sampling of some 1,200 small business owners and self-employed workers who were surveyed recently by American Rights at Work, a respected labor advocacy group:
“When workers form unions, they can secure benefits and rights in the workplace, including a decent wage and health care. They have economic and job stability. Unions lift workers and workers lift the economy. It's as simple as that.”
The survey included much more that you're not likely to hear from the Chamber of Commerce. “Unions,” said one small businessman, “help level the playing field for companies that voluntarily treat their employees right and compensate them fairly, When companies compete on equal footing, consumers fare better.”
Among the many other contradictions of the Chamber of Commerce 's anti-union line was this from a small businesswoman in Boulder, Colo.:
“The free market system is driven by workers' productivity and unions tend to produce more educated and well-trained — and therefore productive — employees. When competitors prevent their employees from forming a union, it is usually a pretty good indication that they are also underpaying their employees. That hurts our business and others in the industry because it allows them to unfairly undercut the market.”
Kimberly Freeman Brown, executive director of American Rights at Work, noted that unionization not only helps individual businesses and their employees, but also “makes the free market system stronger by increasing consumer purchasing power — which is good for their businesses' bottom line.”
Eighty percent of the small business owners surveyed by Brown's organization agreed. Other significant findings:
* About half of those surveyed expressed “strong concern that unions have been weakened so much our economy has actually been hurt.”
* More than half agreed that “strong unions make the free market system stronger.”
* Almost 60 percent “strongly agreed that labor unions are necessary to protect the working person.”
* Nearly 70 percent said it was very important for their businesses that Congress “enact legislation that rewards employers who respect their workers' right to join a union.”
* More than 70 percent agreed that “a good business person can make a profit and respect their workers' choice to form a union.”
* Eighty-two percent “strongly agreed that it's morally wrong for employers to fire or threaten employees for wanting to form a union.”
So, despite conventional anti-union wisdom, many small businesses are quite aware that unionization benefits them, their employees and society in general.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its anti-union members and allies know that, but their interest is not in benefitting those who do the work of society. Their interest, of course, is in maximizing the profits of big business.
(Dick Meister is a San Francisco based columnist who has covered labor and politics for a half-century as a reporter, editor, author and commentator. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com.)