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Russ Roberts on Unions

Russ Roberts, in today’s Los Angeles Times, tackles the myth that ordinary workers owe their prosperity to labor unions.  Here’s a snippet of Russ’s op-ed:

But maybe unions aren’t so crucial to worker well-being. When more than
90% of the private-sector labor force isn’t unionized, why do 97% of us
earn above the minimum wage? If our bargaining power is so pitiful, why
don’t greedy employers exploit us and drive wages down to the legal

simple answer is that bargaining power comes from having alternatives.
Even in the absence of unions, employers have to treat workers well to
attract and keep them. In a workplace as dynamic as that of the United
States, where millions of jobs are destroyed and created every quarter,
a company’s ability to exploit workers is greatly limited by how easy
it is to find another job.

Ultimately, it is competition among
employers that protects us from exploitation. Even those who would seem
to be the most vulnerable — immigrants who struggle to speak English,
for example — can earn much more than the minimum wage simply because
of competition for their skills. Cleaning people routinely earn $20 an
hour, more than most cities’ so-called living wage.


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