By Sid Salter
STARKVILLE – Public sectors unions took a political beating in Wisconsin this week in a political exercise that may have far-reaching impacts on public pension programs across the country. Private sector unions continue to face a steady decline in membership.
That’s the backdrop against which efforts to unionize the state’s burgeoning auto manufacturing industry is unfolding. Clearly, there is an effort to break Mississippi’s “right to work” state status with a successful unionization push at the Nissan plant in Canton.
Yet other than perpetuating the union’s eroding existence with new members and new union dues, the United Auto Workers have to make some sort of rational pitch to the state’s auto workers as to why it would be to their advantage to pay dues to the union.
While there have been incredibly vague and as yet unsubstantiated allegations of “human rights violations” by union organizers and some of the beneficiaries of their campaign contribution largesse in Congress, the UAW has yet to offer any substantive examples of why Mississippi auto workers need union representation.
But more than failing to make the case that worker safety is endangered or that wages are out of line with other non-union auto manufacturing plants in the region, here’s the hardest sell for the UAW in Mississippi: According to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, Mississippi’s per capita personal income level increased 3.6 percent from 2010 ($31,071) to 2011 ($32,176). Since 2003, per capita personal income has increased by $8,206 or 34.2 percent.
The numbers show that as Mississippi continued and expedited the long and difficult transition from low skill, low wage jobs to high skill, high wage jobs during the two-term administration of Haley Barbour, the state’s per capita personal income actually increased despite the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, a global recession and the collapse of the nation’s real estate markets – as did the state’s per capita income.
The Commerce Department defines per capita personal income is “the income that is received by persons from all sources. It is calculated as the sum of wage and salary disbursements, supplements to wages and salaries, proprietors’ income with inventory valuation and capital consumption adjustments, rental income of persons with capital consumption adjustment, personal dividend income, personal interest income, and personal current transfer receipts, less contributions for government social insurance.”
The relatively new high skill, high wage jobs like those at Nissan, Toyota, Severstal, PACCAR and others are giant steps toward getting Mississippi off the bottom of the U.S. per capita income ranking. Now, the UAW proposes to have new Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn attack economic development with one collective hand tied behind their backs by organized labor.
Nationally, labor unions represent 11.8 percent of the work force or some 14.8 million workers – down from an all-time high of 22.2 million in 1975 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor.
The unintended consequence of the UAW push in Mississippi in the current economic environment with the current leadership of the Mississippi Legislature is that public employees and existing members of organized labor may well be impacted negatively by the UAW push.
Conservative legislative leaders who have already taken some steps to stabilize the state’s public employee retirement system aren’t oblivious to public opinion as expressed in the Wisconsin recall fight. Those same conservative leaders are concerned about the state not losing competitive ground in the fight for high wage, high skill jobs among other Southern “right to work” states.
In politics, it is difficult once the ant hill has been kicked to escape getting a few stings. In the state’s new conservative leadership regime, it’s seems a particularly foolhardy time to kill the organized labor expansion ant hill.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.