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Pay Off a Union or Celebrate the Arts -- Your Call

So a bunch of people got together to try to squeeze some more money out of Shreveport's Strand Theater and instead others got hired at a lower rate. Then some of the gang complain that they were unjustly denied the work. Can you say chutzpah?

Some members of Local 298 of the Stagehands' Union picketed performances this week bleating that the Strand unfairly was trying to "rid itself of its lawful obligations" by replacing Shreveport-based employees with the Athalon Group, a private, New Orleans-based company which was charging 35 to 40 percent less to do the job than the union. This, of course, after the union had demanded a 3 percent increase in wages over the next 3 years which the Strand rejected six months ago at the end of their contract.

What part of the law do these guys not understand? They have no contract with the Strand, and they priced themselves out of the market when the Strand recently was running an annual $150,000 deficit. The Strand isn’t obligated to force itself into bankruptcy just to sate the arrogance of some who think they should have a job for life just because they can gang up on employers.

One reason why this switch by the Strand makes sense is that unionized stagehands and allied workers make a pretty penny, extracting much more from an employer than similarly-skilled workers outside of their clubs. And it highlights the shift in how unions have gone from tolerable organizations that served some useful purposes in a free-market economy to groups driven by greed acting as a drag on the economy.

In a different era, where the economy was based upon investments, capital, and labor pools that were relatively fixed and inelastic, unions proved marginally beneficial to society. But in today’s time where all aspects of the economy are so fluid and competition so fierce, with minimal entry and exit costs to professions and production, there is no case for artificial combines like unions to serve as counterbalances to producers – the markets will take care of that naturally, particularly in this era of economic globalization.

This is why unionization of the American public has fallen to its lowest level in decades, and the majority of it is found now in government. Unlike the private sector, there’s no competition in government, and it can raise money to buy off union demands by raising taxes – a wealth redistribution scheme if there ever was one. A good move made by Shreveport Mayor Keith Hightower was to stop this disease from spreading to Shreveport city government.

No doubt the Local 298 individuals can find something else useful and productive to do, and their leaders can stop whining because they can’t have it their way at the expense of the arts and their patrons in Shreveport.

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