I admit that I am no fan of unions. I’ve told the story before of how my father, the original Alton Drew, crossed a picket line. Even though he was management and probably didn’t have a choice, he would have done the same thing if he was part of the rank and file. Bottom-line, it was about feeding his kids.
Well, that bottom-line may take on a new dimension if H.R. 1167, the Welfare Reform Act were to become law. The bill, introduced on 17 March 2011 by U.S. Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, includes a provision that reads as follows:
Notwithstanding any other provision of the law, no member of a family unit shall participate in the food stamp program at any time that any able-bodied work eligible adult member of such household is on strike as defined in the Labor Management Relations Act … because of a labor dispute (other than a lockout).
Wow. Sounds cold-blooded. Allegedly, the rationale behind the legislation is to get Americans off the welfare rolls and to pursue economic independence. How going after the family of a striking worker gets the household to greater economic independence is beyond me.
In all fairness, the bill is not going after families who were eligible for food stamps immediately before a strike, but allotments for these eligible families would not be increased as a result of the income lost by the striking family member.
On the surface and by its very language, the bill appears to be going after unions. There are probably more direct and effective ways of busting up unions, but let‘s give Mr. Jordan the benefit of the doubt and assume that this provision is intended to promote a social policy that prefers people stay off the welfare rolls and go to work. The question becomes, how effective will this provision be in promoting working over welfare.
First, I don’t see the provision creating any new jobs. Remember, these people are already working, but are facing a number of labor issues that they believe may be resolved through striking.
Second, the provision will likely help maintain the status quo. There is a higher likelihood that workers, when faced with a classic maximin or worst case scenario decision, will choose to stay on the job. For example, were the bill to become law, the opponent’s (in this case the government) strategy will be clearly known: strike, and I deny you benefits. Don’t strike, and you still don’t get benefits, unless you qualified prior to the strike. Even you do qualify, your benefits will still be reduced.
On a scale of zero to one, there is probably a 0.75 probability that the worker will not strike and at least a 0.50 probability that the government will not have to pay out benefits. A true measure of effectiveness will be the change in the number of strikes that are called for. Only time will tell.
In the meantime, though, we are left with the question, just because government can do something, and that something may be effective, should government do it?