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Outsourcing and PEDs: How Bottom Line Juicing Kills the American Worker

Business outsourcing is like Performance-Enhancing Drugs (PEDs), the much-balleyhooed substances that turn athletes into freaks of human strength and speed. Companies use outsourcing to juice financial results. Once one athlete used the drugs to get bigger, faster and stronger, the others faced a choice: fall behind, or do likewise to compete. It’s the same with business. Once the trickle offshore began — and firms saw costs plummet, while profits and stock prices skyrocketed — others raced for the exits. They had to get on the juice or get left behind.

Though eight thousand miles apart, the factory tragedies in Bangladesh and right-to-work laws in the United States — which deny unions the right to automatically collect dues, crippling their finances and ability to operate effectively on behalf of membership — are connected. As outsourcing drives down the standards for work worldwide, those lower wages and worker protections pull down the standards here — and the unions that uphold those standards.

Even abroad, unions are working for workers. From Bloomberg Businessweek:

Bangladesh, the No. 2 exporter of clothes to the U.S., is one of 125 countries that get duty-free status on thousands of products under a government program intended to cultivate economic development in struggling areas. India, followed by Thailand and Brazil, is the biggest beneficiary of the 37-year-old plan, dubbed the Generalized System of Preferences . . . The AFL-CIO, a labor-rights group that has long pushed for the U.S. to suspend Bangladesh’s participation in GSP, said in a statement that the Obama administration is sending “an important message” to trade partners. “The global workplace cannot be a deathtrap for poor workers producing products for the global economy,” the federation of unions wrote.

How far down the ladder is big business willing to push the American worker in the name of global competitiveness? How many rights, benefits and protections must be forfeited? How much hard-won dignity, battled over for generations, must unravel in the face of the onslaught, before business deems its costs in line with crashing worldwide norms?

Because hardworking people need a floor, below which they’re not going to fall. It’s unions that lay that floor. Without them, it would be a free fall. Is this the “free” choice states are giving their workforce with right-to-work bills?

Just ask the textile workers of Bangladesh.

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John Martin
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