Tuesday, June 05, 2012

United We Stand

My thoughts are with Wisconsin today. 

While I consider myself a moderate who is all for cutting wasteful government spending, I don't understand how doing so entails banning collective bargaining rights for workers, public or private.  Maybe the Wisconsin legislators (and its governor) think that these rights pertain only to what workers are paid and that, by removing these rights, public sector workers will be forced to adhere to a market-determined payscale more in line with fiscal reality.  But then we have to face the fact that the Wisconsin legislators and governor are woefully misinformed about the full consequences of collective bargaining, consequences that extend far beyond the simple issue of pay increases and pensions.

You see, collective bargaining rights are what make sure that, when you are hospitalized, the nurse in charge of your medications and, really, your life, is not assigned so many patients that she can no longer do her job effectively.  Collective bargaining rights are what guarantee that your child will not be in a classroom containing more than, say, 25 students.  Collective bargaining rights ensure that the fireman who is trying to save your home is properly trained and fully rested.

These don't look like lazy public workers to me.
We would all like to believe that these issues would be addressed anyway, in the name of common sense.  But, when unbridled capitalism rules, common sense is not in charge.  Profit is.  Capitalism, while an excellent system for controlling the production and flow of goods and services, does need some boundaries; and mechanisms such as reasonable government regulation and collective bargaining provide those boundaries.

Are there corruption and abuses in unions?  Sure!  Hey, I grew up in NJ, for heaven's sake.  I spent my formative years reading about Jimmy Hoffa.  Go after corruption in unions, by all means.  But collective bargaining is not, de facto, corrupt.

 Are there employers who treat their non-unionized employees well?  Of course.  But one of the reasons they do so is because they have the threat of a union hanging over their heads, as it were.  My local grocery store pays its cashiers 10 dollars an hour, well above minimum wage.  Why?  Because it doesn't want its employees to become so dissatisfied that they band together and collectively bargain for decent wages and benefits.  Remove that possibility, and watch those wages fall.

I do agree with Jenn at Juggling Life that a lot of this enmity towards collective bargaining and other union rights stems from envy and resentment, resentment felt by non-unionized workers who are being shafted left and right by their employers. I heard one Walker supporter interviewed on the radio the other day.  She said, essentially, "These public workers have pensions and I don't.  Why should I have to keep on working hard and they don't?  That's not fair."

The question she should be asking is, "Why, after working all my life, do I have nothing and they have their pensions?"  And the answer would be that she did not have collective bargaining.  She had no rights.  She worked her butt off, with no guarantees ever.  And that is what is not fair.


  1. Well said. Collective bargaining seems very akin to our right to assemble, and I don't understand opposition to it. The true outrage here was sparked when workers agreed to pay more for health care and make the concessions the Governor wanted and he still worked to crush the unions. It's been horrible in particular watching teachers get demonized. The tension here is running so high.

    Off to vote.

  2. I nominate you as my official spokesperson on this matter.

  3. Amen. And i agree with your first commenter, teachers were particularly demonized - why? they educate YOUR children. Not everyone is rich enough to afford private schools.

  4. I especially applaud your last paragraph. I have heard that race-to-the-bottom argument so often.

    I also think the pension issue is so misunderstood. The guarantee of a pension was to entice capable people into low-paying jobs. This is true of teachers. Many teachers could take their education (particularly in the STEM fields) and make a lot more money. Convincing them to teach, at a much lower salary, is done through the guarantee of a stable retirement.

    Do Unions have political clout? Yes, but so do corporations. If you take away the unions, you remove the balance that keeps workers safe.

  5. AnonymousJune 05, 2012

    As someone who lives in Wisconsin, I do feel the rest of the country is misinformed about what is really happening here... I support Walker. If someone else thinks they can have the same fiscal results by doing something different, then they should step in. The clowns that are running against Walker are nothing more than puppets. One thing that is great that is gone now is tenure. Teachers (lazy at that) will not be guaranteed a teaching spot now. That is good! There are many more hardworking teachers out there that need and deserve a job so much more! In school (I graduated 8 years ago) we always knew the teachers who were "coasting" through. IDK.... If you don't live in our state and don't really, truly know what is going on aside from what the slanted media says, then you can't truly know what is going. Period.

    1. But this doesn't answer my main point. I understand that Walker instituted cost-cutting measures that were unpopular but that he (and many other people) deemed necessary. But what does that have to do with collective bargaining rights? Why wouldn't he have focused on salaries? Tenure is a hotly debated issue everywhere. In Washington, DC, unions recently worked with the Education Chancellor to improve a much-maligned tenure system. The methods with which Walker is choosing to deal with issues such as these are questionable and do belie a certain prejudice against organized labor. At least, that is how it looks from the outside. I fully understand the faults of unions. But I also fully understand what the world looks like without them. Most people nowadays have forgotten.

    2. Well, I do live in Wisconsin, and Walker is backed by rich, powerful people who want unions gone because they will profit by it. That's fine if Walker and his supporters think that's the way to go, but that's not what he ran on. We were blindsided.

      I see firsthand how hard the teachers at my children's public school work and I don't appreciate people suggesting they are lazy. Trying to strip them of the few rights they fought hard for was cruel and demoralizing. I resent that.

      I am irritated by the word 'puppet' as well, especially since Walker's been able to outspend his opponents in this election by 8 to 1. Money matters in elections which makes those impossible odds, and the majority of that money came from out of state.

      Okay, I'm trying to just let it be now. This whole thing has me on edge.

  6. AnonymousJune 05, 2012

    Beautifully said. As the wife of a union organizer (teacher's union, no less!) I can only concur - heartily!

  7. That was extremely well-said, particularly the bit at the end about the real unfair issue. I find it disheartenlng that our public discourse on these issues is so divisive. There is a huge tendency to demonized the other side, and no effort to find a common ground or meet in the middle. Personally, I try really hard not to demonize Chris Christie, but he makes that SO HARD!

  8. AnonymousJune 05, 2012

    You are a soul sister, SC. There's profound lack of common sense and the nasty rhetoric here has pitted people against each other--a lot of the rage is misdirected (cleverly).
    This post is brilliant.
    There were many ways to fix our fiscal issues without creating such division and anger--and unfair treatment.

  9. You know I agree--and I also love it when you tackle politics. The news I'm hearing of Facebook is not encouraging.

    I think this is the post you were thinking of: http://jugglinglife.typepad.com/juggling_life/2011/03/bullyvictin-mentality.html

  10. Amen. I grew up in Detroit and was raised on stories from my grandfather and great uncles about what it was like to work in the auto factories without a union. As a retired teacher, I know what it is like to go into the principals office at the end of the school year to negotiate your position and pay for the upcoming year. Thank you for this post.

  11. AnonymousJune 06, 2012

    I grew up in Wisconsin, but moved with my family after high school graduation. Since my college graduation a few decades ago, I worked as a corporate employee for several companies with unions and collective bargaining and several companies without the unions. My benefits and salary was a lot better with the companies without bargaining rights. Over the few decades I have maxed out on my 401K, taking responsibility for myself as a single and then married woman, and have a extremely nice nest egg set aside for my retirement. I did this on my own, without interference from the unions.
    I also now live in a state where the education system does not have bargaining rights and I don't hear the complaints that my WI family has several miles away. BTW, I went to parochial grade school, in WI, with 36 classmates and graduated in the top 10% of my class, because I took responsibility for my self, and relied on my own intellect and ability to get ahead, just like I am doing now as a corporate employee.

  12. I've worked in manufacturing for 25 years, for both union and non-union companies. As a salaried worker, my compensation has been fair in both kinds of businesses. I've seen one union that did a great job- protecting workers, and negotiating for pay and benefits- and another that did a lousy job--the union reps were more interested in using their 'union duties' to get out of doing work than in representing the interests of workers. I've seen employees treated fairly in both kinds of businesses as well.

    At the same time- I know my history. In the pre-union days, corporations did not hesitate to use their power over employees to maximize profits- our health and safety laws, standard 40 hour work week, and overtime pay- just to name a few- we owe to the presence of union organizers. I think Cassi has it exactly right- corporations have money and political clout- to keep them in check we need unions with money and political clout, otherwise individuals are left trying to resist corporate abuse without any backup at all.

  13. AnonymousJune 09, 2012

    I think it is also important to note that while we call it a teacher pension, it is actually their version of social security. In my state, teachers are not allowed to pay into social security. They pay into the teacher's retirement fund. Even if they work another job that does pay into the social security system, they are not allowed to collect any funds from social security without it negatively impacting the amount of their pension from the teadher's fund. Many people compare the teacher pension fund to a 401k and this is inaccurate. Teachers are able pay into a 403b. This is similar to a 401k in the business world. We need to be very careful how we compare these different funds so we are comparing apples to apples.