Unions and Republicans

I am not a unionist.

Nor a communist, free-market economist, capitalist, Democrat, Republican, Liberal Democrat, Conservative, Liberal, or any other political label that you might wish to pin upon unsuspecting thinkers who dare to express an opinion on politics.

I very much dislike these labels — but that is for another time.

For now, it seems sufficient to say that I am not a unionist. I am neither the member of a labour union, nor do I offer unfettered, unconditional support for any labour union. That being said, I also recognise that unions play an important role in the dynamic between a large employer and its employees. When the ability of employees to unionise and bargain collectively is revoked, it is difficult to see it as anything other than a prelude to exploitation via the resulting power imbalance.

While preparing for this morning’s coffee, I discovered the article about Montana’s denial-of-global-warming legislation. And then I remembered the Planned Parenthood and Wisconsin Union articles I had recently read — too Google I went, to track down the relevant articles. When I wrote Wisconsin union into the Google News search bar … shock. The results were littered with right-wing, anti-union headlines. There were no neutral headlines (“Unions protest against proposed new Wisconsin law”), or left-wing headlines (“People of Wisconsin shut down legislature in response to proposal to take away rights of union members”). Instead, it was all right wing schlock.

Is this truly a representative sampling of today’s American media?

The top headline was Union bullies shut down Wisconsin legislature in effort to block fiscal reform. This is, of course, from a right-wing propaganda outfit — we have no idea how they manage to make the cut for “Google News”, nevermind end up at the top of the search results.

But the backwardness of it astounds us — those who invoke their legal right to protest a change in law are labelled as “bullies”, while those who are invoking the power of the state to restrict their ability to work and earn are the ones being “bullied”. We think that that the folks at the National Legal and Policy Center may need a new dictionary.

They even term the new law “poetic justice”.

The website heritage.org has slightly more balanced coverage, which makes it all a bit tricky. It paints the new legislation as painful, but needed, and the union members as ultimately clueless.

The problem with the heritage.org point of view is that the government is simply legislating these changes — they are taking away the workers’ right to negotiate, and replacing the deals in place with new deals via legislation.

This is fundamentally unfair.

If workers need to have their pay rises capped and contribute more towards their pensions, because their employer is in financial difficulty, this seems like a matter for negotiation between the employer and the employee. Legislating away collective bargaining rights and existing deals is not about addressing budget deficits, it is about attacking unions.

Renegotiating contracts and collective bargaining agreements is reasonable — although it would certainly still cause some outrage in certain quarters. Usurping a negotiating process in which you treat your employees with respect for one in which the employer changes their terms of employment on a whim, and the employee has no recourse?

It would be criminal, if the government were not the ones doing it.

5 thoughts on “Unions and Republicans

  1. I also don’t denigrate the concept of unions and collective bargaining. I’ve been a member of two unions. However, public sector unions are different and that’s what’s at issue here. I live in California where the unholy alliance between the public sector unions and a democratic legislature has led to the legislators buying union votes, campaign support, and contributions by kowtowing to demands for contracts that have given the state unfunded pension liabilities that make efforts to dig out of the financial hole that California is in without addressing these liabilities tantamount to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. I’m not as familiar with the Wisconsin situation so I can’t say the same considerations apply but it is true that Walker was elected governor and NEARLY (but obviously not quite) a 2/3 supermajority of Republican representatives were elected.

    If California had a similar law being considered that limited the ability of public sector Unions to torpedo California’s fiscal stability by using politicians they have in their pockets to commit to pension expenditures that are unsustainable and completely out of line with what is available in the private sector (who, after all, pay for these packages) I would support it.

    Of course, it can’t happen here which is why private enterprise is fleeing the state resulting in, to use an aviation metaphor, a graveyard spiral.

    1. I’m not certain why you blame unions and collective bargaining for California. I won’t pretend to know the intricacies of California’s politics and fiscal crisis, but bargaining is bargaining.

      If politicians are making shady deals for their contributors, they should be held to account — the contributor (be it a union or corporation) should not be vilified for its contribution.

      I realize that the real world does not usually work this way, but corrupt politicians in California and/or government negotiators doing a poor job does not make collective bargaining a bad thing.

      For public employees the state often has a monopoly (ie, is the only employer in their line of work), so employees cannot simply go work elsewhere. Collective bargaining is even more important in the public sector these days than it is in the private sector, where mistreated employees can always flee to a competitor.

      Finally, you seem to miss the point — the point is that the government legislation effectively cuts the pay of public employees, ensures that public employees never get a pay raise, and makes contract renegotiation illegal.

      That is little more than abusive.

      I don’t care how many votes Walker received — public employees are his employees, and this is no way to treat them.

  2. I certainly agree that shady politicians should be held to account for their shady deals. However, when shady deals are made, bot parties share the blame. The fact is that these politicians are elected with huge help from the Unions with whom they make these deals. When the defined benefit retirement programs are severely underfunded by the contributions supposedly made directly to trust funds by the employer for that purpose (and sold to the public under that pretense) the public is legally obligated under ERISA to fund the programs. No private sector employee has this type of protection and no private sector employer is able to not worry about trust fund contributions because a seemingly bottomless well of funds are available.

    Public employees (for whom, in general, I have a high degree of regard) will frequently complain that they could be making more in private enterprise and that this is why they need the retirement plans for which they bargain. Two points here: 1) This obviously implies that they contend that they COULD work in the private sector, which you stated was often not the case; and 2) most surveys for the last several years indicate that public employees receive higher wages than similarly employed private sector workers. This is, after all, the chief complaint of line workers when jobs are privatized.

    The legislation does not restrict the right of the employees to engage in collective bargaining for their wages. The reduction in wages comes from requiring the employees to be responsible for making whole the retirement trusts that inure to their benefit.

    1. I have not seen these surveys you mention. Do you have any links?

      And where have you read that the legislation does not restrict the ability of public employees to engage in collective bargaining? That is exactly what it does. Every news source I have read reports the same thing.

      But the best place to get the information is from the Wisconsin legislature. Quoting this document on the Wisconsin legislature home page:

      This bill limits the right to collectively bargain for all
      employees who are not public safety employees

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *