An Educated Man

Americans are pretty familiar with the success unions had in killing the U.S. auto makers, and manufacturing in general. Unfortunately, they're less familiar with the role that organized labor has played in making state and local government unsustainable.
WHILE working my way through college in the 1960s on a Ford assembly line in Michigan, I was a proud member of the UAW. My union had 1.5 million members. Its economic clout helped provide excellent wages and benefits, and it was one of the most respected progressive forces in the nation fighting for universal healthcare, civil rights, and workforce training, and fighting against poverty. Its political clout helped boost the national minimum wage, legislation not directly benefiting its own well-paid members.
Ah, the good old days - when unions managed to get workers more in compensation than the market would dictate! Thus begins Northeastern University Dean Barry Bluestone's op-ed in today's Boston Globe. So why is the UAW down to a third of its previous size?
It failed to press the auto companies to build high-quality, innovative cars that could compete with imports. Often, it insisted on job classifications and work rules that undermined efficiency and compromised the industry’s competitiveness.
Often? Like whenever possible? Every breathing moment, perhaps?
The UAW was not alone. Today, less than 14 percent of US workers are members of unions, down from 35 percent in 1955. With membership so low, private-sector unions have lost much of their power and the nation is losing a major force for progressive change.
Good news - a nice way to kick off the weekend reading a piece like this!
Will public-sector unions follow the same path? Nationwide, these unions represent over 35 percent of federal, state, and local employees, roughly the same as in 1980. Over the years, they have won improved wages and benefits for their members. Yet the leaders of many of these unions, particularly in Massachusetts, seem to be setting the stage for the same kind of deterioration we see in unions like the UAW.
Unions seem to be repeating history? Leave it to a professor. Unions, through their partnership with the Democratic Party, have made it impossible for municipalities to make ends meet.
Teachers unions refuse to make changes in work practices that could help improve the chances of children succeeding in school. Police unions fight against lowering the cost of details at construction sites. The MBTA union and others representing transport workers lobby vociferously against reforming the state’s transportation system. Municipal unions refuse to permit their local communities to join the Group Insurance Commission that would save their towns millions without compromising the quality of their members’ medical care.
That's right, professor. Unions are organizations which destroy productivity, create a hostile work environment between management and workers, and which force workers to think about getting, not giving. How did the obvious make its way into your consciousness?
As a result, between 2000 and 2008, the price of state and local public services has increased by 41 percent nationally compared with 27 percent in private services. Even in the face of the worst fiscal crisis in decades, many state and local union leaders refuse to consider a wage freeze that could help preserve more of their members’ jobs.
Could we be so blessed to have reached the point that the unions have bled the system dry - that the host organism has been brought so close to death that the leaches will be pulled off?
Such action is rapidly losing the support public-sector unions need to survive. Union leaders may think that by working diligently to elect friendly public officials, they can fend off the day of reckoning. But that day is fast approaching. Citizens, and ultimately their elected representatives, will increasingly object to tax increases to pay for what they see as bloated union contracts and poor public service.
Hallelujah! But just when I think the professor has figured it out, he laments the inevitable demise of the destroyers!
This will be a tragedy. To move in a different direction, we need to think about a new “grand bargain’’ between public-sector unions and government. Union leaders in the state need to consider ways to work collaboratively with public officials so as to offer quality public services at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer while preserving union jobs for their members.
Here's the grand bargain. Pay people what the market demands, no third parties involved to skim workers wages and use the money to bribe politicians, merit pay for teachers, self-funded retirement programs, make it easy to fire those who don't produce... and on and on. It's so obvious that even an educated man should be able to figure it out. By the way - Card Check, one of the most ill-timed and malicious union proposals to come along in years, has died in the Senate.
The so-called card-check provision — which senators decided to scrap to help secure a filibuster-proof 60 votes — would have required employers to recognize a union as soon as a majority of workers signed cards saying they wanted a union. Currently, employers can insist on a secret-ballot election, a higher hurdle for unions.
Was Card Check ever a serious proposal, or was it on the table to make it's replacement more palatable?
In its place, several Senate and labor officials said, the revised bill would require shorter unionization campaigns and faster elections. While disappointed with the failure of card check, union leaders argued this would still be an important victory because it would give companies less time to press workers to vote against unionizing. Some business leaders hailed the dropping of card check, while others called the move a partial triumph because the bill still contained provisions they oppose.
The fight for American values continues.