Today the feather I pull out of the featherbed is the meme that unions are the reason for our deficits and loss of jobs.
The conservatives claim that costs resulting from unions and their activities is the reason our country is in such an economic mess and the only way out is to break the unions. So, I pull this feather out of the featherbed of lies.
The governor of Wisconsin has issued an ultimatum: Break the unions or lose 6000 jobs. He claims that the deficit is so bad because of unions, and that unless the unions cave, public jobs will be on the chopping block. The claim is that if we no longer have to give in to union demands, all will be well with the world and the jobs will come back. He says their budget woes are the fault of unions. Nothing could be further from the truth. As was diaried earlier, the reason for the deficit was tax cuts for the rich and for large corporations. Now they want to make those gifts they gave to the well heeled and well connected be paid for by the hard working public service employees. “It is the unions’ fault that we are in financial trouble.” Let us examine this.
First – if corporations and wealthy persons paid the same share of their profits that the public sector and middle class pays, there would be a surplus. Without the recently passed tax cuts there would be a surplus. The argument made by Governor Walker is the same as an argument made by a person who gives a lovely present to a wealthy associate to impress the associate, then tells his children they have to go hungry because there is no money. Would the spouse put up with that? Of course not! So why should public service employees accept that? Why should the citizens? The fact is, their government was well funded before the corporate christmas present. It is a remarkable piece of chutzpah that they would give away the surplus and then accuse the unions for causing their problems.
Let us look at what unions do for us. Does anybody get paid vacation? That was the result of unions bargaining on behalf of their workers, then those benefits extending to non-union members. Health care? Same thing. Pensions? Ditto. What about a safe workplace? Unions. Workman’s comp? Result of union work. Reasonable hours? Same. NONE of those things would be on the American plate without the benefit of unionization and the protection of those unions on behalf of everyday workers. Are we prepared to give these things up in order to give goodies to corporations? I hope not!
Did exorbitant union contracts cause the financial mess? I am not convinced. I do know that even with these contracts, nobody lost jobs until Congress started giving tax incentives to corporations to hire overseas workers. It was a misguided attempt to give third world nations a seat at the table at the expense of the American worker. It was also a money grab by multinational corporations who paid for our congresspersons’ expensive election cycles. Did these union contracts include the derivatives and other silly financial instruments that collapsed under our past president? Not at all. That last was the major culprit in our financial mess, not the unions.
So the accusation is that unions protect the lazy and at high expense. Of course, anybody who lost a promotion because of seniority or experience will blame the union. It is normal human nature for everybody to believe he or she is performing better than the next person. But in fact, my experience observing a union shop indicates otherwise. Further, many of the union rules people chafe about were imposed by management during the bargaining process, and the unions accepted them in order to promote the good things we all look for and have come to expect.
Are most union members lazy? Not in my experience. And I have seen unions choose not to support a member who did not perform. Face it – workers, who are union members, do not relish picking up for lazy coworkers. If called in for a review, these coworkers will speak out about the person in question when the person deserves to be chastized. Unions keep their workers in line better than management does. Is there sometimes favoritism? Sure, unions are made up of people. But there is, in my observation, more favoritism when there is no union to watch out for it.
Do unions keep wages and benefits artificially high? It depends on what you mean by artificially high. Sure, they keep them higher than management would like. But management would like them artificially low. Unions make management justify cuts. When the corporation is raking in huge profits, it is only fair that those profits be shared with the workers. When profits drop, unions tend to understand market conditions and negotiate accordingly.
Here’s the deal: an individual cannot stand up against a corporation or large company alone. It is one person against a huge and impersonal thing. For all the Supreme Court’s declarations, corporations are not people. They don’t know the people who they employ. It isn’t Joe negotiating with Bob, his boss. The corporation doesn’t see Joe as a person. It sees Joe as a piece of machinery. As Seth Godin says in Linchpin,
You weren’t born to be a cog in the giant industrial machine. You were trained to become a cog…What factory workers want is compliant, low-paid, replaceable cogs to run their efficient machines.
That is the problem. The corporation sees people as replaceable cogs. Unions at least give a voice to these “cogs” by telling management that these are people who are not to be used up blindly and thrown away. Left to themselves, management uses the cheapest people possible in the cheapest environment possible and wants no responsibility for them on or off the job. If they are sick, management wants to ignore their sickness and if they can’t come to the job they don’t get paid. If the equipment is not safe, management wants them to go home and not get paid if they get hurt. When someone is all used up and ready to retire, management wants them to go away and figure out how to live the rest of their days. Management does not want to have to pay to let them get a breather, either for ten minutes on a shift (which they would rather was more than eight hours), or for two weeks in a year. Unions are the only way a person can get the human needs met. Left to themselves, management cares more about the good working order of their machinery than of the good working order of their workers. It is only because of unions that humans get “maintained.”
So would the work force be better off without unions? Certainly not. Would the nation be financially better off if they did not have to concede to unions? Perhaps, in the very short run (and I don’t even believe the perhaps). But in the long run, not only would quality of life decline for the workers, but for everybody. Quality of our goods and services would be trashed because of an overworked, undercompensated and demoralized work force. It is already happening as unions are weakened.
What is happening in Wisconsin is vital. What will be happening in Ohio will be vital. In 20 years, all the gains for the everyday American way of life – antitrust laws, employment laws, tax equity – have been eaten up by the ugly Reaganomics. If we allow the final dismantling of unions, the lifestyle of the average worker will return to the way it was pre-1900.
Unions don’t cost jobs. Tax incentives to send jobs where there are no worker protections cost jobs. Encouraging corporations to move the work costs jobs. The only reason the other countries have such cheap labor is because the people there have no other choices. They have no laws to ensure their children are not tied to benches making tiny stitches all day without even bathroom privileges or water nearby. They have no laws that the wages paid are enough to buy the food they need while on the job. They have no laws to ensure workers do not risk their health or lives on the job. Is our ability to buy cheap goods worth the ruin of people’s health and safety?
Unions are our last bastion against a corporatocracy where the only rights are held by meganationals and the only wealth is held by a few. Those who today are railing against unions are, in their ignorance, ensuring that the benefits they now take for granted become history. They sleep comfortably now thinking that taking those benefits from unionized workers will not be taken from them. However, they will be taken. They are already being taken. They will find themselves in a nightmare as this featherbed becomes lumpy.