Mixed emotions on unions, but union or not, most of us are workers and receive at least indirect benefits from unions; A segment of society wants to kill unions…

At the rate technology is advancing the whole battle between labor and management might in the not-so-distant future be over a moot point, because there may be little to no need for workers — only a slight exaggeration or maybe not.

I don’t watch television anymore, but I hear a computer was able to out-think contestants on Jeopardy, and I have read about robotic computers that do everything from wait on tables in China to teach school In Japan. And I know that in Asia there was an experiment with a driverless truck run over the roads by remote control (that hits home; I’m a truck driver).

But until this all comes to pass for real — and when it does civilization is over — the fact is that most people are workers.

It seems that many of the people who run businesses, be they the owners or CEOs, and others who live off of their investments and don’t report to a regular job have great disdain for lowly workers and think they should have no rights and take what their masters hand them out of benevolence.

(Remember that the old line on the plantation was that the masters took good care of their workers — black slaves — and they really had things better off than if they were on their own — oh sure the masters occasionally had to whip them into shape, but…)

I don’t know, maybe none of us should work for anyone else. Maybe each and every one of us should be independent contractors. Would we have rights in the eyes of business people then? (And I know they like to pretend some hourly employees are independent contractors to get out of paying regular wages and benefits, but I’m talking about real independent contractors — not working for anyone else as a mere employee).

In my last post I mentioned that public workers have had clout because the politicians tend to cater to them to take advantage of their voting block.

And currently the issue of unions and collective bargaining is in the news because the governor of Wisconsin and the state’s Republican lawmakers want to strip state workers of their collective bargaining rights, ostensibly to make it easier for the state to balance its budget. Several other states are considering such a move and even more may well follow — it’s a trend.

And I just read that a bill to eliminate the requirement that federal construction jobs pay the so-called prevailing wage (actually the higher union wage) was introduced but defeated in Congress. The argument for repeal of the current law was that it favored larger union contractors because smaller contractors could not compete and that inflates the costs of public projects. That may be essentially true (but then again, some small-time operators do not always do quality work and many skimp on safety, especially when they don‘t have the union looking over their shoulder).

But the battle in Wisconsin is over collective bargaining. Workers in the United States in private industry have a right to collective bargaining through a 1935 law, the National Labor Relations Act.

I’m not sure that all states allow their government employees the right to collective bargaining — and we are talking union representation here really — but many do. President Kennedy signed an executive order giving federal employees a right to collective bargaining. 

I do recall how President Ronald Reagan fired all the air traffic controllers after they went out on strike (that‘s a public safety issue, I think, that I address a  paragraph down).

I’m of mixed minds on labor unions in general and public employee unions.

I don’t think public safety employees should be allowed to strike, because that would endanger the public, and I am not even sure I think any public employee should be allowed to strike (and the threat of a strike is part of collective bargaining). My rationale is that it is the citizens’ government, so if you strike and disrupt the work of the government you are going against the best interests of the citizens as a whole.

For that matter I am not too hot on mandatory union membership, or the “closed shop”. Some states have so-called right-to-work laws that prohibit a worker from being required to join a union. But then one wonders, would a non-union member turn down higher wages bargained through a union?

But it does seem to me that no one should have to give part of his or her pay to a union. And I don’t like the idea of a union as a third party in the employee-employer relationship if an individual has not asked for it.

And I don’t like the idea of unions interfering with the conduct of a business. I don’t think that those who run a business, be they small or huge enterprises, should have to go through a union to tell them how to conduct their own business. Taking the hard line, I would say if you as a worker don’t like what you are getting the best option is to move on — easier said that done, I know, in many cases. And that may be a reason why young people should get as much education and wide-ranging skills as they can so that they can take advantage of the best that is being offered.

(Sometimes employees band together and buy a business. Well how does that work? If they do not do a good enough job do they fire themselves? Just wondering.)

There is a paradox here of sorts, though. Even if you as a worker are not a union member, it may well be that whatever wage and benefits you earn, they would be far lower if unions did not exist.

In the past at least, some industries or individual factories or firms have kept wages and benefits up just to discourage their employees from unionizing.

Currently I work as an over-the-road or long-haul truck driver as a company driver. Contrary to popular belief most or all long-haul drivers are not members of the Teamsters or any other union. But a few years back I worked for a trucking company that had both union and non-union terminals. I worked for a non-union terminal. We non-union drivers were paid as much or more than the union drivers (although they had some different work rules) and our benefits were as good or better, and we did not have to pay the dues. I can only think what was going on there was that the company was glad we were not unionized and that they were not hamstrung by unnecessary work rules and wanted to keep us happy — and as far as I am concerned, they did, keep us happy (and of course it is easier to cut wages when times are not so good when you don‘t have to deal with a union). 

But then the Great Recession hit. There was a lot less work and some of the older drivers got nervous and they did the card check thing (I was no longer with the company then, but another driver told me). The union was able to get enough drivers to sign union cards, thus forcing even the ones who did not want to unionize to be dues-paying members of the union. Ironically, the former non-union drivers who were paying nothing for their health insurance now have to pay for it through the union.

On the other hand, those union drivers make a lot more than I do now. If I had to support a family on what I make, well, I could not do it (and now I qualify or amend what I just wrote in this sentence in Add 2 at the bottom of this post — you can read it if you get that far; I do go on at times).

And that is really what it is all about. There is a certain segment of the society that wants to destroy the rights of workers to make a decent living and along with it they will destroy the middle class (and once the middle class is gone we are a third-world country without a real democracy). There is another segment of society that goes along with them because they are ignorant of the fact that the so-called conservatives whom they support really have no concern for the workers.

In some cases it might be argued or even proven that unions have run companies into the ground. But if a private company fails, some other business will come along to fill the gap.

If the government comes to a standstill over union pressure, no one can fill the gap.

Government employee unions have too much clout. In California where I live the most egregious example is the prison guard union (on one radio talk show I listened to a prison guard called in and complained that it was false that guards made $100,000 per year. He actually stated point blank: “no guard is making $100,000 per year“. Strangely he went on and contradicted his own statement, admitting, or at least claiming he made $100,000 per year via overtime, and admitted that many or most of the guards work overtime. Why the state does not hire more guards if so much overtime is required is a question (I think it is true, though, that the prison guard union supported the three-strikes law that has swelled the prison population).

But all government employees are not necessarily overpaid and it is too bad that they have to all be lumped together.

I think the concern among reasonable people is that in some sectors salaries and benefits have far surpassed the private sector and at a time of tight budgets the taxpayers (and that is all of us) need some relief.


ADD 1:

Just scanned over some stories on the web that suggest that what is going on in Wisconsin and elsewhere is more about scapegoating on who’s at fault for the respective budget crises (I’m sure it is a shared blame among the politicians, government workers, and don’t forget the voting public who demands everything but fails to see the need for higher taxes, always attributing increased costs to waste).

Also I read about a poll that shows the majority of Americans think that the government spends too much overall, but start listing specific programs and they don’t want them cut. Same with unions. In the abstract they are bad. But begin listing ones people belong to or their neighbors belong to, they are not anti-union.

Public school system teacher salaries are wide ranging depending upon the different localities and states and time in service, but I think it is safe to say that they probably range from as low as $36,000 (lower?) to into the 90s, but with most probably in the 40s to $50,000. And a California prison guard — no college required — can pull down $100,000 per. I don’t know, but I think something is wrong here. I don’t think most beat cops make that much.

ADD 2:

Somewhere above I wrote that at my current rate of pay I could not support a family (those days are in the past for me anyway). But you know? a lot of people say things like that. The reality today, unlike when I grew up, is that mom has to work too — except that so many children grow up in single-parent households these days, and that puts extra pressure on those households because everything is based on the mom and dad both working model. But what I really want to say here is that people can do a lot with a lot less if they live within their means, but as a society we have grown accustom to living beyond our means and were ill-prepared for the Great Recession. We are so many generations into living beyond our means now that few people seem to have any concept of how to economize, except that maybe they learn when it is forced upon them — no actually they don’t, they go squawking to government while simultaneously showing disdain for government — and I realize these are not always the same people, but then again sometimes they are. It’s all very complicated and yet all quite simple at the same time: if we as a nation started living within our means and taking personal responsibility we would all be a lot better off and a lot stronger, and gee don’t I sound like a true right-wing nut? No, I’m middle of the road. I believe in free enterprise, social programs for the public good, environmental protection with practical but not excessive rules, and as much personal freedom as possible while maintaining civility.

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