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Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Power of the Minority

"The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service," — Franklin Roosevelt, in 1937 to the National Federation of Federal Employees.

Somewhere, Franklin Delano Roosevelt is grinning past his cigarette holder at Wisconsin's governor. They are on the same page regarding government unions.

Except that Scott Walker — Republican cheapskate, his visage Hitlerized on signs waved by beet-faced union crowds besieging the Capitol —is kind of a liberal squish compared to FDR. He's OK with some collective bargaining.

Walker, you might have heard, wants some changes in how Wisconsin deals with unions. He wants state employees to pay 5.8% of their salaries toward their pensions (they pay almost nothing now) and he wants them to cover 12.6% of their health care premiums (their share would go up from $79 a month to about $200; the average private-sector worker pays about $330).

Unions are enraged. They've been calling such increases unspeakable since Walker was handily elected in November. Then, Feb. 10, Walker went further. He'd allow public-sector unions to negotiate only pay, not benefits, mainly because he wants HSA-style health plans and 401(k)-style retirements for state workers, and unions would fight that, tooth and ragged red claw.

So unions erupted. Teachers faked illness in such numbers as to close school districts for days. Mobs beat on the doors of legislative chambers. And in some heavenly Hyde Park, the great liberal god of the 1930s is saying he saw it all along.

Roosevelt's reign certainly was the bright dawn of modern unionism. The legal and administrative paths that led to 35% of the nation's workforce eventually unionizing by a mid-1950s peak were laid by Roosevelt.

But only for the private sector. Roosevelt openly opposed bargaining rights for government unions.

"The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service," Roosevelt wrote in 1937 to the National Federation of Federal Employees. Yes, public workers may demand fair treatment, wrote Roosevelt. But, he wrote, "I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place" in the public sector. "A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government."

Roosevelt wasn't alone. It was orthodoxy among Democrats through the '50s that unions didn't belong in government work. Things began changing when, in 1959, Wisconsin's then-Gov. Gaylord Nelson signed collective bargaining into law for state workers. Other states followed, and gradually, municipal workers and teachers were unionized, too.

Even as that happened, the future was visible. Frank Zeidler, Milwaukee's mayor in the 1950s and the last card-carrying Socialist to head a major U.S. city, supported labor. But in 1969, the progressive icon wrote that rise of unions in government work put a competing power in charge of public business next to elected officials. Government unions "can mean considerable loss of control over the budget, and hence over tax rates," he warned.

According to a 2010 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union—was 11.9 percent, down from 12.3 percent a year earlier. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions declined by 612,000 to 14.7 million. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers. The report highlights four specific trends.
  • The union membership rate for public sector workers (36.2 percent) was substantially higher than the rate for private sector workers (6.9 percent).
  • Workers in education, training, and library occupations had the highest unionization rate at 37.1 percent.
  • Black workers were more likely to be union members than were white, Asian, or Among states, New York had the highest union membership rate (24.2 percent) and North Carolina had the lowest rate (3.2 percent).
You can view the full report by clicking here

What we have is less than 7% of private workers belonging to a union, while 36% of public sector workers belonging to a union, with the teachers having the highest rate of union membership at 37% — and growing.

In 2010, 7.6 million public sector employees belonged to a union, compared with 7.1 million union workers in the private sector. The union membership rate for public sector workers (36.2 percent) was substantially higher than the rate for private sector workers (6.9 percent). Within the public sector, local government workers had the highest union membership rate, 42.3 percent. This group includes workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as teachers, police officers, and fire fighters. Private sector industries with high unionization rates included transportation and utilities (21.8 percent), telecommunications (15.8 percent), and construction (13.1 percent). In 2010, low unionization rates occurred in agriculture and related industries (1.6 percent) and in financial activities (2.0 percent)

If you watch the news coming from Wisconsin you would think that public sector union membership represented the majority of American taxpayers. Well. It doesn’t. The reason the crowds of protesters is so high is that the unions have bused in thousands of their members from surrounding states to protest Gov. Walkers planned cuts.

There is also another and more malevolent aspect to the issue in Wisconsin. Fox News reports; “President Barack Obama and his political machine are offering tactical support, eager to repair strained relations with some union leaders upset over his recent overtures to business.”
President Obama with his buddy Richard Trumka

“The potent combination has helped fan the huge protests in Wisconsin against a measure that would strip collective bargaining rights from state workers. The alliance also is sending a warning to other states that are considering the same tactic.”

"I think it's a clear message," said AFL-CIO political director Karen Ackerman. "If you take on middle-class people and try to solve the budget crises on their backs, there's a price to pay. Many thousands of people will be energized to fight back."

“For Obama, stepping into a confrontation with a governor has its risks. The president is in a struggle of his own to tame spending, and siding with unions may cast him as a partisan even as he talks about setting a new tone in Washington.”

Nearly every major union leader — both public and private sector — has united behind an ambitious $30 million plan to stop anti-labor measures in Wisconsin and 10 other states.

The group at the new "Labor Table" includes AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka working with leaders such as Teamsters president James Hoffa. Until recently, the two barely were on speaking terms.

"There's nothing like the possibility of extinction to focus people's attention," said former Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., who spent more than a year trying without success to reunify the labor movement.

At the same time Congressional Republicans are accusing Obama of trying to muzzle governors who were making efforts to rein in government. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Obama was helping fuel "Greece-style" protests in the United States, a reference to the demonstrations that followed Greek efforts to cut government programs.

With unemployment at 9 percent, the public is not particularly sympathetic to public sector employees. "On the politics, we worry that this will be seen less as an attempt to help the middle class broadly and more as an attempt to help a union or an interest group," said Matt Bennett, a vice president at the centrist but Democratic leaning Third Way. "That does not have a deep wellspring of support among the middle class at the moment."

Fox News has an informal poll on their web site showing that 89% of those who voted support Gov. Walker. You can view the poll by clicking here.

What we have in Wisconsin is a small minority, getting more media coverage than they deserve, attempting to force tax payers to support their unjustified demands. They are children who have had everything they wanted for so long that when you attempt to take something away for the good of the family they throw a tantrum, and a tantrum is what it is.

They are spoiled brats that have had everything handed to them without having to work for it. They believe they have a right to 100% health care and guaranteed pensions. They claim it’s good for the children. That’s the old education claim that has forced the American tax payer to throw trillions of dollars down the rat hole of government education monopoly.

I am sick and tired of hearing about how wonderful teachers, firemen and policemen are. How about fishermen, loggers, farmers, and small business owners? They are not unionized and no one speaks for them. They go about their work every day providing us with goods and services and all the while the government workers are demanding more of their money. What about the teachers in the parochial schools that are not members of the NEA or AFT, but obtain 10% better results than their public sector counterparts?

I am tired of hearing how dangerous the occupations of police, firemen and corrections officers are. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics fishing and logging are the most dangerous jobs with police and firemen ranking 10th and 13th respectively.

If there was ever a time when this Republic needed the support of its non-governmental worker citizens it is now. If Gov. Walker loses this fight we will all lose. A very small minority of union workers have an unprecedented and undeserved amount of powers over the majority of Americans. Everything Roosevelt said about collective bargaining for the public sector is correct. We are paying the price for years of ambivalence towards these government unions and the influence they have through the power of forced collection of union dues from their members.

Walker, good Republican, is no FDR but he is offering Wisconsin a new deal. Wisconsin's been a seedbed of bad ideas since it hatched Progressivism, and for years it's stuck with unionized government even as the price swelled. Walker's radical shift is to try securing necessary government at a better price. The unions, whose model depends on making government labor as costly as taxpayers will bear, object.

May they be haunted by the ghost of the 32nd president, and his little dog, too!

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