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Monday, February 28, 2011

Union Bile Runneth Over

“Certain business leaders may consider "big government" or socialism more of an immediate threat to their interests than communism. Are they allowing themselves to be deluded by their own propaganda to the effect that organized labor in this country is in favor of big government or the nationalization of industry?

Nothing could be further from the truth. The main function of American trade unions is collective bargaining. It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government. Unions, as well as employers, would vastly prefer to have even Government regulation of labor-management relations reduced to a minimum consistent with the protection of the public welfare... — George Meany, President of the AFL-CIO in an article he wrote for Time Magazine, December 4, 1955

The quote shown above is an excerpt from an article written by George Meany, the president of the AFL-CIO virtually on the merger of the two unions — the CIO being affiliated with industrial workers and the AFL with trade unions. Meany believed that public sector workers should not be unionized as they had special status under the civil service laws and were different than the workers he represented that had no such protections.

I have used the quote by Franklin Roosevelt regarding public sector unions several times. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, like the overwhelming majority of Americans today, opposed public sector unions. See below the full text of FDR's letter to Luther C. Steward, President of the National Federation of Federal Employees, of August 16, 1937. (In fairness I should point out that the New York Times reported that their New York Times/CBS poll shows a contrary result)

My dear Mr. Steward:

As I am unable to accept your kind invitation to be present on the occasion of the Twentieth Jubilee Convention of the National Federation of Federal Employees, I am taking this method of sending greetings and a message.

Reading your letter of July 14, 1937, I was especially interested in the timeliness of your remark that the manner in which the activities of your organization have been carried on during the past two decades "has been in complete consonance with the best traditions of public employee relationships." Organizations of Government employees have a logical place in Government affairs.

The desire of Government employees for fair and adequate pay, reasonable hours of work, safe and suitable working conditions, development of opportunities for advancement, facilities for fair and impartial consideration and review of grievances, and other objectives of a proper employee relations policy, is basically no different from that of employees in private industry. Organization on their part to present their views on such matters is both natural and logical, but meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government.

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.

Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable. It is, therefore, with a feeling of gratification that I have noted in the constitution of the National Federation of Federal Employees the provision that "under no circumstances shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government."

I congratulate the National Federation of Federal Employees the twentieth anniversary of its founding and trust that the convention will, in every way, be successful.

Very sincerely yours,

[To] Mr. Luther C. Steward, President, National Federation of Federal Employees, 10 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C.

Source: John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters, The American Presidency Project, Santa Barbara, California.

You can see by Roosevelt’s letter that he was strongly against collective bargaining rights for public sector workers. He was also against the militant actions the teachers and their union supporters are carrying out in Madison, Wisconsin and other cities throughout the nation.

At some point in the past 30 years with the declining membership in the legitimate industrial and trade unions the leaders of these unions egan recruiting public sector workers for membership in their unions. This all began in New York City, in 1958, when Mayor Wagner issued an executive order allowing city workers collective bargaining rights. This escalated across the United States to Wisconsin in 1959 and California in 1978. The 1978 Dill Act, promoted and signed into law by Jerry Brown, granting union rights to public sector workers was the first big step along the road to financial disaster for the State of California.

nazi_wisconsin_signThe Boiling Over of the Liberal Mind is on full display these days, and it is not a pretty sight. Union protesters in Wisconsin compared Gov. Scott Walker to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and other tyrants. A sign showed him in a Nazi salute and screamed, "Heil Walker." Another said, "Hitler, Stalin, Walker." Still another showed a swastika next to his name.

New York unions also reached back to World War II, although with a twist. "Wisconsin: Our Pearl Harbor," wrote John Samuelson, president of the local Transport Workers Union, which represents transit workers. He railed against "enemies of labor and democracy. But Paul Krugman proved himself the master of disaster comparisons. The bid to trim union power reminds the excitable New York Times columnist of the invasion of Iraq.”

Wherever you look, the bile runneth over. Beyond making fools of themselves with juvenile comparisons, the "social justice" crowd is inadvertently proving that public-sector unions are a privileged class. Touch them and you die from a thousand insults.

One Democratic congressman wanted the real thing. Rep. Michael Capuano of Boston said Wisconsin protesters should "get a little bloody" to protect bargaining rights.

He later apologized, but too late to rescue the era of civility President Obama urged after the Tucson shooting. Civility doesn't stand a chance against the entitlement culture of unions and their political puppets.

What makes the responses so irrational is that there is an obvious problem. Many states and cities are dangerously deep in debt, thanks in part to union payrolls and pensions. Washington hangs on by virtue of its printing press.

It's not as though American governments don't spend enough. Taxes go up nearly every year in most jurisdictions, yet it's never enough to keep pace with the spending.

The emergence of the Tea Party movement was precisely on this point. Demonized by the mainstream media, which trolled rallies for signs of racism and Hitler, members took their wrath to the ballot box and won a historic victory.

Instead of accepting that verdict, the unions and others seek to delegitimize new governors like Walker by calling him a fascist and a Nazi. The running and hiding by Dem lawmakers adds an element of farce, their empty chairs a potent symbol of their impotence.

Such nonsense is not likely to stop the movement to put the "public" back in public servant. Poll after poll across the country shows most people understand the relation between government bloat and expensive union contracts, which give workers a richer life than the taxpayers they supposedly serve.

There is a danger that Republicans will repeat the mistakes of Democrats and overreach. But Obama and his allies in Congress and states like Wisconsin don't have much standing to demand compromise after they acted on straight partisan votes. (Remember Obama’s quip “John, Elections have consequences”). Had they exercised a modicum of restraint, Washington and the states would be in a better fiscal position and Dems could have created a model of bipartisanship that Republicans would be pressed to follow. But they didn't, and now are finding that payback is a bitch. The least they could do is take their medicine like adults.

The Late Irving Kristol wrote in 1974: "The average politician of today sees it as his role to gratify the appetites of the people, to liberate them from deprivation, as we say. The truly creative politician of today is more 'far-sighted' in that he discovers new and original deprivations, popularizes them, makes them keenly felt. 'What have you done for us lately?' is now assumed to be the absolutely proper question for the citizen to address to his representative who, in turn, frantically speculates as to what he can do for them tomorrow. What this means, quite simply, is by the traditional stands of republican political philosophy, American politics today is the politics of demagogy, the politics of bribery."

David Denholm writes in the Washington Examiner that public sector workers have no rights to collective bargaining. In his OpEd piece he states: “Protesters in Madison, Wis., and Columbus, Ohio, are defending the "right to collective bargaining." Guess what? There is no right to collective bargaining. Collective bargaining is a legislated privilege given to unions by friendly lawmakers.”

“The federal courts have been very clear on this. A federal district court in North Carolina put it quite eloquently in a decision upholding the Tar Heel State's law prohibiting public-sector bargaining, saying, "All citizens have the right to associate in groups to advocate their special interests to the government. It is something entirely different to grant any one interest group special status and access to the decision-making process."

“A law granting public-sector unions monopoly bargaining privileges gives a union, a special interest group, two bites at the apple. First, it uses its political clout to elect public officials. Then it negotiates with the very same officials.”

“When you consider that between 70 and 80 percent of all local government expenditures are personnel costs, you begin to get an idea of the magnitude of the power such laws give unions. Not only is there no right to collective bargaining in public employment, it is wrong. Collective bargaining distorts and corrupts democratic government.”

Denholm continues: “Government is inherently a monopoly. If you don't like a decision of government, you can't check with the competition to see whether you can get a decision more to your liking. Business, on the other hand, is competitive. If you don't like the cars being made by one manufacturer, you can check with another to see whether you can find one you like better.”

“In business, the bottom line is dollars. No matter how politically popular a business decision might be, if it bankrupts the company it is a failure. In government, the bottom line is votes. No matter how financially ruinous a decision might be, if it gets you re-elected, it is a success.”

“More importantly, government is sovereign, while all other institutions in our society depend on free choice. Sovereignty is the right to use force to enforce decisions. We may not think about it in our everyday lives, but lurking in the background behind every government rule or regulation is the fact that government has the right and the power to use force to enforce it.”

“We might resent that when it comes to things like taxes, but we need it when it comes to things like murder and mayhem. A sovereign institution might choose to seek input from interested parties about a decision, but when the decision is made, it is the law.”

Public-sector collective bargaining was a creature of the social revolution that took place in this nation in the '60s and '70s. It was the wrong thing to do, but unlike many other mistakes it created a very powerful institution that will fight furiously against any effort to repeal or reform it. That's what's happening now in Wisconsin and Ohio and in many different ways in states all around the nation.

haight-hippieIt’s nearing two weeks since unions and their cohorts on the Left have thrown a nationwide fit over Scott Walker’s solution to what is ailing Wisconsin. Unions and Democrats have made Wisconsin their cause célèbre by deploying Organizing for America (OFA) astroturf, the big talking heads, as well as recruiting just about every known Grateful Dead concert attendee on their mailing lists into Wisconsin. Meanwhile, Democratic state senators (now humorously known as “fleebaggers”) comically continue to hold the state hostage over an issue of union power, politics and money—nothing more and nothing less.

Despite unions’ long hatred of Scott Walker, the new governor is moving to address both the symptoms of the disease and the disease itself—the public-sector union scheme that has molested Wisconsin’s taxpayers and their children by gaming the system. Unions like Wisconsin’s teachers’ union [WEAC] (which was Wisconsin’s biggest-spending lobby in 2009) have been extraordinarily adept at fixing the system through spending millions to elect politicians who, in turn, reward the unions at the expense of the taxpayers.

Now, in response to Walker’s proposals, the Left has gone overboard in their attempt to protect their stranglehold on Wisconsin taxpayers. Even though unions have made clear that their fight is not about their wages or benefits (they’ve offered concessions), they’ve made the fight all about their “right to be unionized” and the fictitious right to “collective bargaining”—which makes their cause even more despotic.

In making Madison into something reminiscent of the spectacle of the 1960s, unions, Democrats and their liberal cohorts are attempting to make the Wisconsin union battle into a civil rights battle, when it is not. In fact, the Wisconsin fight, when compared to private-sector negotiations is about: 1) the Scope of Bargaining, 2) Union “Income” Security [Right-to-Work vs. Forced Dues], 3) whether Wisconsin should be the unions’ dues collection agency [payroll deduction of dues], and 4) whether public-sector unions should be ‘recertified’ by holding elections every year.

Contrary to the Left’s hyperbole, Scott Walker’s proposals do nothing to eliminate public-sector workers’ right to association, assemblage, or to petition their government. Even pretending that it is a “rights” issue is a mistake. There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that requires a government to engage in a back and forth negotiation with a collective of workers.

As Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour explains: “When they have collective bargaining in Wisconsin, on one side of the table there’s state employee unions or the local employee unions. On the other side of the table are politicians that they paid for the election of those politicians,” Barbour said. “Now, who represents the taxpayers in that negotiation? Well, actually, nobody.”

Admittedly, Governor Walker’s proposals are a threat to unions in several ways. As Walker’s proposals determine:

  1. The extent of what unions will be allowed to bargain about. Walker’s proposal limits bargaining to wages only, effectively eliminating the WEA Trust monopoly which gets its money from local school boards and runs it through a union-run insurance company.
  2. Whether unions can have workers fired for not paying union dues. According to its most recent financial record on file, WEAC (the teachers’ union) raked in over $25 million in 2009. Walker’s proposal makes paying union dues voluntary, as opposed to mandatory. This goes to the lifeblood of any union. If, for example, 20% of those teachers who are currently required to pay union dues as a condition of employment opt out, WEAC could lose up to $5 million a year in revenue. [It is noteworthy that, in the private-sector, the SEIU will be conducting its second strike at a Pennsylvania medical center over the issue of mandatory dues.]
  3. Whether the state will continue being the unions’ dues collector. Walker’s proposal eliminates’ the employers’ payroll deduction of union dues. Again, while it is commonplace for unions to negotiate payroll deduction, there is nothing anywhere (in private or public sector law) that states that it is an employers’ duty to be a union’s collection agency.
  4. Whether the unions will have to ‘re-certify’ every year to maintain representational status. Of all of Walker’s proposals, this seems to be one that could be considered a ‘throw away’ item in negotiations. If Walker’s other proposals get enacted, and union-represented employees feel that the union is worthless, they can initiate an election themselves every calendar under existing law [see Section 111.83(5)[h]] .

Governor Scott Walker addressing the people of Wisconsin
Given the ability of the unions and their co-conspirators on the Left to hijack the issue in Wisconsin over these last two weeks, there appears no way for a “win-win” compromise to be worked out. One side or the other will win. Either the unions and the Left, or taxpayers will prevail.

If the Left wins, all chances of reforming public-sector unions will be tossed aside by weak-kneed Republicans who will then be held hostage by temper-tantrum throwing Democrats (see Indiana for example). In addition, the Left has already painted the entire Republicans party with bulls eyes and has for years. Therefore, there is no reason for GOP governors like Scott Walker, Chris Christie and John Kasich to back down, which puts the Left in an untenable situation as well.

In the meantime, the disciples of Saul Alinsky will continue their prattle, attempting to convince America that the Battle of Wisconsin is something more than a fight over union power, politics and money…even though it’s not.

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