ON WISCONSIN

The past two weeks or so have presented us with the ongoing battle in Wisconsin over the future of that state’s employees’ unions. And the battle is over their future, not simply on whether they will be required to contribute to their pension and health care benefits.

Quite openly, though they will not use the words, Governor Scott Walker and his Republican majority legislature are trying to destroy these unions.

Now there are common misconceptions about unions and I want to set you straight. And the following words apply to unions in general not just the current Wisconsin dispute.

Those of you who believe we live in this utopia where workers can just pack up and leave their unsatisfactory jobs with no consequences are out of your freaking minds.

America has never allowed its workers that freedom. Sure there are some independent souls who manage to get by with that attitude but it’s a completely unrealistic scenarion for the vast majority.

All the power is in the employer. All of it. Absent certain legal conditions and absent an enforceable contract all workers are at-will. They can be let go by an employer with no reason or justification.

There is a gory history in this country of incredible abuse by employers and elected officials against workers. Some of thet is evident in Homestead. Much more of it is in the annals of west Virginia history where intimidation, random firings, beatings and murder were commonplace.

This link is the story of Blair Mountain.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Blair_Mountain

Until miners were organized by unions, death in the mines was as common as exhorbitant prices in the company store. Only because of union efforts in many industries were proper safety standards established and rendered enforceable.

NO, absolutely none, emplyers have ever established safety standards on their own without either union action, government fiat, or both. Absolutely none.

Unions helped build this huge mighty country. The existence of unions helped raise the pay of all workers,enabling millions of them to enter the middle class.

There is a myth that putting more money into the hands of the rich will create jobs. That is entirely Bullshit. Large corporations now are holding on to piles of cash. Are they hiring workers even as they have cash and are making near record profits? NO. TOTAL BS!

Did you know that the CEO’s of the top fifty companies having laid off the most workers last year received higher average pay than the CEO’s of the Standard and Poors 500? Where are the jobs.

Why is it that whenever a pro athlete signs a multi-million dollar contract there’s all kinds of moaning about how he isn’t nearly as valuable to our society as teachers, but when teachers strive to get a raise that still puts them at 1% of the athlete’s salary the community goes ape and complains about their millage rate?

And if you believe any union contracts are too generous to the workers in pay or benefits or work rules, who do you think negotiated these contracts? It was all the brilliant extremely high paid corporate executives or else your elected representatives. The unions didn’t merely impose their will and unilaterally force these contracts on anyone.

Quit attacking the unions!! They are not the root of the troubles in this country in economic terms or government budgetary terms. the main root of the economic problems and the budgetary problems both is the incredible greed of the rich who have an ever-increasing piece of the financial pie, and the politicians, often of both major parties, but more often Republicans who cater to this greed, start wars that are not only wrong and unwinnable but extremely costly, and keep making it easier through tax breaks and corporate giveaways (which, when given to the poor are called entitlements).

Tax the SOB’s at the top of the food chain. They pay lower rates today than at any time since the Great Depression. They are greedy, covetous bastards who have no concern for the welfare of this country and offer little but scorn and disdain for those unfortuantes who haven’t yet learned how to gamble with other people’s money, or government money, which is the same thing, and make their billions.

Let’s get some other things straight about unions.

There is no inherent right of workers to organize and demand collective bargaining.

The right to organize and the rules of the process were established under the Nation Labor Relations Act.

The NLRA does not grant the right to organize to federal, state or local government employees.

The National Labor Relations Board administers the provisions of the NLRA.

Whatever labor organizing is done on state and local levels is authorized under state laws. I am not aware of any states that allow subdivisions to authorize this themselves.

Whatever pay scales, medical insurance coverage, pension benefits, work rules, or any other terms of employment are in effect with unions either public or private are a result of the collective bargaining process.

Even in states that permit collective bargaining, public emplyees may not have the right to strike. Here in W.Va. there are two separate teachers’ unions that may participate in the collective bargaining process with county school boards, but due to some particular funding procedures, their power to negotiate pay and some other benefits is limited, and any strike is illegal.

NO union on any level of any type can simply impose pay, benefits and work conditions on their employers. These employers are either of presumably sufficient business acumen to negotiate effectively for their businesses or are elected officials (and their representatives) chosen by the voters because they claim expertise to run their political entity.

Ultimately each business or government entity has the power to simply cease doing business, throwing even union employees out of work. Often, since they have ample capital and/or available taxpayer dollars they can reestablish the same or similar business or department, often under a different name though it be otherwise identical in form and function.

The current movement in Ohio and Wisconsin and other states as well as in the private sector is not aimed at attempting to bargain better terms, regardless of whether contracts are in effect, but to utterly and totally destroy the unions. In the simplest terms that we all learned as children on our local playgrounds, they want to “take their ball and go home” because the game didn’t turn out the way they thought would happen.

Now am I going to defend all tactics and all negotiated terms of unions in this country? That would be stupid. Of course there are abuses or one-sidedness. N.J. has rules that permit an employee to retire, begin collecting a pensions immediately, then return to the same job with the same duties the next week, usually with a slightly altered job title and work description, but doing exactly the same thing they had been doing for the previous twenty years. In some cases they can triple-dip. But these terms were negotiated by the N.J. state government, not unilaterally imposed by the unions.

Complain all you want about the pay or benefits of union workers and feel free to advocate that unions accept sacrifice for their members as occurs elsewhere. But that is not what the Wisconsin governor and legislature are trying to do.

They are engaged in union busting just as vicious in intent, though not doing physical harm, as the employers who hired the Pinkertons, or the Felts Agency or hired goons with clubs and ball bats in Harlan County, or bribed local law enforcement or established private armies to intimidate and kill.

No one should support this immoral undertaking. Clamor all you want for reforms or renegotiations, but do not support this political thuggery.

Since states cannot ban unions in private industry, they adopt other tactics to limit their effectiveness. Popular particularly among Southern states where this is most prevalent, are Right-to-work laws.

In right to work jurisdictions a new employee in a workplace that is unionized is not required to either join the union or pay dues or otherwise financially support the union.

However, these workers, though not in the union, are entitled to the same pay and benefits as union workers.

On the other hand, the vast majority of Americans in the work force are “at will”. That means there is no contractual obligation, individually or with a union, or legal requirement such as civil service rules, for those persons to maintain continued employment for any period of time. Absent legally prohibited discriminatory actions, these people can lose their jobs for any reason or no reason at all.

Now, Wisconsin is at the fore of the anti-union movement. The governor has insisted that the workers in the public employees unions contribute a certain percentage of their income to their own pensions and also pay a part of their health insurance premiums, neither of which have the workers done previously. And that provision is part of the pending legislation to set the state budget.

But that same legislation also provides that in the future public employees’ unions may collectively bargain on one issue only and that is their pay. Moreover, any pay raises are capped at percentage determined by the hike in the cost of living. (COLA) Any agreement reached with state officials in excess of COLA will have to be submitted to Wisconsin voters for a referendum.

That will effectively end the unions. The right to collective bargain is the essence of a union’s existence and being hamstrung on issues for bargaining and a pre-determined cap on that, destroys that essence.

Now the Wisconsin unions have agreed to make the contributions asked. Governor Walker claims that the need for them to pay is to help balance the state budget. But how can that be his only goal of he won’t have the collective bargaining limitations removed from the legislation?

He’s a UNION BUSTER, that’s why.

Now, I offer a token of peace. In my own magnanimity I present a formula for resolving the union conflicts with the interests of the state to balance the budget.

I suggest that states approach collective bargaining in a different way. First, bring to the table an acknowledgement that the unions can play a vital role in the success of various state programs.

Next, insist that unions acknowledge their shared responsibility in ensuring that the state can afford the programs, and thus the employees, it does have.

Third is to demand reasonable terms for a contract that provide a decent quality of living for the union members with sufficient pay and benefits to make them proud to work for state X, and low enough costs so the taxpayers don’t feel rooked.

Fourth, negotiate reasonable rules for pensions that reward long-time dedicated service while preventing employees from double and triple dipping on the public payroll.

All of us have a responsibility to acknowledge that, no matter what our opinions of unions, their leadership did not suddenly descend from the Mother Ship omto their respective state capitals and unilaterally impose the pay and benefits they now enjoy.

There has been some argument that many state administrations kowtow to their unions in return for votes. That may be true. The perception is that unions, public or private, are more inclined to support Democrats rather than Republicans. That may also be true.

However, if the charge is that state governors have given away the store in sweetheart deals with unions, consider the states at the fore of the current battles or of interest for other reasons.

Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have all had Republican governors in office more than half of the past forty years. So if these contracts are ridiculous or unfair, governors from both parties share the blame, possibly Republicans more than Democrats.

And again, public union pay scales and benefits are only a part of the equation that determines the budget. If those are subject to referendum why not the contracts for fuel for state vehicles, or furniture for the governor’s office, or for that matter the tax breaks and incentives given to private corporations to encourage business?

Now strikes of public workers is an issue itself but removed from the collective bargaining process. A strike is the result of the failure of collective bargaining and is the strongest weapon at a union’s disposal.

I do believe it is fair to pass laws concerning the right to strike by public employees, so long as my other conditions set forth above are met.

Is that all some food for thought?

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