Friday, February 25, 2011

A Conversation About Unions With My Brother

Posted by Southpark Diva

I recently sent my friends and family a link to a really excellent article concerning public unions from the Ludwig von Mises Institute. I prefaced the link with these words: "As a teacher, I am so grateful that I am not forced to join a union, nor do I work in a school that has tenure-track positions. I have to WORK to keep my job and produce RESULTS! And I contribute to my own retirement!"

To understand this blogpost, you really need to read the article. If you wouldn't mind taking a moment reading it? Thank you! Going on!

My brother, someone who is very liberal, had this to say in reply:

"Are you serious? Unions are all about collective bargaining and worker's rights. We all work to keep our jobs... oh, and this article is crap... did you take critical thinking and writing? Who says that the MAIN reason States are going bankrupt is government run monopolies and government unions - oh and why doesn't the article mention more about the monopolies? What about natural disasters? What about deficit spending on state run projects? What about corrupt budget practices. Stripping the unions power away from them will not make a government fiscally responsible. Break down why a specific state is going bankrupt and work to change that, don't take away people's rights. Look, I'm in the middle of working on reforming the way the USAF spends money and it's very painful, but we are doing it. (just wrote a multi-million $ federally funded contract that will put many people to work and defend our country from jerks that want to sell us out to wikileaks). The efficiency movement is under way... why mess with my public school teachers? I can't afford private school for my kids."

After some careful consideration, I replied:

"Yes, unions are all about collective bargaining and workers rights. And they make it far too easy for someone to NOT work efficiently and well and still remained employed! And it's often the taxpayer and the students who suffer in the cases of teachers. Why should a teacher be forced to join a union and give up a nice chunk of their paycheck for a union that does not truly represent them? Why should our children suffer when it is nearly impossible to get rid of a bad/immoral/etc teacher who has achieved tenured status? This happens a lot in public schools - elementary, secondary and university. I firmly believe that teachers should be given a choice as to whether they unionize, but far too many states do not give them the option. So they are forced to pay for a union that is more concerned with staying in power/business than with the welfare of the students and the teachers. And union leaders have freely admitted that if they do not force teachers to join, then many will choose not to join. Can't have that!

A big problem in our nation is the unionization of government jobs (i.e. teachers), because the government does not need to worry about the bottom line. They can continue to pull money from the taxpayer without producing results. We pour billions into our education, and yet it clearly does not make a difference. We continue to employ teachers who do not deserve to be employed, who do not produce results. Why is this? Because unions have made it very hard to get rid of someone. When a teacher is still collecting their pension after sexually harassing his students, something is clearly wrong. Or when that same teacher is still teaching! And yes, this happens far too often...

Unions can be held responsible for certain auto companies going out of business. They run contrary to the basic principle of "Return on Investment", and businesses suffer for it. In 2003 to 2008, those states with the greatest unionization had the least private sector job growth. Businesses suffer when unions hold the power, because they no longer base labor costs on the free-market system of supply and demand. This certainly happened with GM. The company should have been allowed to declare bankruptcy and get restructured. Instead, our government, who is very tight with the unions (Richard Trumpka, the president of AFL-CIO spends more time with the president than many of his cabinet members - he was just quoted as saying he is at the White House every day!) jumped in to save a company that should have been allowed to fail. And taxpayers once again foot the bill for a company that was not run efficiently.

And yes, there are other causes, but why do so many states run a huge deficit? Because they are being crushed by the large payroll of government workers (who make 45% more than the person in the private sector for the same job!) and of course those tasty pensions that the government (both state and federal) cannot afford. Why do we continue to hold the taxpayer and future generations of taxpayers hostages for wages and pensions that we can't afford? If we can't afford it, we need to cut it. Period. I'm sure you, as the head of your household, understand that. Do not pay for things you can't afford. And don't get started on the difference between micro and macro economics. I don't live in a Keynsian world where the key to reducing debt is to spend, spend, spend!

Unions have a strangle hold on our politicians and on the taxpayer. I'm not talking about the typical union worker, but the union bosses, who have an entirely different agenda. It's no longer about protecting the worker. It's about keeping themselves in power. Yes, unions once functioned to break the strangle hold of monopolies on the American worker. But now unions themselves are relying on the monopoly of the government to stay alive and in power. Remember that public union employees are protected, whether or not they produce results or have any real talent at their job. Status and pay are set in collective bargaining agreements, rather then on your actual performance, so why bother working hard? And it's pretty darn hard to get rid of someone who is not performing, so we just keep paying for inefficiency. And paying, and paying. Yes, there are workers who still take pride in their work, and there are teachers (many teachers!) who love their students and just want to teach and help educate young minds. But they are working in a system that does not reward excellence, but protects mediocrity. And often protects outright criminals! My own voice teacher has told me how many college professors work hard to shine, shine, shine....until they get tenure. And then they just sit back and do the bare minimum to stay employed.

And what about those private schools. If unions didn't have a strangle hold on our public education, school choice would be a reality all over the country and you could put my niece and nephew in private schools without paying any extra. Yes indeed. In fact, that was just killed in DC in 2010. God forbid a parent has the right to decide where to send his/her children to school! Instead, it was killed by politicians (yes, Democrats) who are in the pockets of teachers unions. Teacher's unions do NOT like school choice, since it means that parents just may choose a school where teachers aren't unionized. And these schools are often higher performing schools, since teachers must actually prove every year that they are doing a good job!

Of course, 38% of Congress chooses to send their kids to private schools, so they don't have to deal with the results of decisions they themselves have made on the behalf of teacher's unions.

And your arguments on other problems in the government? Well, you just stated a great argument for Tea Party ideas. Smaller government. In private business, corruption eventually is punished. Bad business practices are eventually punished. The system of the free market cannot sustain bad business decisions. Criminals get convicted and go to jail. If we are running a deficit on state-run projects, then shouldn't we step back and think maybe we can't afford these projects?

If unions lost some of their stranglehold on our politicians, perhaps our politicians might actually do something that is in the interest of the taxpayer, rather than in the interest of the union. Just a thought. Much of what is wrong with our government cannot be cured by decreased union power, but much of it can. Just take a look at Chris Christie, who is taking the union thugs in NJ head on and not backing down. He has frozen spending on many projects that the state just can't afford, and is working to release the strangle hold unions have on the state. And he was voted in, in a resoundingly blue state - the people finally realized that things just weren't working any more. Period.

Natural disasters? Like Katrina? Where the government and the people of the US pour millions into a reconstruction effort? Blizzards, where cities and states receive aid? And people pull together to help each other out? This is why we're going bankrupt? I think that perhaps it is more complex than that. Yes, natural disasters will always have an effect on business and on money in a state, but the free-market system, if it is allowed to run freely, will help reset things. Some businesses will increase as they provide goods and services to combat the troubles. Other businesses, such as the evil Wal-Mart, will step in to provide aid in many different forms. The great people of the USA will step in and donate time, money, physical labor, homes and prayers to those affected. All too often it is politicians who stand in the way of these moves. Let's not forget LA governor Blanco turning back the Red Cross...

Yes, our economic woes are a complex issue. But a very big part of it is certainly the unions. When a person no longer has to deliver results in order to stay employed - when they are collecting a large amount of money in pay and benefits when they are not performing, or have been fired - when the government is forced to pay for more for union labor than in the private sector, something is indeed wrong. Again, in the private sector, businesses (usually) will be allowed to fail if a union asks for more than the actual business can afford, but in the public sector, we just keep paying for bad business."

I haven't blogged in quite a while (since I got back from 8/28), but I thought it was time to share these thoughts. I am a teacher at a rapidly growing community college. Today in a faculty meeting, we discussed the possibility of hiring new faculty in the coming year, despite state budget cuts. One faculty member stood up and asked our interim dean to make sure that the new faculty coming in really understood our culture of Servant Leadership. Because that is how we do things at our school. We are there first and foremost for the student, and it shows. We work together to figure out the best way to serve our student body, rather than just hunkering down and doing the bare minimum to keeping our jobs. And no, we are NOT union, and yes, we DO have to contribute to our own retirement. Our pay is not great, but not horrible either. Many of us work overloads to make extra money (my husband and I are trying hard to pay off the bulk of our debt). In the end, we just want our students to succeed. I cannot consider myself a success if I am not working hard to ensure the success of my students.


Charlene said...

I know that wage and hour laws, OSHA working for safe working conditions, minimu wage, health benefits, 5 day work weeks, 40 hour week jobs and overtime, vacations, and on and on are the result of our ancesters who fought for the right to form and join unions.

Companies that go bankrupt or lay off masses of their workers are encouraged to do so by other laws and tax breaks given to them for sending jobs overseas. Oh, another factor is greed.

If you, as an educated person, thinks we will retain what has been fought and died for in workers' rights without unions, you are wasting your education.

South Park Diva said...

You forget that companies are under the watchful eye of the media and the public. When they begin to overstep the bounds of OSHA, minimum wage, etc., the media is there to expose them and make sure that the law steps in. This is one case where the media is still doing their job.

Your second paragraph is a bit confusing. Companies are encouraged to go bankrupt by laws and tax breaks? That seems a bit odd. Any links to support that?

I think you'll find that one of the main reasons US companies ship jobs overseas is because of cheap labor. Americans do not want to pay for goods made in the USA. A company could take the moral high road and pull production back to the USA. And they would go out of business. And here is another interesting link from FactCheck concerning the tax breaks/subsidies you mentioned:

Greed is always going to be an issue. People got so greedy that they took out home loans that they couldn't afford - and look where it got us. Greed will always be around and it will always eventually be conquered - in the free market with a truly honest media.

Let us keep the debate civil. While you may certainly disagree with me, it is no reason to insult my intelligence, or my use of my education. I do not malign your intelligence simply because you do not see things as I do.

Gringo said...

Who says that the MAIN reason States are going bankrupt is government run monopolies and government unions - oh and why doesn't the article mention more about the monopolies?

Apparently he hasn't bothered reading about the unfunded pension problem in the state of California.

Charlene: Unions didn’t do much good for Detroit, did they?

As a contract employee, my attitude towards raising my taxes to maintain union-mandated wages and benefits is rather negative. Most government union employees have better wages and benefits than I do. Most government union employees have a lower level of skills and education than I do.

We find out the following from Table 10 from the BLS website: From 1979 to 2006, the percent of hourly paid workers paid at or below the minimum wage declined from 13.4 % to 2.2%. Businesses didn’t need the feds to raise wages.