Thursday, October 20, 2011

Union bashing

A very good friend of mine protested on another friend's Facebook page with respect to Issue 2: "I'm so sick of union bashing." The friend who wrote that is a retired teacher, who undoubtedly sees the union as a protection in what has become a very stressful profession.

I firmly believe in the right to organize and to collectively bargain. There are occupations that often need a union to protect its workers from being abused by poor managers. I have cited corrections guards as a strong example within Ohio state government (see third bullet point here).

However, there has to be a balance of power. A union that is too weak is ineffective. A union that is too strong becomes a parasite that slowly kills its host (for example, much of the American auto industry). When wages and benefits negotiated by unions become more costly than the company or taxpayer can bear, they have to be cut back, no matter how much its members dislike the fact. In the government of a free society, the will of the taxpayer must always be paramount.

I understand that the original Republican motivation for SB 5 was to "bust the union," and from a Republican political point of view, it is not hard to understand why. Everyone who seeks power wants to get rid of their strongest adversaries. Democrats do the same thing when they inconsistently try to limit corporate campaign contributions without imposing the same limitations on unions.*

A union should not force workers who do not wish to join the union to pay the "fair share fee." I get that, in a way, this is unfair to the union, because non-union workers benefit from collective bargaining -- though that could be remedied by removing non-union workers from the protection of the union. For example, non-union members could be exposed to the same rules and grievance procedures as their supervisors. The point is, that by creating union shops, the unions develop power structures that are unaccountable to their own members and constituents. If the union had to work to increase its membership, or even keep the membership it has, it will be more attentive to the needs of all its members, and will greatly increase its attractiveness to non-members as a result.

If Republicans really want to bust the public employee unions, they should work for state and local governments that are so well managed that employees will not want to join a union. That strategy has clearly worked in private enterprise, as evidenced by the decline in union membership in the last thirty years. I cannot believe that it could not be applied to government, given enough creative thinking and hard managerial work.

* It is inconsistent because in both cases campaign contributions are being taken out of funds that were acquired with the understanding that they be used for a different purpose -- the unions for collective bargaining, workplace protection, and in some cases benefits; the corporation as capital or revenue from sales. I favor campaign finance laws that prohibit all contributions, except from individuals living within the candidate's district.

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