Public Employee Unions

Public Employee Unions

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Public Employee Unions - Are They Necessary?

The raging debate across the midwest right now are the public employee unions. Are they breaking the states and cities across this nation with their out of control contracts and extra benefits for members? In Wisconsin, that decision appears to have already been made. Governor Scott Walker has all but decided he wants to curb public employee union power in the state of Wisconsin. The Wisconsin State Assembly passed a bill yesterday to reduce the power that their public employee unions have contractually right now. But, what is really at stake are the collective bargaining rights of the public employee unions. That is what this entire mob scene in Madison (and spreading to Ohio and Indiana now) is all about. State Democrats are holed up in Illinois so as not to give the governor the quorum he needs. They have refused to perform their sworn duties. Governor Walker has stated that if the measure he has set forth (a $165 Billion bond issue) is not passed by Tuesday, the state will begin laying off thousands of state employees by April Fool's Day, April 1. Protesters say they are willing to pay more toward their pensions and health care. But, under no circumstances will they give up their collective bargaining rights.

I'm somewhat torn on this issue of public employee unions and collective bargaining rights. I was a public employee union member for two years before I went into a management position in the federal government (from which I am now retired). The public union employee side of me can see where there is no union without collective bargaining. Management can do as they wish without having to worry with the restrictions of a contract. The problem there is that you have managers who will take full advantage of this. Just as an example, let's say you bid on a job that gives you weekends off. You have been waiting and waiting to get enough seniority to get that weekend job. You finally get that job, only to have a manager tell you that he needs you working on weekends. And guess what? That manager gives YOUR weekends off job to his girlfriend, his brother or even one of his drinking buddies. That manager will have that kind of power if there is not a contract in place that prevents that kind of abuse. It does happen now, but for different reasons than the one I just gave. That is a lot of power to bestow upon some people in federal management corp who probably couldn't get a management position at McDonalds in the private sector. That is no exaggeration. I worked in federal government at the management level for far too long to realize there is incompetence at both the white collar and blue collar level. Incompetence is rewarded in the federal government. The difference is that the union is obliged to protect incompetent workers from being fired. That is the crux of Governor Walker's problem in Wisconsin with the public employee unions. He can't cut out waste in a state that is all but bankrupt.

Now, some people will comment on this hub that what is going on in Wisconsin has nothing to do with cutting the budget. It has everything to do with "union busting." That is the impasse both sides are at right now. I don't believe it is union busting. I do believe Governor Walker wants to drastically reduce the power that public employee unions have in Wisconsin. However, the realistic side of things is that he needs leeway to cut out waste in government. That may mean cutting pay of public employees. That may mean cutting back the part the state pays on employee health care. Do I support busting up the unions? No, I do not. Realistically, that is not going to happen. Public employee unions are too entrenched to be cast aside like a rag doll. However, I don't think the public employee unions are looking at things in no other way but that they will lose members and money...especially money. This is why there are so many other unions taking part in this fight. Today it is public employees unions in Wisconsin. Tomorrow it could be the AFL-CIO or the purple-shirted thugs at the SEIU.

There is even thought to ban public employee unions. Many see them as a waste of time and money. The picture of the public government employee (federal, state or city) is that he is lazy, highly paid and a functional illiterate who couldn't get a job in the private sector. I must admit there is some truth in that. Hell, let's be honest...there is a lot of truth in that. I've seen it with my own two eyes. If a manager (such as myself) asked a clerk if contract proposal #7217 (again, just as an example) is ready for distribution, the clerk could actually file a grievance against me for "harassment." That actually happened to me twice just by simply asking if a certain document was ready. In each instance they had not gone past the five days allotted to complete the task "according to the union contract." You would be amazed how much that kind of BS happened all the time in the federal government sector.

So, are public employee unions on the way out? There weren't any public employee unions until 1962. President John F. Kennedy saw the public employee unions as an aid to the Democratic Party. What he never expected was for these unions to grow into the revenue consuming behemoths that they are now. The end result is that states and cities are at the point of bankruptcy. Both sides must meet somewhere in the middle and cool the white-hot rhetoric. The public employee unions must stop yelling that the state governors are Nazis hell-bent on destroying families. The states must stop calling all the union organizers socialists and communists (although there are socialists and communists demonstrating with the unions in Madison, WI). If the states go bankrupt, then this entire issue becomes moot. I'm not sure the unions or the state governments are looking at it in this perspective.

Unions brought a lot of good into this country. If not for unions there might not be child labor laws. There most likely would not be a forty hour work week. But, unions must face today's reality. The reality is they could lose all their members due to layoffs if they don't seek common ground. Losing collective bargaining power is the straw that is breaking the union camel's back. They are going to go to the matresses on this issue. Thus far, all we have heard are the extremists talk. It's time for the adults in the room to start talking. This excludes the kiddies with "D" after their name hiding out in Illinois today. Men and women of good will can come together to reasonably meet each other halfway. The time to start is now.

Comments 21 comments

Writer David profile image

Writer David 5 years ago from Mobile, AL Author

Huntgoddess, first, I'm sorry it took me 4 days to get back to this excellent comment of yours. Of course, I disagree with you.

First, Alcoa has the right to do with their company as they see fit. They are privately owned enterprise, not a government entity. In a Capitalist society, profit is king. I'm sure you realize this. They gave the union in Mobile a chance. The union balked. So, off to South America they went.

"Where in the U.S. Constitution does it say that he who has the gold makes the rules?" Maybe in the same section of the U.S. Constitution where President Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi felt it gave them the right to shove an individual mandate to purchase health care insurance. Again, in a Capitalist society (which, I admit, we are slowly losing), if a person owns property, they have the right to do with it as they wish as long as they remain within the confines of the law. If you own a parcel of land, you have a right to do with it as you wish. What if I told you I want to put a "widget" factory on that land. And, oh by the way, I'll pay you a monthly fee of $50 a month for this privilege. Well, lets consider this parcel of land is prime commercial real estate...you tell me hell no. You have that right because YOU own the land, not me. YOU make the rules for that land, not me.

My point in the above narrative is that it is a business. You have to do what you feel is best for your business, your property or, in the case above, you land. Sure, it hurt the people of this town when Alcoa pulled out. The union got lots of blame. But, you know what? We recovered. We barely lost out on the Air Refueling Tanker to Boeing (which we had won once...but that's another issue entirely). We had the Air Force abandon the base here in Mobile (Brookley Air Force Base at one time back in the 60s. We recovered from that as well. We will get over losing the tanker. We got the largest steel mill in North America, a $5 billion investment by Thyssenkrupp of Germany. What this means is that people are stronger than you give them credit. Liberals see a lemon. Conservatives see lemonade. That's what we do.

I agree with James. Obviously, Scott Walker can appreciate the democratic process. Unfortunately, you can't say the same for the cowardly Democrats who walked off the job. Do that in any private sector job in America and you are fired. I'm sure you know that also. Apparently, it was the Democrats who had no appreciation for the legislative process, not Walker. They have no appreciation of Democracy. The majority is supposed to rule. When Democrats are not in the majority, they want to take their ball and go home. It doesn't work that way in the adult world. The Democrats have not come to terms with this point.

No, I don't view you as an ideologue at all. An ideologue can never learn anything because their mind is closed shut. Such is the case with my friend Tea Party Crasher. His brain is stuck on 1917 Soviet Union style revolution. Thanks again for your reply. Hopefully, I didn't bore you to tears. ;-)


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

@Huntgoddess— The Soviet Union was supposed to be a union of those who labor, with everyone getting equal pay and benefits, the same as a labor union only writ large.

How can anyone say Scott Walker doesn't respect the democratic process? A legal bill was proposed, sent to the legislature for a legal vote by the representatives elected by the people of Wisconsin. That is the democractic process. Those who run off to another state to avoid their duty are those who do not respect the democratic process. Just imagine if everytime a Congressman felt a vote wasn't going to go his way, they all ran off to Mexico and refused to vote.


Huntgoddess profile image

Huntgoddess 5 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

James, the Soviet Union was never a labor union. It was capitalism owned by the state. (?!) The word "union" has different meanings, depending on its context.

TPC -- thanks, Sir. Same to you.

Writer David, Well my first comment has to do with your story about the Aluminum Company of America (formerly U.S. Steel) taking its factory overseas. Why is that even legal? Why and how are they ALLOWED to do that? Where in the U.S. Constitution does it say that he who has the gold makes the rules? Most of all, why blame the victims --- the workers and the town?

Well, first, there was corporate personhood, back in the 19th century. Next, came "money is speech". Now we have unlimited corporate spending on elections.

These were all U.S. Supreme Court decisions --- like Dredd Scott . . . or, like Roe v. Wade.

Supreme Court decisions can --- and sometimes should --- be reversed. Dredd Scott certainly was, thankfully. ("African-Americans aren't people.")

I don't think Scott Walker knows much about any bottom line, or any other economic principle. I also don't think the bottom line is what's important here. This "bottom line" rhetoric is just something made up to scare folks. Have you ever read a book called, _Shock Doctrine_ by Naomi Klein? I haven't read it yet, either, but I've heard it's about this very "bottom line" rhetoric that is being used against people all over the world.

Hitler certainly used it to great advantage.

But, more importantly, I also think it's not up to Scott Walker, not as long as we live in a democracy. His administration is only one branch of our state's government.

A lot of TEA partiers say many unions are corrupt. Yes, that's true. But, this is more important than a corrupt union --- which can be dealt with in many ways. Every human organization is corrupt, to some degree. There are remedies for a corrupt union.

Corruption or no corruption ---- the governor has never respected the democratic process. He and his cronies are trying to pull off a coup d-etat here in Wisconsin.

Have you guys heard about the prank phone call from a blogger impersonating on of the Koch brothers.

You folks are allowing the billionaire elites to define the terms, ask the questions and set the parameters here. Dig deeper.

If the entire matter is put to a true, legitimate democratic procedure, and the bill prevails, that would be different. But, Walker, the Koch brothers and their cronies don't want that.

It's not that I want the unions to win, no matter what. It's just that I --- and the other protesters --- want democracy to prevail. This is plutocracy that we have now in Wisconsin.

BTW, thanks for noticing I'm not an ideologue. I appreciate that. :-) Can't stand ideologues. They're so . . . predictable. I still love them as people, though. I have a few in my own family.


Writer David profile image

Writer David 5 years ago from Mobile, AL Author

James, I appreciate your compliments. I guess I see things from both perspectives because I was at one time in a public sector union before I moved into management. There are both valid arguments by both, in my opinion. However, at least in this case, I feel Governor Walker is correct in denying the unions collective bargaining power due to the financial situation of Wisconsin. Thanks for coming by. It's always a pleasure to see you on one of my hubs.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

I appreciate your effort at attempting to find the middle ground. You are a good man, David. I am against all unions. The greatest union ever was the Soviet Union. The workers pretended to work and the state pretended to pay them. As you mentioned, public employee unions were formed by the Democratic Party as a way to ensure a huge voting block. Public employees work for taxpayers—not robber barons. All unions exist to protect the weakest of the herd. Good workers have never needed a union. Unions are anti-American. The very idea of paying everybody the same wage regardless of effort and skill is a travesty that is counterproductive to the extreme.

Thank you for a fine Hub.


Writer David profile image

Writer David 5 years ago from Mobile, AL Author

LRC, I thought you had vanished off the face of the earth. I think the unions and states should reach some sort of middle ground. But, I do not see that happening now. Too much bad blood. Hope you come back soon.


LRCBlogger profile image

LRCBlogger 5 years ago

David, I find myself agreeing with a lot of what you said. Especially the fact that there needs to be a middle road. Unions (like govt) have grown too big, too over reaching, etc. We need unions and collective bargaining rights but there needs to be compromise in the public sector. I sold to the federal govt under GSA contracts and also witnessed first hand for 6 years how ridiculously incompetent some of the employees are. It is almost impossible to fire someone. I recall being in a high level meeting and several govt admins came in to join (Uninvited). They simply said they were 'bored.' I can't imagine that every flying in the private sector.


Writer David profile image

Writer David 5 years ago from Mobile, AL Author

Thanks to both imranhaider and to crystolite for your comments.


crystolite profile image

crystolite 5 years ago from Houston TX

Nice hub.very informative.


imranhaider 5 years ago

nice my dear


Writer David profile image

Writer David 5 years ago from Mobile, AL Author

Hunt, I'm not sure I get your very first comment. Did I state I have a problem with all other unions supporting public sector unions? Now, I have a problem with the thugs at SEIU being there. It's apparent what they are all about. How do you feel about avowed socialists and communists marching in lockstep with union members? That is one sight most unions would like to avoid for reasons that go back over the course of history with unions.

Yes, it's true. Unions have made concessions. But, do you think union members are the only people suffering now? These are extraordinary times in which we live. Our debt will soon surpass our GNP. If that happens, you won't have to worry about concessions any longer. We'll all be bankrupt. "It" is already affecting us. Food prices are skyrocketing out of control...in AMERICA, the former breadbasket of the world, of all places! Gas will be considered cheap at $5/gallion this summer. We all are going to make sacrifices. It appears that Governor Scott Walker needs the flexibility of not dealing with a binding collective bargaining contract in order to save money. Should he just ignore what he can see on the bottom line and keep the Public Service Unions most of their benefits during difficult times? I don't think so.

Alcoa is a prime example. I know a little about Alcoa (my grandpa worked there for 30 years) also since they had a company here in Mobile since WWII. In the 80s, the unions were unwilling to be flexible. Both were at fault. But, guess what? He who has the gold, makes the rules. So, Alcoa left Mobile and went to South America. Alcoa left a staggering hole in the economy here that took over a decade to recover. I was a union member for 2 years. As I said in my hub, I have sympathy for the union. But, that does not override what I see as some tough choices a head. Certainly you can see that.

TPC, it is also nice to see that Hunt is not an ideologue like some people I could mention.


TeaPartyCrasher profile image

TeaPartyCrasher 5 years ago from Camp Hill, PA

Hunt:

Always nice to see people who haven't swallowed the Corporate Tea. . .


Huntgoddess profile image

Huntgoddess 5 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

So, capital can organize itself all over the globe in "sympathy" with foreign capital --- but unions can't strike on behalf of other unions.

I do remember what happened in the early 80's to that and other unions. I'm from Pittsburgh, so we know a little bit about Alcoa.

But, since then --- unions HAVE made concessions. Many of them have made huge concessions. They HAVE changed with the times, or however you guys put it.

This isn't about changing with the times. It's about existing at all.

American companies should not be allowed to pull the plug on their American workers, as Alcoa did.

Many companies have been doing that, for the past forty years. It causes crime and poverty in the new country. The "host" countries set up military regimes in advance in order to keep their own people from organizing a union.

It's just a race to the bottom. We can't sit back and allow that to happen. Eventually, it will affect you directly, even if it doesn't now.

Wayne Brown: The union workers ARE taxpayers. Further, some of the money to pay the state workers comes from the federal budget. The federal government requires a collective bargaining agreement to be in place in order to pay these employees. Like, in the transportation department. If the state drops him down to only fifty percent of what he's getting now, that will really amount to 20% without the collective bargaining agreement.


Writer David profile image

Writer David 5 years ago from Mobile, AL Author

Wayne, I see what you say is being totally true about the unions coming back after short-term concessions and try and get it back (maybe even more) later on down the road. Your example of Eastern Airlines reminds me of Alcoa Aluminum here in Mobile. In the early 80s, Alcoa management tried to get concessions about the contract with the union. The union refused on all points. Now, Alcoa employees were making over $20/hour. This was in the early 80s, remember. These were highly sought after jobs. Basically, the company told them that if they did not accept the offer on the table, they would close down the plant and move to a plant in South America. The union thought they were bluffing. Alcoa announced they were shutting down the plant 30 days after the union refused their final offer. Around 1500 employees lost their very high paying jobs. This is one reason I really think unions are too damn greedy and too damn arrogant. Thanks for the comment, WB.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 5 years ago from Texas

I think Governor Walker seeing giving up the collect bargaining as the only way to gain a viable control on the problem. It's one thing for workers to make concessions on the short then turn around a year later and attempt to squeeze that much and more out in the next contract negogiation. I think the union might find more average joe citizens on their side if they had not already taken significant advantage of the state taxpayers in their contract efforts. As you point out, if you bankrupt the source, your point is moot and so is your union. The folks at Eastern Airlines stubbornly held out on union principle...I cannot imagine any of them looking back on that as a fight the union won. Thanks for a good read David. WB


Pollyannalana profile image

Pollyannalana 5 years ago from US

My dad was a union man for many years. I asked my husband if he thought there was anything bullet proof to put around our house, and he said it might be a little safer and less expensive if I kept my mouth shut. I laughed.


Writer David profile image

Writer David 5 years ago from Mobile, AL Author

Polly, whether you agree with the unions or not, I have to agree it's great to see Americans active again politically. I am more inclined to support the governor on this. But, there is a part of me that weeps for the unions.


Pollyannalana profile image

Pollyannalana 5 years ago from US

Good or bad I am finally glad to see people stand up for their beliefs and stop being so chicken or politically correct it will wipe them and their families off the map before they can take off their rose colored glasses.


Writer David profile image

Writer David 5 years ago from Mobile, AL Author

breakfastpop, I do not think unions are irrelevant even by today's standards. What I do think is that they have to adjust to an ever changing world.

TPC, be sure to read my hub, "Public Employee Unions." Oh wait....you did and you still are blinded by the socialist manifesto ingrained in your mind. Never mind then.


TeaPartyCrasher profile image

TeaPartyCrasher 5 years ago from Camp Hill, PA

Read my hub 'Wisconsin Wakes Up' for my take.

But I don't think it will be able to get through all the pro-CEO 'Tea' you've swallowed. . .


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 5 years ago

Unions are no longer relevant in today's economy. In fact, they are bringing us to our knees. I am also very troubled by the power they seem to wield with this president. Enough is enough.

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