Are Labor Unions Extinct, Many Think They Ought to Be
Boeing 787-6 Dreamliner
Damn, I have to agree with the Conservatives Again ... Sort Of
I just finished an USA Today Today's debate: Union rights commentary (6/24/2011) regarding a looming battle between Boeing Corporation and its union workers who build their planes in the Washington. The short story is that Boeing and the union have been at odds for a very long time. The union has asserted its rights without fear of losing, and when Boeing has tried to stand its ground, it cost both Boeing and the union workers dearly; on one occasion Boeing lost permanent business to competitors as a result of a 58-day walkout in 2008. Now, I am not taking sides on these previous conflicts, I have no clue who has the moral or practical highground; I just know that the Boeing unioin in Seattle is one of the most aggressive unions around.
Boeing says it recently staked its future on building the 787 Dreamliner and asked the union for a 10-year no strike contract, which the union turned down. Boeing, in return, built and opened a second production line in the non-union South Carolina with the provision that Washington will build seven-Dreamliners per month and South Carolina three. The union cried foul and brought an action to the National Labor Relations Board who found in the union's favor, apparently because a Boeing exec made the statement that they opened the South Carolina plant because Boeing can't afford a strike every three years, the average up to that time. Further, it is illegal to close a union shop in one place only to open a non-union shop somewhere else (a law I support, btw). Boeing, of course, is challenging the ruling since they didn't actually close the Washington production line and, in fact, this line does the majority of the work.
Let me start out by saying, as you would expect, if you have been reading my hubs, I am, theoretically at least, pro-union. I assert that unions were needed in the past because of the undeniable and overwhelming mountains of evidence showing the tyrannical and despotic nature of virtually all big companies and corporations in the past toward their employees. To me, at least, the need for a union then was as self-evident as are the rights of Man as stated in the Declaration of Independence. I do understand there are some on the far Right who still contest that view, but fortunately, they are extremely few in number. I am also asserting, however, that unions are still needed today for largly for the same reason; I will, as is my nature, rehearse and defend this shortly.
First though, let me introduce my friend Mr. B------; he doesn't have a hub, so I can't use his pseudonym; he is anti-union, or should I say he thinks unions have served their purpose, have grown too powerful, and are now an impediment. Most of the protections workers need are now written into state and federal law. Mr. B is also a Conservative, but more of the Conservative with a Conscience type, of the Barry Goldwater or Thomas Jefferson mold and not the George Mason or Newt Gingrich kind I most often write about. He is definitely not a RWA or Right-wing Authoritarian Follower for Mr. B thinks, he questions, he listens, he reasons, he is willing, when presented enough evidence, to modify his position somewhat to account for the new facts but still stay within his conservative views; in short, Mr. B is no longer a Conservative by today's standards, only by the standards of 1980.
I bring Mr. B into this discussion because he makes for an interesting point-counterpoint; many of his views are hard to argue with and stay consistent with my theoretical support for unions. The main reason I have problems is that unions, like their corporate counterparts, have grown up to be pretty bad boys (there aren't too many girl unions that I can recall so I will keep my gender bias on this one). In fact, some of them have gotten to be down right nasty and probably worse than the corporations they were pitted against; the Teamsters and Longshoreman to name a couple with possible past and/or present mob connections. Why is that? For the same reason large corporations and financial institutions got and get out of hand, lack of appropriate governmental oversight and regulation.
Back in the day, and any day there is a Conservative administration, the watchword is remove all governmental oversight and control over everything, especially anything to do with business. At the same time, Conservatives did what they could to deny unions a legal right to exist by defeating or reversing any law that was favorable to unions; fortunately for unions, Conservatives rarely controlled both Houses of Congress at the same time for very long. Consequently, unions grew up as most organizations do where lots of money and power is involved and where there are no controls, no checks and balances in place to keep things honest, it grows up into a corrupt organization; that is simply axiomatic, a foregone conclusion.
Why am I agreeing with Conservatives, at least in the example presented above? Because, once again, I think the union, and the NLRB, is overstepping its bounds, given the facts presented in the article. I have no idea why there was a strike every three years, maybe Boeing deserved it by being such hard-headed so-and-sos; maybe the union was being totally unreasonable; one would have to research it. There was one scary fact, however, that both sides should be humbled by, Virgin Atlantic Airlines founder Sir Richard Branson stated that "they we're not going to come back here [Washington] again with more orders." Virgin Atlantic is a growing company with lots of money and both the union and the company had better sit up and take notice!
Regardless of the reason, the fact is, there is a strike, on average, every three years and the union must understand that no company can survive faced with that in its future. Further, if the reason for the strikes were ridiculous demands by the company, then the company must realize they deserve to by put out of business by their workers because no worker should be a slave to their company like was the case prior to the advent of unions. The question is, what was Boeing giving up, if anything, for that 10-year no strike clause? What other parts to the contract were on the table?
That aside, I don't see the issue with Boeing going to South Carolina and starting up a production line so long as Washington is still getting the majority of the work and will continue to do so. Boeing has a right to survive just as the Washington union workers have a right to continue to work.
I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN BAFFLED by how Americans view labor and business. Is it just me or do people actually view labor unions as the villain and the corporations as the victim, as opposed to fellow villains? American's remember, and fold into their opinion of labor unions, the fact that the mob infiltrated many of them while, at the same time, forgetting that is was unions who brought the workers out of company stores and sweatshops. Americans forget that it was corporations who polluted Lake Erie to such an extent it became a dead lake and it was corporations who deforested America until the government, against the Conservative's wishes, stepped in and stopped them before America looked like Greece (yes, Greece once had forests). Americans only see the good corporations bring and not the bad, while they see only the bad about unions and not the good; it just baffles me.
In any case, that is the way I think it is and as a result, I think unions are becoming extinct. They have lost much of their membership and much of their political power over the last three decades. The Conservatives have, since 1980, a full frontal assault going on trying to wipe unions off the face of Americas map, and with them, all of the protections they bring American workers from the provably corrupt corporations.
As unions became more corrupt and arrogant, they lost power and popular support. At the same time, as unions lost influence throughout America, companies began taking more and more advantage of labor. The only times this wasn't true was when the economy was booming and there was a labor shortage. We have now, in 2012, come to the point where labor, as a group, all over America is virtually powerless to the whims of those who employ them ... unless they are one of the few workers who belong to a labor union. There is mountains of anecdotal evidence coming out of the recent recession to show this and probably many studies as well, which, when time permits, I will research, although I suspect others have.
This is what unions bring to the table, preventing employers from abusing employees as history proves they ultimately will. Unions, like corporations, do need to be regulated to keep them in ethical line, but they do need to exist to provide cover and a lobby for workers. On the other hand, never fear, say the Conservatives, there are plenty of federal and state laws protecting workers now a days, you simply don't need unions. Well, I have news for you, those laws were written by Progressives, the arch-enemy of Conservatives, and they can and are being unwritten by Conservatives. Further, with no unions, or at least emasculated ones, there is no lobby strong enough to protect those laws. As a consequence, I must wonder how long it will take Conservatives to bring us back to 1850?
What It Has Been Like and Could Be LikeClick thumbnail to view full-size
Teacher's Tenure Takes It on the Chin
6/14/2014: A FEW DAYS AGO, IN A CALIFORNIA COURT, of all places, the judge held that the California law protecting tenured teachers was unconstitutional because it unfairly discriminated against disadvantaged students by making it all but impossible to fire low quality teachers. This was an extremely serious blow to teacher's unions. Specifically, California Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu struck down California’s teacher employment laws because he determined that they violate students’ civil rights.
At issue was the teachers' tenure rules were so restrictive that the plaintiffs, several low income students, were able to demonstrate to the judge that there was a nexus between those rules and the lack of quality of their education so strong that the rules violated the students' civil rights. The judge isn't opposed to tenure, but he is opposed to it when the rules are such that bad teachers must be retained which money and politics then put them in the most disadvantaged schools.
This issue tends to bring the far-Left and far-Right together; the former because of the negative impact on the children and the latter because it ties the hand of the employer to do whatever they want with their employees. Personally, I am just as split; I own my own small-mid sized business but am pro-union, yet I agree with the judge's ruling for the far-Left's reasoning. My business is non-union and frankly I want to keep it that way ... only because I am in America. If I was constituted in Europe or Japan, it would be a different story because the employer-employee mindset is not confrontational as it has always been in America; instead it is more cooperative (except for France, maybe); and that is the problem I have with American unions, they have become as confrontational, if not more so in a few cases, as corporate America has always been.
And really, who can blame them? From the outset, it has been a rough row to hoe with employers as well as the state and federal governments and, for a much longer time, the Supreme Court lined up against them; where the most effective tool for strike-breaking were hired mercenaries like the Pinkerton Detective Agency and then state and federal troops if that didn't work. It was only in the mid-twentieth century did labor finally get a break and get both government and the courts on their side ... and then they blew it by becoming as bad as their corporate opponents. That ended in the late 70s and 1980s when government and the Supreme Court became anti-union again.
I have never understood the irony of that exists between the actions of a Federal government who exists solely "of, by, and for" the People but acts only "of, by, and for" Corporations and against the People (i.e., Labor).
Circling back, however, to teachers' tenure, the various teachers' unions are once again missing the point in their rebuttal to the decision. Instead of taking the more rational approach of fixing the problem with the children in mind, for there is an absolute need for a tenure system, they would rather take an all or nothing approach with only their power in mind. Making statements like,
“Let’s be clear: This lawsuit was never about helping students, but is yet another attempt by millionaires and corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession and push their own ideological agenda on public schools and students while working to privatize public education,” - Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association
“It’s surprising that the court, which used its bully pulpit when it came to criticizing teacher protections, did not spend one second discussing funding inequities, school segregation, high poverty or any other out-of-school or in-school factors that are proven to affect student achievement and our children,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, when complaining the ruling ignored other factors affection poor achievement (a standard misdirection ploy)
Like unions, I am a fan of tenure as well, when properly constructed. The tenure system was built to prevent arbitrary abuse by employers which was rampant in the educational system prior to its advent. Not only was it simple employer avarice, but now politics played a part since what tales place within the school system is subject to the political whims at the local and state levels. This is the same reason the federal laws were put in place, to protect federal workers from attacks by bosses from the other party that might get into power. But, like the federal system, the teachers tenure rules, at least in some cases, went overboard and started doing more harm to the students than they were good to the teachers.
Unfortunately, Americans, and maybe the rest of the world, like things clearly one way or another, we seem to hate moderation, as can be seen by the current make up of Congress. The same seems to be true with the subject of tenure. One side seems to want no tenure at all and the other wants iron-clad tenure; of course any right thinking person knows that both are bad. Instead, you need enough tenure to protect teachers from the whims of employers and politics but not enough where poor teachers are kept on the roles. You also need administrative rules within the school system which insures that each school within a school district and within a state have roughly the same proportion of excellent, average, and below average teachers across all disciplines.
© 2012 Scott Belford