Saturday, March 05, 2011

Public Unions: The Rise of Arithmetic and How Taxpayers and the Little Guy Are Left Behind

Two excellent points from Peggy Noonan's editorial in today's WSJ:

1. It's All About the Math: "The seemingly small thing is that the battles in the states, while summoning emotions from all sides, are not at their heart emotional. Yes, a lot of people are waving placards, but it's also true that suddenly everyone's talking about numbers; the numbers are being reported in the press and dissected on talk radio.

The very force of the math has the heartening effect of squeezing ideology right out of the story. It doesn't matter if you're a liberal or a conservative, it's all about the numbers, and numbers are sobering things. The rise of arithmetic as a player in the drama is politically promising because when people argue over data and hard facts, and not over ideological loyalties and impulses, progress is more possible. Governors can take their stand, their opponents can take theirs, and if they happen to argue the budget problem doesn't really exist, they'll have to prove it. With numbers.

2. Taxpayers and The Little Guy Aren't Even in the Room: "Unions have been respected in America forever, and public-employee unions have reaped that respect. There are two great reasons for this. One is that unions always stood for the little guy. The other is that Americans like balance. We have management over here and the union over here, they'll talk and find balance, it'll turn out fine. But with the public-employee unions, the balance has been off for decades. And when they lost their balance they fell off their pedestal.

When union leaders negotiate with a politician, they're negotiating with someone they can hire and fire. Public unions have numbers and money, and politicians need both. And politicians fear strikes because the public hates them. When governors negotiate with unions, it's not collective bargaining, it's more like collusion. Someone said last week the taxpayers aren't at the table. The taxpayers aren't even in the room.

As for unions looking out for the little guy, that's not how it's looking right now. Right now the little guy is the public school pupil whose daily rounds take him from a neglectful family to an indifferent teacher who can't be removed. The little guy is the beleaguered administrator whose attempts at improvement are thwarted by unions. The little guy is the private-sector worker who doesn't have a good health-care plan, who barely has a pension, who lacks job security, and who is paying everyone else's bills."

30 Comments:

At 3/05/2011 9:13 PM, Blogger Paul said...

In related news, Tea Partiers are getting busy cleaning up after the protester slobs in Wisconsin.

Could the symbolism here be any more obvious?

 
At 3/05/2011 10:26 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

I am beginning to rethink my position on this subject. It may be better to let the unions and states have a long and hard battle because in order to we need to discredit both sides.

 
At 3/05/2011 10:28 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

Sorry about that. My son hit send before I could finish writing. Let me rephrase the comment above by adding the missing words.


I am beginning to rethink my position on this subject. It may be better to let the unions and states have a long and hard battle because in order to stand up for personal liberty we need to discredit both sides.

 
At 3/06/2011 12:58 AM, Blogger Benjamin said...

"The little guy is the private-sector worker who doesn't have a good health-care plan, who barely has a pension, who lacks job security, and who is paying everyone else's bills."

Hmmmm. Why is it when right-wingers describe the public that is paying for unionized public-sector workers, this is how they see the taxpaying public (see above, and my guess that is about one-half of our workforce).

But when someone talks about tax reform, suddenly Ronald Reagan says, "everyone owns swimming pools" and Dr Perry says our poorest are richer than some other country's richest.

So, is it "boo-hoo-hoo for the little man at the bottom of the economic pyramid," or "la-de-da, even the bottom rung is richer than they deserve."

My head is spinning from...well, all the spinning.

Dr. Perry--anytime you want to join us out here in the private, for-profit sector, jump in!!!

 
At 3/06/2011 7:03 AM, Blogger Paul said...

"But when someone talks about tax reform, suddenly Ronald Reagan says, 'everyone owns swimming pools'....."

You have a link to back that up, Benji? No, you don't, just talking out your a** as usual.

 
At 3/06/2011 8:52 AM, Blogger bob wright said...

Airlines are in the news today for price fixing.

Unions exit to fix the cost of labor.

Why aren't union leaders charged with price fixing just like the leaders of the airlines?

If the suppliers of labor can organize to maximize the income they receive for their product, why can't the suppliers of air travel also organize to maximize the income they receive?

 
At 3/06/2011 9:22 AM, Blogger Walt G. said...

"The little guy is the private-sector worker who doesn't have a good health-care plan, who barely has a pension, who lacks job security, and who is paying everyone else's bills."

Then he should join a labor union or form one where he works. There's a reason we formed societies and don't live in caves anymore and why we send armies instead of individuals like the fictionalized Rambo to fight our wars. There's strength and power in numbers. But unions have to make sure they don't kill the cow that gives them the milk. The adversarial roles will not work now when capital can move overseas with a push of the button. A lot of union haters think they are Rambo and don't need anyone else because of their advanced skills and superior intelligence.

I see a huge difference between public and private unions' collective bargaining processes and the way that accounting is used to pay future benefits in both the public and private sector. These are systems set up for failure. How many people are prepared to give up their Social Security while still paying in for those on it now? You are not paying into your Social Security like a savings account because you are paying for the people who are on it now, so effectively ending Social Security means you keep paying in but those in the future do not have to pay yours. Giving something up looks a lot different when you think something that is yours is being given up.

bob wright, the national labor relations act (NLRA) is the legal authority for labor unions. I am not aware of any law that allows airlines to organize to set rates, but I am not a lawyer. The airlines can always lobby to try to get a law passed to organize if they wish to use their political capital that way and do so, but I think airlines show, and desire, a deregulation trend.

 
At 3/06/2011 11:02 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

"The little guy is the private-sector worker who doesn't have a good health-care plan, who barely has a pension, who lacks job security, and who is paying everyone else's bills."

Whose fault is that-business or government?

 
At 3/06/2011 11:58 AM, Blogger Jason said...

I am beginning to rethink my position on this subject. It may be better to let the unions and states have a long and hard battle because in order to stand up for personal liberty we need to discredit both sides.

Van, I think we need to hold the politicians and the unions accountable for the mess they've created. What I see is a system where more and more money flows to areas that don't directly benefit taxpayers. For instance, in Michigan cuts have forced reductions in snowplowing and salting operations. So the trade off is teachers/fire/police or road maintenance/parks/libraries...etc. When in reality the trade off ought to be pensions/medical deductibles/sick time or marginally less competent people in those positions. The narrative has to be changed to reflect the real options.

But unions have to make sure they don't kill the cow that gives them the milk.

Walt, they cannot help themselves. Forget America, look to the UK and the rest of Europe. Unions are destroying every economy in those countries that doesn't rhyme with ermany. And the reason for that is Germany is playing the rest of Europe for fools.

It's just how it is man. The minute the mob is able to get a company to acquiesce, they have the power. And the power is so addictive, they cannot help but "destroy the host."

 
At 3/06/2011 12:10 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

Jason,

The bargaining method that needs to be used is one where both sides win. That can happen if that is your strategy, but you have to agree on common goals.

I think a 7% unionization rate in the private sector shows the old way of doing things will not work, don't you? At 0%, the power shift will be complete because any power counterbalance/union threat will be gone, and the protection all workers enjoy, union and non-union alike, will be gone.

 
At 3/06/2011 12:56 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

PeakTrader,

Leaders find solutions. Followers find faults. I think we need better leaders across both sectors (private and public).

 
At 3/06/2011 1:31 PM, Blogger Che is dead said...

"Unions have been respected in America forever, and public-employee unions have reaped that respect. There are two great reasons for this. One is that unions always stood for the little guy."

Unions are the bane of the of the working class. Union lobbying for ever higher, mostly regressive, taxes diminishes take home pay. Union campaigns against entitlement reform lock workers into an expensive intergenerational Ponzi scheme that makes it difficult to impossible to save enough money for retirement. Lavish public sector union health care benefits and union advocacy drive up the cost of health insurance. Union funded environmentalist advocacy increases the cost of energy which not only steals from workers pocket books, it diminishes workers employment opportunities. Unions monopolies lobby to exclude private-sector workers from government contracts and they have corrupted the political process. And on, and on, and on.

As for unions always having "stood for the little guy", bullshit. Unions, at their beginning, were some of the most racist organizations in the nations history. The AFL banned African-Americans until civil rights laws in the 1960's forced their acceptance. In order to get work, blacks were forced to take dangerous jobs and to hire on as "strike breakers" or "scabs" while union racists walked the picket line. Samuel Gompers, the head of the AFL said: "If the colored man continues to lend himself to the work of tearing down what the white man has built up, a race hatred worse than any ever known before will result. Caucasian civilization will serve notice that its uplifting process is not to be interfered with in any such way." Unions were tied deeply to the progressive left, including the KKK. Want to bet that they don't teach any of this in the mandatory "labor history" classes at Wisconsin public schools.

 
At 3/06/2011 1:38 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

Walt, you can't fix it, until you find out what's broken.

 
At 3/06/2011 1:43 PM, Blogger Che is dead said...

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) today denounced an Executive Order signed by President Obama that repeals Executive Order 13202, that prohibited federal agencies and recipients of federal funding from requiring contractors to sign union-only project labor agreements (PLAs) as a condition of performing work on federal and federally funded construction projects.

"Construction contracts subject to union-only PLAs are designed to be awarded exclusively to unionized contractors and their all-union workforces," said Pickerel. "Absent the economic benefits of competitive bidding, union-only PLAs are known to increase construction costs between 10 percent and 20 percent and discriminate against minorities, women and qualified construction workers who have traditionally been excluded from union membership.

"Union-only PLAs drive up costs for American taxpayers while unfairly discriminating against 84 percent of U.S. construction workers who choose not to join a labor union," added Pickerel. "All taxpayers should have the opportunity to compete fairly on any project funded by the federal government."

A union-only PLA is a contract that requires a federal construction project to be awarded only to contractors and subcontractors that agree to recognize unions as the representatives of their employees on that job; use the union hiring hall to obtain workers; pay union wages and benefits; and obey the union's restrictive work rules, job classifications and arbitration procedures.

PRN Newswire

 
At 3/06/2011 2:10 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

PeakTrader,

The public demands programs they cannot pay for. They elect and re-elect those who promise to provide these programs. The money that was promised for these programs was not funded or accounted for properly. Those are the problems in a nutshell. Everything else is just pointing fingers and blaming others so we will feel better.

The solution will be for everyone to expect less in the future from the government, and to provide funding for current government programs with current dollars by law without exeption. See my Social Security example above for how that will work. This is not just a public union problem--it is a systemic problem much, much deeper than that. Instead of cutting the heads off the scapegoat union guys and killing them it will take cutting the fingers off everyone and spreading the pain around to solve the problem. Are we really ready for the solution?

Che,

Women and minorities are a huge percentage of current labor union membership. That's one of the reasons people want to get rid of unions. Can't have a black guy picking up your trash making more than you, can we?

 
At 3/06/2011 3:03 PM, Blogger Che is dead said...

"Women and minorities are a huge percentage of current labor union membership. That's one of the reasons people want to get rid of unions. Can't have a black guy picking up your trash making more than you, can we?"

Racism is still a big part of the union message, just read your own response. Your racial prejudice leads you to assume that anyone who disagrees with your pro-union point of view does so out of racism. Your union friends monopoly control of public education has done more to undermine the potential of minority kids than the Klan could have ever dreamed possible. Time to get a new attack line, "racist" just doesn't cut it anymore.

 
At 3/06/2011 5:36 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

Che,

I said one of the reasons. I didn't say the reason. I've heard that remark many times or something just like it (janitor just pushing a broom . . .). I don't see anything wrong with someone making enough money to raise a family and be above the poverty line even performing a menial job.

Education's problems will not go away if unions go away because too many of the problems will still exist. Our county has mostly charter schools with non-unionized teachers and all are at the bottom in test scores (they are mostly inner-city students who left the city school system). The top two performing schools are public and unionized (Grand Blanc and Goodrich). Do you suppose the test scores would change if they completely swapped teachers?

 
At 3/06/2011 5:48 PM, Blogger Dr. T said...

"One is that unions always stood for the little guy."

It is obvious to me that Ms. Noonan has no actual experience with unions. Here's what unions do: #1 They look out for the union bosses. #2 They turn groups of little guys into thugs and extortionists. #3 They threaten and harm everyone, including union members, who opposes what the union bosses want.

My mother was a factory worker at Nestles. The workers were members of the AFL/CIO. The AFL/CIO bosses planned to demand huge increases in wages and health care benefits at an upcoming contract negotiation. But, Nestles employees were already compensated better than average, most of the jobs were unskilled, and the local unemployment rate was 12%. The union planned to strike if Nestles refused to meet the demands. The workers who spoke up against that plan (because the strike three years earlier was a complete failure) were harassed and their cars were either smashed with baseball bats or sabotaged with sugar in the gas tank. The engine repair cost my mother a lot of money. Nestles refused to meet the demands, the union called a strike (without paying members a strike wage), Nestles' bosses and non-union staff took a seven-week summer vacation, the workers went broke, and management put its original offer on the table. The workers lost two months wages for nothing; the thuggery of some workers caused fear, hostility, and distrust between workers; and the union bosses kept their fat paychecks. It's no surprise to me that private union membership has fallen to its lowest level in half a century.

 
At 3/06/2011 6:21 PM, Blogger Che is dead said...

"I don't see anything wrong with someone making enough money to raise a family and be above the poverty line even performing a menial job."

First, you don't have any evidence that racism is "one of the reasons", it's simply a smear against those that oppose your political point of view.

Everyone making enough money to raise a family would be desirable, but outside of the public union fantasy world it may not be feasible. Markets, not businesses, set the price of the products and services that the business provides. Businesses must therefore manage the cost of those inputs that they can control, the largest often being labor. That will mean that some jobs, usually those that do not require a great deal of training, will pay less than what leftists feel is "livable". Fortunately, most people gain skills through employment and are able to quickly move up the ladder. Unions, however, are working tirelessly to cut off the bottom rungs of that ladder through their militant advocacy for higher minimum wage laws and greater workplace regulations.

As for charter schools, your anecdotes are not evidence. If, as you claim, charters are not performing then they should be closed and new ones opened. But what is usually the case is that the unions work behind the scenes to handicap and undermine charter school development and performance. The best solution would be a voucher system allowing parents a choice of schools - public, charter or private. Forcing generation after generation of kids to attend failing schools is not "public service" it's child abuse.

 
At 3/06/2011 6:51 PM, Blogger Jason said...

At 0%, the power shift will be complete because any power counterbalance/union threat will be gone, and the protection all workers enjoy, union and non-union alike, will be gone.

Walt, what protections did we ever have? Protections from getting laid off? Protections from a business collapsing?

If the laws that exist are enforced equally and fairly, unions add nothing. So enforce the existing safety laws and call it good...

...Unless the union can convince the rest of America that it should pay more so people can earn middle class wages for menial labor. But you and I both know, given our experience in the automotive industry, this is a suicide mission.

 
At 3/07/2011 11:22 AM, Blogger Walt G. said...

"If the laws that exist are enforced equally and fairly, unions add nothing. So enforce the existing safety laws and call it good..."

The existing laws are not adequate to protect life or limb. Unless you have seen a human cut in half at the waist and pulled out of a machine in two pieces or a white person cooked charcoal black from electrocution, you probably would not understand. Both happened meeting MIOSHA criteria with no violations reportable from the incident, but the processes have been written and defined to lower the risk of it happening the next time by the union's guidance and insistence.

Can you determine the effectiveness of a police officer’s pistol by how many times he or she has shot someone and how many hours they carried the pistol? Unions have the same deterrent effect, so the percentage of workers in unions is not the only measure of the value they add to ALL workers. Non-union workplaces hate unions so much they treat their employees better than if unions did not exist. I've written employee manuals with due process protections to deter unions as the deliverable.

 
At 3/07/2011 2:10 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

"Sorry about that. My son hit send before I could finish writing. Let me rephrase the comment above by adding the missing words."

Yeah, sure. Blame it on your son. :-)

 
At 3/07/2011 2:55 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

"If, as you claim, charters are not performing then they should be closed and new ones opened."

The charters perform better than the inner-city schools where the innner-city students came from, but not as well as the unionzied public suburban schools. The difference seems to be the students and not the union.

 
At 3/07/2011 3:25 PM, Blogger Che is dead said...

"The charters perform better than the inner-city schools where the innner-city students came from, but not as well as the unionzied public suburban schools. The difference seems to be the students and not the union."

Walt G.,

You need to watch this: "Not As Good As You Think - The Myth of the Middle Class School":

Part 1

Part 2

 
At 3/07/2011 5:24 PM, Blogger Jason said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 3/07/2011 5:26 PM, Blogger Jason said...

Can you determine the effectiveness of a police officer’s pistol by how many times he or she has shot someone and how many hours they carried the pistol? Unions have the same deterrent effect, so the percentage of workers in unions is not the only measure of the value they add to ALL workers

Walt, the comparison of unions to police is flawed.

Police are not supposed to be on anyone's side. They are supposed to be impartial agents of peace and, when confronted with a breach or peace or violation of the law, they act, then let the judicial system determine if laws were broken.

Unions represent ONE side: the membership. They are not impartial. Now this doesn't mean that they do no good at all, but it does mean that their enforcement is conflicted.

I say there are laws and police for workplace safety. If the "police" or enforcement and laws are inadequate, then address those problems the way we address them in every other dispute: Through our government representation.

Furthermore, I know what unions, and their one-sided mandates do. And if the true goal of unions is to make the workplace safe for workers, then why not lobby for everyone do the safest thing possible, stay at home and collect a government check...

...oh wait.

 
At 3/07/2011 6:02 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

Jason,

"Police are not supposed to be on anyone's side."

You missed my point. That unions exist as an alternative to workers is valuable even if the workers do not choose to belong to one. With only 7% of the private workforce unionized there is a upside theoretical untapped potential of 93% who can join a labor union if they want to. Do you think employers can do the math and know their employees have that option?

I don't think our government representation is adequate and I want to insure my risk by joining a union and paying for extra coverage. I consider it money well spent, and I respect your opinion if you think otherwise.

I will agree that unions are conflicted and becoming even more so by representing retirees and two-tier active workers who all have different needs, but it beats having no union which means no political leverage in a society that covets that clout.

Don't assume labor unions do not represent all workers unless you read the comments when notices are sent to change the code of federal regulations (CFR) for worker protections such as OSHA and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). They are looking out for all workers.

Che, thanks for the links. I will take a look at them later tonight after my class.

 
At 3/07/2011 7:21 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

Walt G.

"You are not paying into your Social Security like a savings account because you are paying for the people who are on it now, so effectively ending Social Security means you keep paying in but those in the future do not have to pay yours."

That is correct, except there is a fictional trust fund with tons of money in it. I know, the money is fictional also, but it was spent by the Treasury, and should be paid back by the Treasury. In other words, by taxpayers rather than workers through payroll taxes. I know it is a left pocket right pocket kind of argument, but it puts workers in a position of paying back something that has (supposedly) already been spent on their behalf, instead of pretending to contribute to a retirement plan.

"Giving something up looks a lot different when you think something that is yours is being given up."

Ya, it's always easier to give up something that isn't yours.

 
At 3/07/2011 8:35 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

With only 7% of the private workforce unionized there is a upside theoretical untapped potential of 93% who can join a labor union if they want to.

There is a reason why so many people have not chosen unions. They are toxic and lead to bad outcomes for most workers as well as for the shareholders who employ them.

 
At 3/07/2011 11:52 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

What I see is a system where more and more money flows to areas that don't directly benefit taxpayers. For instance, in Michigan cuts have forced reductions in snowplowing and salting operations. So the trade off is teachers/fire/police or road maintenance/parks/libraries...etc. When in reality the trade off ought to be pensions/medical deductibles/sick time or marginally less competent people in those positions. The narrative has to be changed to reflect the real options.

No. The narrative has to be changed so that we discuss the principles. And that is not the tradeoffs that have to be made by governments but the lack of choice by individuals. We do not need a monopoly on education, policing, fire protection, or other services. Let companies compete for customers who would pay directly for those services just as they pay for their own food, clothing, or shelter.

 

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