Why people don’t like unions, Part I

A 2009 Gallup poll showed that only 48 percent of Americans approve of labor unions, the lowest percentage in the 65 years that Gallup has polled on the topic. The number slid 10 percent from the previous year.

As I read national news stories online about the protests in Madison over Scott Walker’s union-busting budget bill, I scrolled down to the comments from readers and found remarks like these (with their original spelling and punctuation):

“Hey teachers and Public employees, Here that noise? that’s the GRAVY TRAIN leaving the station.”

“we need more Scott Walkers”

“Does this mean that the UNION bosses will have to move out of their million dollar homes, sell their $350,000.00 yachts, their vacation homes, and $200,000.00 sports cars. @#$% they might have to get a real job.”

These remarks show the main reason people oppose unions: the misconception that union members are making more than they’re worth. Also, people fail to make any distinction among different unions, lumping them all together.

I don’t know much about private unions, but I suspect any “union bosses” being threatened with selling their yachts don’t lead a teachers’ union. I have yet to be invited to party on a teacher’s yacht.

So let’s focus on public unions, the targets of Scott Walker’s bill:

A study by Jeffrey H. Keefe for the Economic Policy Institute found that Wisconsin public workers make 4.8 percent less than workers in the private sector with comparable working hours.

However, the study found that the public workers have more education than the higher-earning private workers, with 59 percent of public workers holding a four-year college degree compared to 30 percent of private employees.

True, public workers earn more of their compensation in “nonwage” areas like insurance and retirement benefits than private workers.

But when all the benefits are converted to a monetary value, the fact remains: public workers are making 4.8 percent less than they would if they would dig out their resumes and move into the private sector.

That’s the overall average. The more education a public worker gets, the more the income gap widens, according to the report: “State and local workers with a bachelor’s degree make 28 percent less in salary and 25 percent less in total compensation, while those with a professional degree make 38 percent less in salary and 36 percent less in total compensation.”

So the private sector workers making nasty comments online are likely making more money than the public workers they are criticizing for protesting a loss of income and loss of bargaining rights.

Go ahead – ask any of the public workers protesting in Madison where they keep their yachts. They need a good laugh.

References:
Link to the Gallup stats:
http://www.gallup.com/poll/122744/Labor-Unions-Sharp-Slide-Public-Support.aspx

Jeffrey H. Keefe holds a doctorate from Cornell University and is an associate professor at Rutgers University. Links to his report summary and complete report:
http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/6759/
http://epi.3cdn.net/9e237c56096a8e4904_rkm6b9hn1.pdf

Other information:
To see how both sides are stretching the truth, check out the Truth-O-Meters from PolitiFact.
http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/

To learn more about who is represented by unions and the affect on salary, check out this news release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/union2.pdf

In school we call it bullying

Let me say this up front: I hate politics. Always have. It’s a boring subject that never affected me anyway.

So why am I writing a political blog?

Because our political system is breaking down into something embarrassing, a divisive, two-party system fueled by partisan politics and warring words. The idea of serving the country has been lost. Now it’s all about winning — and only one of two parties can win. Other voices are lost. Like the voice of reason.

I also want to get my political views out of the way: I’m not a Democrat. I’m not a Republican. I use the label Independent because people find it somewhat acceptable, and it’s quicker than saying, “I’m a fiscally conservative, socially liberal person who is on rare occasion fiscally liberal and socially conservative.”

The current situation in Wisconsin is the last straw. I can’t stand by and watch people take sides based on political parties and not on facts.

Here’s the deal: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is pushing a budget bill that would require state workers to contribute more to their health-care and pension plans to help balance the state budget. Great! It sounds fiscally responsible and not unreasonable considering that state workers currently pay far less in those areas than workers in the private sector. I’m an instructor in the state’s technical college system and a member of a union, but I’m willing to pay a little more.

However, that’s the extent of union-related provisions that would help balance the budget. The other provisions amount to an attack on organized labor.

The bill would eliminate the rights of the public unions — except public safety unions like firefighters and police — to bargain collectively over issues like hours and working conditions. Only base wages could be negotiated.

This provision makes no sense. Why is Walker afraid of negotiations? Is he afraid of paying a fair wage and providing agreeable working conditions?

Also, the bill would require unions to undergo a tedious voting and reporting process for a new “annual certification.” How will that measure save the state money? It will simply cost the unions money and make them harder to maintain. In addition, the bill prohibits union workers from having union dues deducted directly from their paychecks. Again, is that measure going to save the day for the state budget? Or simply make it more difficult for unions to maintain cohesive membership?

This bill isn’t based solely on fiscal responsibility. It smacks of politics.

Maybe you’re still not convinced. Maybe you’re thinking that desperate times call for desperate measures. After all, we’re in a recession. Many states are falling into a financial crisis.

Serious issues, yes. The type that require serious debate. Why, then, did Walker propose the bill on a Friday and want it to be passed within a week?

Maybe extreme measures are the only solution for balancing the budget. But why not spend time debating Walker’s proposal? Looking at other options? Working with the unions? A new state budget doesn’t have to be in place until June.

Walker proposed the bill – which he knew would be unpopular among public and private union workers – and pushed it through the legislature with minimal debate and compromise. He didn’t try to work with the unions, most of whom had already said they were open to negotiating the health-care and pension issues. He set up a situation where he used sheer political force to get what he wanted.

A sign at the protest rally said it best: “In school we call it bullying.”

References:

Text of the actual bill

http://legis.wisconsin.gov/2011/data/JR1AB-11.pdf

Additional information:

Some people claim that the state isn’t really in crisis. A good article debating that subject:

http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/news/116480323.html

Others claim that Walker is paying back the police and fire unions that backed him in his election bid. An article containing opposing sides of that issue:

http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/noquarter/116139104.html