A few days ago, my homeschooled daughters were finishing up their school work and, as usual, we ended with a discussion of current events. After talking for a while over the protests in Wisconsin, my eldest asked if I thought unions were bad. I answered that I most certainly did not because I firmly believe belonging to a union is part of our God-given rights enumerated by the First Amendment concerning freedom of speech, the right to assembly and the consequent freedom of association.
But then I went on to explain that just because workers form unions to collectively bargain for better working conditions doesn’t make them any different or more noble than the companies they negotiate with.
What do I mean? I mean that a union is simply a business, no different than the businesses they bargain with. A union is nothing more than a talent agency. Its purpose is to offer a company skilled and trained employees. And like any other vendor looking for a contract, it’s ultimately the company’s decision whether to deal with a union or to look elsewhere when hiring. There is nothing particularly noble about either unions or their stockholders (membership). Certainly there is no major difference between a union and any other for-profit endeavor. Both the company and the union are in business to maximize profit and minimize loss.
Which may then surprise you when I say public service employee unions ARE bad. And I believe it was a major mistake for President Kennedy to have allowed them collective-bargaining privileges. Public service unions are only regarded as “noble” because the union members tell us they are.
You see, a public service union is NOT based on free association. It is NOT based on the freedoms of speech and free assembly. Public service unions are a scam and a cheat.
Now I suppose some readers are reaching for their blood pressure medication about now, and probably more than a little profanity is being directed my way. So let me give you a short example of why I believe this is true.
Let’s start with a mythical business, the Wisconsin Widget Company. This company is now in negotiation with the World Widget Workers (WWW) Union Local 21. The chairman of the company’s board of directors is seated across the table from the union boss.
Union boss: … and we want an additional $25 dollars an hour for our members, two weeks extra vacation per year, a fully funded pension that provides our workers 100 percent of their highest take-home pay for the rest of their lives and comprehensive health insurance for our members, their families and significant others.
(Reminder. This is a mythical company. If it weren’t, the chairman would laugh out loud and start placing employee want ads on the Web after showing the union boss the door. Why? Because half his company’s expenses are labor, and he’d go out of business if he tried to satisfy those demands. But this isn’t a real company; although unfortunately, as you will see, it is a real scenario.)
Company chairman: Well, that might be tough. The company is already deeply in debt. But … I guess we could send letters to all of our stockholders and tell them they have to pony up enough money to be able to meet your demands.
Union boss: But what if they don’t?
Company chairman: Well, then we’ll take the money we need from their bank accounts. If they object, we’ll seize their homes or throw them in jail … Oh, and paint them in the media as being greedy for denying these needed benefits to the honest workers. And if that still doesn’t raise enough money, we’ll issue more stock and some bonds. One way or another, the stockholders will pay for it. But there’s something the union needs to do for me.
Union boss: Are you kidding? Name it!
Company chairman: There’s a board election coming up. I need some money to wine and dine some of the big shareholders Also, I’d like it if you could dig up some dirt on my opponent and maybe get your members to picket his home. Get all your union members to buy some stock so they can vote for me in the election. Would your members do that for me?
Union boss: Absolutely. Assuming you agree that the only people that can work for your company are members of the WWW. Believe me, if our membership wants to keep working, they’ll play ball. And as far as a “donation” to your re-election goes, whether they agree or not, our members still have to pay their dues – or they don’t work.
Company chairman: Done! Oh … one more thing. In a few years I’m going to retire. Think you could find a place for me in your organization?
Union boss: We can always use another “friend of the union.” How about a lobbyist position? I promise if you keep treating us right, we’ll make sure you’re taken care of.
Now let’s see – if this were a real company, the debate would have ended after the first impossible demand. But this isn’t a real company. It’s a government negotiating with a public service employees union. And neither the union boss nor the company chairman gives a damn about the people they represent. The union boss, who makes a CEO-sized salary, has no problem with requiring his people to support an unpopular executive. The company chairman doesn’t mind screwing the company as long as the gravy train comes his way. And both of them couldn’t care less about the stockholders. (That would be us, the taxpayers.)
There is no adversarial relationship in this negotiation. The union boss and the company chairman are partners. And we, the citizens, are the adversary. In a real-world business, this kind of behavior would warrant criminal investigation. But in the world of politics, it’s business as usual.
So before you applaud a union, make sure you know what kind it is. Be sure to read the union label. You might be surprised by what’s written in the small print.