What is with the right wing’s obsession with making a differentiation between “private” employees and public ones, and using that as a rationale for the union busting the Republican Party is engaging in at the moment? Yes, in theory, public employees unions shouldn’t work. How can people essentially “collectively bargain” with themselves, right? Oh, wait; the right wing also differentiates between “public employees” and “taxpayers,” as if one isn’t a subset of the other.
Unfortunately for Republicans, we figured out a way to unionize public employees, and the meme that collective bargaining just doesn’t work has been proven wrong.
Besides, their arguments on this are disingenuous, at best. Republicans hadn’t been key in trying to bust “private” unions for the last half century or so. But probably not, because the idea is asinine. The latest to peddle this crap is Little Annie Coulter. I’ll leave out the invective, which takes up most of her article (Annie, Honey; Wisconsin students have some of the best test scores in the country, and the fourth-highest graduation rate in the country. Just sayin’…) Let’s get to her “logic” on univast majority of statesons.
In fact, government employees should never, ever be allowed to organize.
There’s more, but check out what she’s saying; that everyone who chooses to work for their own government, in public service, should be forced to give up a fundamental right of citizenship. Also, note this argument, because Annie tries to change the argument later on, in order to try to bring some libs on her side.
Let Annie continue.
The need for a union comes down to this question: Do you have a boss who wants you to work harder for less money? In the private sector, the answer is yes. In the public sector, the answer is a big, fat NO.
Government unions have nothing in common with private sector unions because they don’t have hostile management on the other side of the bargaining table. To the contrary, the “bosses” of government employees are co-conspirators with them in bilking the taxpayers.
Far from being careful stewards of the taxpayers’ money, politicians are on the same side of the bargaining table as government employees — against the taxpayers, who aren’t allowed to be part of the negotiation. This is why the head of New York’s largest public union in the mid-’70s, Victor Gotbaum, gloated, “We have the ability to elect our own boss.”
Democratic politicians don’t think of themselves as “management.” They don’t respond to union demands for more money by saying, “Are you kidding me?” They say, “Great — get me a raise too!”
Democrats buy the votes of government workers with generous pay packages and benefits — paid for by someone else — and then expect a kickback from the unions in the form of hefty campaign donations, rent-a-mobs and questionable union political activity when they run for re-election.
Let’s take these in order, because they really are absurd.
The need for a union actually comes down to, “are you getting a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work?” The answer should always be “yes,” and the only way to get on equal footing with an employer is to band together and show that employer that you, as his workforce, are actually that employer’s greatest asset. Some bosses get it, and pay accordingly. More often, they don’t.
But really, Annie; do public employees EVER have a “boss” that wants them to “work harder for less money”? Annie, I’d like you to meet Scott Walker.
And public employees don’t EVER have “hostile management on the other side of the bargaining table”? Once again, Annie; meet Scott Walker.
Has she even been ALIVE for the last 40 years? Every time any government runs short of cash – tax cuts do have consequences, after all – the first thing they do is cut everything they deem “unnecessary,” and public employees, many of whom have toiled for years for less money than they could make in the private sector, are often the first victims.
But it’s not just about the employees’ jobs; it’s also about having the tools to do their job. Do we really need all those textbooks in classes? Why does the school need a janitor? Let the kids clean their own school. Do firefighters really need that many trucks? Do we have to spend so much on bullets for police officers? Do we really have to hire so many mechanics to work on police cars?
Public employees unions are the only thing standing between us and complete chaos most of the time, especially when Republicans take charge of government and try to pay for the tax cuts they gave donors and supporters like the Koch Brothers. And unlike union workers working for private employers, who may deal with the same management for 20 years, public employees have to deal with different “bosses” every four years or so, and often have to deal with hostile forces within a state legislature.
Politicians, including Democrats, are rarely on the “same side” as public employees. There is always the urge to “cut waste,” regardless of political party, and public employees are often the first ones to pay the price. Witness President Obama’s “wage freeze” as an example.
It’s true that pay increases for civilian federal employees have been much higher than those in the private sector in recent years, but pay for state and local government employees is roughly at par with the private sector. I would also note that pay in the private sector has been largely stagnant, because private employers are hoarding cash. You want to talk about “more work for less money,” talk about the private sector. You think Michael Moore talks about Flint so much for his health? Private employers have been screwing workers because they’ve been busting unions, and Republicans have been leading the charge.Profits sure as hell have soared, so it’s not that private sector companies don’t have the money.
As for her claim that Democrats buy votes of government employees – well, it’s laughable on its face. First of all, the number of government employees in any state is a very tiny minority of the population. but in most states, public employees make roughly the same pay for the same work in the private sector. Of course, since a lot of positions, such as police, firefighters, EMTs, judges and teachers, don’t have counterparts in the private sector, such comparisons can be misleading. And a lot of those public employees can be said to be pretty significantly underpaid based on the level of risk they take on, and/or their value to society. Why does it not bother more people that teachers have to take summer jobs and police officers have to moonlight as security guards, just to keep their bills paid, mostly because Republicans refuse to increase taxes on the very rich by a few thousand dollars a year?
All workers have the right to bargain collectively. (I told you you’d need your Constitution.) It’s right there in the 14th Amendment. See, early in the last century, Congress moved to protect the rights of workers to unionize. We’ve also signed a number of international treaties that recognize the right to form a union and bargain with management. There are a few exceptions carved out of that right, having to do with safety. Soldiers can’t unionize, for example, and governments are allowed to limit strike activity in situations where public health and safety are involved. So, there is a right to unionize in the law. A lot of states refuse to recognize it, but they’re mostly red, so they tend to vote against their interests as a rule, anyway.
That pesky 14th Amendment says that, if one person has a right, we all have it. If you choose not to fight to regain it, that’s your choice, of course. But it is there.
Since the purpose of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is to protect us from the government, doesn’t it seem odd that Republicans want to take away the rights of those whose fortunes are most closely tied to government? If the government itself takes away people’s right to unionize, without having a public safety interest in doing so, shouldn’t that concern someone?
Finally, Annie uses a quote that seems to be making the rounds of the right wing blogs the last few days, and I want to clear it up. I found this quote on no fewer than 22 different blogs earlier today. It’s amazing how far bullshit travels in Right Wing World. Here is what she says. Note that the rest of her article is about how UNIONS don’t belong in the public sector, but she decides to narrow it to “collective bargaining,” to bring home her point, and make it look as if some prominent liberals agree with her. She’s hoping no one will notice:
It used to be widely understood that collective bargaining has no place in government employment. In 1937, the American president beloved by liberals, FDR, warned that collective bargaining “cannot be transplanted into the public service.” George Meany, head of the AFL-CIO for a quarter century, said unions were not appropriate for civil servants. As recently as 1978, the vast majority of states prohibited unionization of government employees.
George Meany’s quote was “It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.” He has been proven wrong by the fact that it’s been done for a half century and nothing’s blown up. In fact, later in his life, as President of the AFL-CIO, a large portion of membership under his leadership was made up of public unions.
Altogether, 22 states refuse to recognize the right of public workers to unionize. That is NOT a “majority of states,” vast or otherwise. In fact, 60% of all public state employees have the right to unionize, and the states that do allow it are doing better, financially speaking, than those states that do not. I know this is a strange concept for right wingers to get, but the more public employees make, the more taxes they pay. The more stable they are, the more stable the treasury is. Are you getting this?
Now, about that FDR quote. To Annie’s credit, she leaves in the phrase, “as usually understood,” which is something other right wing blogs have replaced with ellipses. Those few words, “as usually understood,” are very important, as is the context of the quote itself. Collective bargaining in 1937, the year in which this quote was coined, was different than collective bargaining now. There have been many legal changes since then, not the least of which is the Taft-Hartley Act. In other words, collective bargaining, “as usually understood” now means something different than it did in 1937.
It might help to read the quote in context. Here is the letter from which the right wingers take the quote:
Letter on the Resolution of Federation of Federal Employees Against Strikes in Federal Service – August 16, 1937
My dear Mr. Steward:
As I am unable to accept your kind invitation to be present on the occasion of the Twentieth Jubilee Convention of the National Federation of Federal Employees, I am taking this method of sending greetings and a message.
Reading your letter of July 14, 1937, I was especially interested in the timeliness of your remark that the manner in which the activities of your organization have been carried on during the past two decades “has been in complete consonance with the best traditions of public employee relationships.” Organizations of Government employees have a logical place in Government affairs.
The desire of Government employees for fair and adequate pay, reasonable hours of work, safe and suitable working conditions, development of opportunities for advancement, facilities for fair and impartial consideration and review of grievances, and other objectives of a proper employee relations policy, is basically no different from that of employees in private industry. Organization on their part to present their views on such matters is both natural and logical, but meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government.
All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.
Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable. It is, therefore, with a feeling of gratification that I have noted in the constitution of the National Federation of Federal Employees the provision that “under no circumstances shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government.”
I congratulate the National Federation of Federal Employees the twentieth anniversary of its founding and trust that the convention will, in every way, be successful.
Very sincerely yours,
Obviously, FDR wasn’t against unions, since the letter was written to a union, and he was congratulating them on their 20th anniversary. And he wasn’t actually against collective bargaining itself; hence the qualifier, “as usually understood.” He, like George Meany, didn’t see it as possible, based on a 1937 context. They have both been proven wrong. It happens.
So obviously, what Annie and the rest of the Right Wing Fart Machine are trying to imply is mistaken. FDR was against the idea of federal workers striking against the federal government and grinding the government to a halt in order to bring it to its knees. Most public worker collective bargaining doesn’t do that. And Walker isn’t talking about outlawing strikes; he’s talking about taking away the right to make sure you’re paid fairly for your job.
(I know, given the fact that many Republicans are downright giddy about the prospect of the government shutting down next week, use of the quote is more than a little ironic. But then, right wingers don’t get irony.)
Don’t right wingers tire of always being wrong? Apparently not.Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2011 The PCTC Blog