Grassroots Commentary

Unions: Something to Consider

Fred Fox · Dec. 1, 2011

I have long suspected that the rampant liberalism of the 1960s would have deleterious effects on our society in the future. The future is now. That being said, I propose the following:

[My well-documented research in this area in preparation of my MBA thesis (Unionization And The Professional; Fairleigh Dickinson University, 1970) was done at the very time the movement was active, so I have some familiarity with the subject. It took a recent interview with Fred Siegel by Matthew Kaminski (Wall Street Journal, November 26-27, 2011) to bring it again to the fore.]

Our current financial crisis is in large part a result of the growth of public sector unions. The decline of the blue-collar worker in the ‘50s resulted in decline in union membership, heralding a decline in union stature and commensurate decline in union power. In order to survive, unions were forced to look elsewhere for membership. Failing in their attempts to unionize private sector (the economy) professionals and white-collar workers generally, they turned their efforts to the public sector.

The public sector (government employees at all levels, local, state and federal), became their prime target. Pay was in almost all cases less than that of the private sector. By promising increased pay and benefits, unions attracted many in public service, including teachers. By offering a degree of solidarity, the power of the larger organization could be put to use in negotiations with employers, in this case government.

The public sector is comprised of employees who are in all cases financed by taxes. Union dues from those employees (via deduction from their paychecks) provide a steady flow of income which can be spent lobbying government to raise taxes to increase benefits to their members. Unions employ their considerable lobbying power (their raison d'etre} to influence politicians, who raise the necessary funds via taxation. This process provides more money to hire more public employees (and additional votes supporting union-backing politicians), thereby growing and increasing the cost of government. The cycle persists and is a major cause of our current financial crisis.

Union gains always are made at the expense of management – in this case, government. The difference from the private sector (the economy) is that the economy’s profit is a function of productivity, while neither profit nor productivity is a factor in government. With unions generally, spending is not related to productivity. It is related to the power of their numbers in relation to that of their employers – again, in this case, government. To provide the increased benefits promised by unions, taxes must be increased.

Siegel notes that salaries and benefits for city secretaries and bus drivers have outgained those of professionals in the private sector (taxpayers), and their power continues to grow at the expense of those professionals, whose ability to achieve economic independence is curtailed by the taxes they pay. The costs imposed are driving out the private sector middle class; entitlements widen the wealth gap. He notes as well that union organizers have tapped into the language of the civil rights movement (and political correctness) to present collective bargaining as another “right.” This has poisoned our economy and helped to precipitate the problems we are experiencing today: “(Unions) are the disease of which they proclaim the cure.”

Unionization initially was a major factor in the economic development of the subprofessional (blue-collar) worker who needed protection from 'big business’ at the time. Times have changed, but unions persist. Most professionals consider unionization beneath them, professionalism and unionization being largely incompatible. The professional’s requirement of individual freedom and autonomy is not aligned with the concept of collective bargaining, nor is his authoritative position within his profession enhanced by allowing a union to bargain in his behalf. (In other words, true professionals do not join unions.)

I am also convinced that the general ‘dumbing down’ of our population is directly correlated with the rise of public sector unions. Teachers’ unions control public education to a large degree, and the quality of public school education has been deteriorating steadily since the ‘60s(!). Colleges must provide remedial courses to help students learn to read, write, even think and behave, things that once were an accepted part of secondary, even primary, education.

Teachers protest that they are “stuck in a system that doesn’t treat them as professionals.” “(Grading the Teachers by Bill and Melinda Gates in Review, Wall Street Journal, October 22-23). Why is that? First and foremost is the fact that professionals don’t need unions, and almost all teachers are union members. This article continues: ”…we now reward teachers for easy-to-measure proxies…even though there is no evidence that these things help students learn.“ These 'rewards’ come via the union. If teachers would act and perform like professionals without placing the union between them and their employers, their quality would improve and they would be treated as professionals by their school systems; education would improve.

It used to be that secondary education taught students reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, things that taught them to think. I suggest that the good old days weren’t so bad…

In order to solve any problem, it is first necessary to identify it. I submit that public sector unions place an unnecessary burden on, and are a major source of the current decline of, our society. Unions exist only for themselves and have outlived their usefulness. Out with them.

What do you think?

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