I demand the right as a taxpayer, to strike.
ex•tor•tion [ik-stawr-shuh n] –noun
1. An act or instance of extorting.
2. The crime of obtaining money or some other thing of value by the abuse of one’s office or authority.
3. Oppressive or illegal exaction, as of excessive price or interest: the extortions of usurers.
4. Anything extorted.
Early in our industrial infancy, the cheapest labor was often recent immigrants, indentured for their trip from the old world. Like many nubies, they were mocked as unsophisticated or slow witted by some in pop culture for their low socio-economic standing and lack of understanding of local norms. They were employed at a slower rate than assimilated workers. Unscrupulous business owners, and I might add, political parties, took unfair advantage of their ignorance. Workers were hired under misleading arrangements specifically worded to entice these workers into unfair contracts. The workers did what all workers in a free market do when treated dishonestly, the walked out. This wiped the gotcha-smile right off the bosses faces. The bosses could not infringe upon one’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. One of the principles essential to the right to pursue happiness is the ability to keep the fruits of one’s pursuits, the protection of private property. The bosses wanted to get the production from the worker, and keep much of the remuneration as well.
To infringe upon this right required collusion with government.
Fraudulent employers got bigger, helped elect business friendly politicians who then enacted laws allowing employment contract skippers to be arrested and to allow local police to enforce the terms of the contracts. Railroads, coal mines, steel, were industries notorious for taking advantage of workers, enforced with the help of local and state police. They paid in script only accepted at the over priced company store. This is the part of the story we have all heard. The employees banded together and stopped working. Without production, the bosses could not buy the government they needed to keep the employees working. Such collusion only works to the advantage of the privileged few. We elect our government and the majority of Americans do not appreciate fraud and corruption, even now. Once the lights were turned on, the roaches scurried.
For most of the rest of our country’s history, unions could strike and business owners could fold. Pay and benefits were negotiated somewhere in the middle. All agreements were subject to either party simply walking away, at least temporarily. If the business folded, no amount of picketing would create money from thin air. If the employees walked, no amount of retained profit would produce. Soon equilibrium was reached whereby the employees felt favorably compensated, the business owner had labor he could count on and little changed year to year. Employees questioned the relevancy of the unions and hesitated to pay the dues for no change year to year. But politicians, as they are prone to do, followed the politically expedient source of money and grew to be on the “side” of unions, for a price. The unions used the means at their disposal to enact favorable legislation of their own. So was born the closed shop. If you wanted a job in a union shop, you had to join the union, often before applying for the job. Anyone who was not pro-union would not be allowed to join and therefore could not get the job. Friends and family were the only ones allowed to join and dissention in union matters was scarce. Even with this arrangement, employees were less and less interested in joining unions and paying the extorted dues. Non-union shops could pay less and charge less and fire people more easily, at the same time, they hired more easily and sometimes the take home pay was higher as no one was supporting a union infrastructure. This was especially true for other countries. Soon, a new generation of workers grew up only hearing stories of the labor movement. Their union loyalty faded as the union looked less and less like the savior of mistreated employees, and more and more like the bloated bureaucracies that had enslaved their grandfathers. Unions needed a better way of growing members in order to survive.
One option, the hard way, was to insist on minimum standards for members for training, ethics, dependability, etc. They could insist on eliminating poor performers from their ranks. This would give unions a reputation for the best employees for the money and guarantee a steady supply of employees wanting to join and a steady supply of employers wanting to hire them. The downside, the dues would have to be really low to keep newly employed members from leaving once they got the job. And, there is the downside of having to produce something in return for the dues after years of getting closed shop dues for relatively little. But if they could find another option, a new steel industry or a new coal industry, where the businesses hardly had any competition for employees, it would be much easier. Such a business would be staffed by employees with little choice but to work for the union. What would be even better is if they could do so in an industry with considerable profit margin from which to negotiate. The search was on for an industry with unlimited funds, relatively high tolerance of favoritism and nepotism, and a favorable political climate.
The perfect industry exists. However it was illegal to organize until the late 1950’s. Then a New York City mayor wanted to secure a few city worker votes and the public sector union was born. Democrat politicians across the country rushed to add public sector union members to their roster of campaign contributors. The unions could push the entitlement form of pay and benefits, and get the government to pull their closed shop union dues straight from the employee’s paychecks. The union could then use those dues to help elect pro-union politicians with which to negotiate those entitlements. The position normally held by the business that could go out of business was now filled by the tax payer. The tax paying public can not cease to exist due to unprofitable employment arrangements. Moreover, the union employee gets to vote for their representative on the government side of the table, same as any other tax payer. They then also get to send a second negotiator on the union side. The first places to adopt such laws were those states where a large portion of the state’s employees worked for big, heavy industries which were already union supporters. The rust belt fell first along with steel and dockworkers heavy states. More would follow as right-to-work states had uprisings to get the “right” to extort higher pay from their taxpayers as well. All went as planned, at first.
The arrangement in Wisconsin threatens the golden egg laying goose for two simple reasons: Greed and incompetence. Pay is peanuts; the big money is in pensions. A public sector worker can work for 30 years as a teacher, from 25 to 55 years old, retire with a pension, live to be 85 years old, and draw more in pension in those 30 years than they were paid to actually work 30 years. Each time a teacher in Wisconsin retires, the cost of their replacement is double, one for the replacement, one for the pensioner. In a private sector business, where pensions have long gone the way of the dinosaur, the money for the pension would be set aside each year the teacher worked. The cost would be obvious as the $52,000 teacher also had $52,000 set aside for her pension in hopes that she only lived 30 years following retirement. Retired teachers who live to be 90 could see 5 years when the cost is triple. The number of retirees, who do so, increases every generation, as does the base pay, all of which is renegotiated each year. The public sector union employee in Wisconsin grew up seeing their parents get this pension, without paying into it themselves, and now expect the same. They see it as a right. They feel entitled. Public sector pay and benefits outweigh the private sector employee packages from which the public sector pensions are paid, and the private sector employee also paid for a significant portion of their own retirement. Private sector pensions are all but nonexistent because no one can predict how long a new 25 year old employee will live after retirement. No business decision can be made 30 years in advance with any security. Private sector employees must live off of the retirement they helped pay for as well as continuing to pay for the public sector pension for a retiree who did not. The cost of a public sector union employee far exceeds that of the private sector employee’s pay and benefits. Which would be OK, if the electorate feels they are getting their money’s worth. The downside of favoritism and nepotism in an environment of employees motivated by belief in entitlement to the job, is that performance will always be lackluster at best, and never approach the performance where continued employment and promotion require it. Indeed, the union can be counted on to talk higher performers into slowing down or performing less to prevent bringing undue attention to the overall lackluster performance. But the internet allows parents to realize that their students are more likely than other similar students to perform poorly, despite spending much more per capita on education. As teacher pay increased, public school student performance decreased. We understand child learning better now than in previous generations, we have computers and other teaching tools available to us like never before, and a large portion of Wisconsin public school 8th graders cannot read proficiently.
But the death knell for the public sector unions in Wisconsin and the rest of the U. S. sounded when they took a stand on the ability to renegotiate their position, on the promise of accepting pay and benefit cuts now. They got the nation’s attention when they stated flatly, that cutting pay and benefits for union members instead of raising taxes on everyone was solving a money mismanagement problem on the backs of the unions.
Really? The collective scowl from the country was palpable.
Although they were correct about the mismanagement, it was at the hands of the union-elected miss-managers. Taxes had already been raised 60% to pay for the existing packages as businesses left the state. Fewer students to educate could not be accepted as a sound reason to lay off unneeded teachers. The teacher’s union wants everyone to pay even higher taxes, following an election upset run and won on the promise of cutting spending and taxes, The union promises that union members will take a small hit now, so long as they get the opportunity to negotiate themselves raises and increases in the future, (when they can get more union friendly politicians elected). What I heard was, “We will keep the roaches out of the kitchen so long as the light is on.” Such negotiations in the past have often been accompanied with back pay for those cut years. In other words, “Write us an IOU for the “pay cuts” we are borrowing from the next generation of workers we are under-educating, or we will shut down the underperforming school system we took an oath not to abandon. Really, we promise.” To put it in terms some of you might appreciate, they said, “Nice school system you have here. Be a shame if something bad were to happen to it. A threat?!! Heavens no, it is illegal for teachers in Wisconsin to strike! I’m just sayin’ if something were to happen, organically without our community organizers community-organizing it . . .”
We are at a crossroads in this country on so many levels, but this is ground zero for the entitlement culture war. (Wisconsin is also seen by many as the beginning, ground zero, for union solidarity of past unions. I find this ironic, but perhaps fitting that the attempt to skew the political processes in favor of the privileged few, on the backs of the many, would be exposed there and defeated there.) If Wisconsin folds, so folds the country.
I call for the formation of a new union, one representing the over 80% of all workers who are not currently represented. I suggest that membership be open to all taxpayers not belonging to a union and that membership can be begun and ended year by year, with a prorated refund of dues anytime a politician you don’t want to support is supported. I suggest that we vote ourselves the “right” to bargain and the “right” to have union members pay OUR retirement and healthcare. In fairness, the unions will likely loose the ability to negotiate pension and healthcare soon either way. Perhaps we should only reserve the one right we truly do have; the right to the pursuit of happiness; the right to keep our property. I suggest we organize a taxpayers union and strike to end the extortion of our property on the threat of public employee sickouts. I want the right to strike and put the golden egg laying goose out of the egg laying business. I want to strike to end the practice of borrowing from our children without their informed consent, to send from balanced-budget/right-to-work states like Virginia, to states like Wisconsin.
We can survive without public sector unions. They cannot survive without us.