published Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Misguided assault on unions


It has become undeniably clear that the political firestorms raging in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee and other states where Republican governors are trying to break public employees' and teachers' unions have nothing to do with tight budgets, and everything to do with partisan political efforts to gut unions' rights to organize and collectively bargain, and to shred unions' traditional support for Democrats.

It's also clear that these Republican-controlled administrations and Legislatures are disturbingly untroubled about trampling the organizations that have done so much to advance decent standards for working conditions, wages, benefits and fair grievance procedures that have become the hallmark for America's mainstream, and now threatened, middle class.

Gov. Walker spills the beans

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's taped 20-minute conversation Wednesday with a man he presumed was billionaire David Koch, one of the two billionaire brothers who are the chief financiers of libertarian and neoconservative groups like the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity, provides telling insight into the nexus of the Republican union-busters and the ultra-rich architects of this destructive, anti-middle-class strategy.

Walker willingly took the call from a blogger who falsely identified himself as David Koch, a prominent figure who had helped bankroll Walker's campaign and who has long been a harsh opponent of unions. Asked by the caller how he was handling "those bas----s," Walker proceeded to lay out his political strategy and tactics for his union-busting initiative, which he labeled his party's most portentous "moment" in years to replicate Ronald Reagan's busting of the air traffic controllers' union.

Old grudge, bad tactics

With the caller openly disparaging teachers and other public employee union members, Walker said he had considered hiring provocateurs to make trouble in the massive but peaceful demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin's capital, against his union-busting bill. But he said he had decided not to do so, but only because he feared it could cause a political problem for him.

He coyly suggested that the Koch impersonator buy advertising to bolster wavering Republicans in the legislative stand-off that has resulted in Democratic members fleeing Wisconsin's capital to avert the quorum needed to pass the bill. He described how he might trick them to come back, and he laughed about keeping a ball-bat to handle the demonstrators. He said he couldn't introduce a key Democrat to the caller he believed to be Koch because "he isn't one of us." And he made it clear that he had wanted to bust public employee unions for a long time, and that he was keeping in touch with the governors in Ohio, Indiana, Florida and Nevada about their common union-busting goals.

When the caller he presumed to be Koch closed the call by saying, "Well, I tell you what, Scott: Once you crush these bas----s I'll fly you to Cali (California) and really show you a good time," Walker replied, "All right, that would be outstanding. Thanks for all the support."

Ethical, legal issues

A former Wisconsin attorney and U.S. attorney, Peg Lautenschlager, told a Madison newspaper that Walker's comments raised possible ethical, election law and labor law violations. Whether that's the case, the governor's comments clearly reflect a reprehensible political position.

In fact, Wisconsin's state workers already have agreed to help the state close its budget shortfall by dramatically raising their cost-share for pensions and health care, among other concessions. But that doesn't matter to the governor. He still insists on passing the bill to strip the unions of broad organizational and collective bargaining rights because that's his primary goal.

Tennessee proposal worse

Tennessee's Republican leaders in the Legislature are set to pass an even harsher bill against the Tennessee Education Association, the teachers' union. They want to bar school boards from negotiating with the TEA and allowing its members paycheck deduction for dues. That would effectively destroy the core of teachers' professional rights to organize themselves under a union and have a say in the wages and working conditions that will circumscribe their careers and working lives.

This is wrong on its face because it amounts to stripping public employees of rights that are guaranteed under the National Labor Relations Act to all American workers. It's another obscene example of lawmakers flouting the rules that apply to ordinary citizens and private businesses to take political vengeance on the teachers' union.

Unions pose no threat

In fact, unions are not a threat either to governments or private business. In Tennessee, for example, teachers are forbidden to strike. And relatively few Americans in private industries (less than 10 percent) now belong to unions. Their weakness is already the result of Republicans at the federal level placing burdensome anti-union rules on the exercise of workers' rights to organize and employers' obligations to recognize them.

Once public employees are stripped of their due process rights to collective bargaining, working conditions, wages, benefits and fair grievance procedures for workers on both sides of the public-private divide are bound to sink further, even as the share of national wealth becomes increasingly concentrated in the hands of America's top 1 percent of earners.

Worsening the wealth gap

This index is already the worst in America in decades. The top 1 percent presently hold more than 35 percent of the nation's wealth, while the bottom 90 percent hold just 25 percent. Busting unions, and threatening the standards they help set for non-union employees, will only aggravate the wealth gap that is already hollowing out America's middle class.

Why Republican leaders pursue this agenda is no mystery: The ultra rich are their main campaign contributors. But why they get away with it boggles the mind. Voters would serve themselves well to remind Republican leaders that their union-busting agenda will ultimately hurt America's middle class and lower-income workers more that our society can afford.

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Eddo said...

Firstly, collective bargaining is not a RIGHT, it's a PRIVILEGE that has been negotiated between a union and an employer of union members.

Unions served a useful purpose in the early to mid-20th century -- they serve little or no purpose today. American workers are not as dependent on unions to provide them a place in the workforce of a company and are much more likely to move to another company if they don't like their job or see greater opportunities elsewhere. The steady decrease of unionized employees over the past 30 years or so demonstrates this.

Unions also became far too greedy over the past 30 or 40 years. School teachers in Wisconsin may earn only $50 thousand or so/year but they receive health care benefits worth thousands more and do not currently pay anything into their retirement system. When you include those benefits into the equation their income may be as much as $80 thousand/year or more.

Generally, if the employees of a company are unionized and you want a job there, you must agree to join the union and pay union dues. This is blatantly opposit of "right to work" philosophy.

I say send the unions packing!

February 27, 2011 at 12:23 p.m.
rick1 said...

"Misguided assualts on unions" I would lilke to hear what the Times editorial would have to say about what is happening in NYC with the teachers union.

February 27, 2011 at 12:37 p.m.
librul said...

So, Eddo, one has to ask how you feel about the ThinkProgress revelation that, if you have one dollar in your pocket, you have more than Exxon, Bank of America, GE and Citibank COMBINED have paid in federal income tax?

  • BANK OF AMERICA: In 2009, Bank of America didn’t pay a single penny in federal income taxes, exploiting the tax code so as to avoid paying its fair share. “Oh, yeah, this happens all the time,” said Robert Willens, a tax accounting expert interviewed by McClatchy. “If you go out and try to make money and you don’t do it, why should the government pay you for your losses?” asked Bob McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice. The same year, the mega-bank’s top executives received pay “ranging from $6 million to nearly $30 million.”

  • BOEING: Despite receiving billions of dollars from the federal government every single year in taxpayer subsidies from the U.S. government, Boeing didn’t “pay a dime of U.S. federal corporate income taxes” between 2008 and 2010.

  • CITIGROUP: Citigroup’s deferred income taxes for the third quarter of 2010 amounted to a grand total of $0.00. At the same time, Citigroup has continued to pay its staff lavishly. “John Havens, the head of Citigroup’s investment bank, is expected to be the bank’s highest paid executive for the second year in a row, with a compensation package worth $9.5 million.”

  • EXXON-MOBIL: The oil giant uses offshore subsidiaries in the Caribbean to avoid paying taxes in the United States. Although Exxon-Mobil paid $15 billion in taxes in 2009, not a penny of those taxes went to the American Treasury. This was the same year that the companyovertook Wal-Mart in the Fortune 500. Meanwhile the total compensation of Exxon-Mobil’s CEO the same year was over $29,000,000.

February 27, 2011 at 2:34 p.m.
ITguy said...

During the course of my career I have learned that if you want to keep good employees, you must treat them with respect. This is as important as money and other benefits. The teachers in Wisconsin have agreed to wage concessions, this clearly not about the budget, but about busting the union. The Republicans have no respect for teachers, and I think that if the truth were known they don't believe in public education.

Riddle me this. If we continue to treat teachers with so little respect, who will want to pursue teaching as a profession? Who will educate the next generation?

February 27, 2011 at 2:38 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

I find this fascinating. In the 2008 elections, the Teacher unions were supporting the Republican candidates. They had even issued a "brochure" of sorts to encourage teachers to vote Republican. I remember being somewhat surprised when I read it. This trend continued...until now. Ouch, huh?

Here in Tennessee, this all started because in the 2010 election cycle, the Republicans did not like that the TEA had contributed more money to the Democratic campaign and demanded their fair share. What they got was, apparently, not enough.

For some reason, the majority vote in Tennessee is for Republican candidates. We are one of the poorest states in the Union but we vote in those who only serve the corporations. Bill Haslam is a prime example.

When are we ever going to learn that the Republicans don't want your children to have a good education. If they were well educated, they wouldn't vote Republican!

February 27, 2011 at 7:09 p.m.
acerigger said...

, The New York Times gives us another article about how working-class people, in this case in Columbus, have little sympathy for union workers struggling to retain their ability to bargain collectively. One man trying to make ends meet on $10 an hour is described this way: "I think they should stop crying,' he said of the protesting union members. Everyone was working hard and tightening their belts,' he said, 'so why should unions be different?"

Nothing warms the heart of a plutocrat more than hearing that sentiment. The trick is to get working-class people to look at the union members whose collective bargaining has gotten them exactly what it's supposed to -- fair wages and reasonable benefits -- and ask not "How can I get what they've got?", but rather, "Why should they get something I don't?"

February 28, 2011 at 5:58 a.m.
BigRidgePatriot said...

Unions are useful to correct poor wages and working conditions imposed by an antagonistic boss. That hardly describes the “plight” of government workers and specifically public school teachers. Let me see, let’s design a system wherein politicians employ workers who are a key constituency and trust those same politicians and workers to negotiate together on behalf of the taxpayers. The taxpayers are the only ones not at the table even though they are the ones paying all the bills.

One would think that government employees might get above market wages and outrageously generous benefit packages with such a cozy deal…

NO, ZERO, NADA public sector employees should be able to collectively bargain, including teachers.

February 28, 2011 at 6:22 p.m.
BigRidgePatriot said...

I wish the authors of these silly articles were identified so we could know who the nuts are around town.

February 28, 2011 at 6:23 p.m.
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