I would not argue that unions have never done good. We could debate if they came before or after safety standards were already improving. Lets explore for a moment the historic image of unions, that uncaring business exploited it’s workers who banded together to force the evil company to treat them fairly. The term “redneck” gets used a lot, but most are not aware of where the term originated. Farm workers or any who toiled in the sun frequently suffered sunburns on their necks, and was a common phrase for field workers. During their early organization, miners unions used the phrase and it’s symbol, a red bandana to promote and denote a union worker. Many Irish immigrants became coal miners and may have been the inspiration. The unions were seeking to unite blacks, whites and immigrants and gained the nations attention with the “Red Neck War”, properly known as the Battle of Blair Mountain.
The Battle of Blair Mountain was one of the largest civil uprisings in United States history and the largest armed insurrection since the American Civil War. For five days in late August and early September 1921, in Logan County, West Virginia, between 10,000 and 15,000 coal miners confronted an army of police and strikebreakers backed by coal operators during an attempt by the miners to unionize the southwestern West Virginia coalfields. The battle ended after approximately one million rounds were fired, and the United States Army intervened by presidential order.(1)
I can see several sides to this story, the mine owners have/had certain rights as property owners. It’s easy to say, don’t take the job if they only pay in company script, good only at the company store, but that was a different time with greater hardships. It’s clear many of these companies engaged in virtual slavery, even if it was somehow legal. Hiring a private army and the practices they used cannot be considered legal by any reasonable consideration. By most accounts, the miners were not violent until a long history of being abused, even killed, without any legal consequence to their oppressors.
I think the failure of the law, of the government of the people, for the people is as relevant as the birth of unions. The mine owners used the government and the force of law to get their way, to exploit the mine workers as they saw fit. Think about US Army planes bombing US citizens who were revolting because they had seen their friends and family beaten and killed while every government official involved seemed content to allow it to continue. Do I see where unions were needed? Absolutely, this is the same type of abuse that led to our own revolution. But I also see where unions have turned the tables, and now are the ones using the government to force their will upon others. Mining is one of the most dangerous jobs with poor working conditions and long-term health issues. But since when did librarians need such protection?
We get another glimpse of California’s fiscal insanity with the news that even in the face of the extreme financial crisis the state and its cities face, the state’s biggest public employee union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), is fighting to stop fiscally strapped Californian cities from outsourcing library operations.
Two cities in California — Camarillo and Santa Clarita — decided to bypass their county library system and instead hire the private company Library Systems and Services (LSSI) to run the city libraries. A few other California cities have done the same in the past. So a handful of the over 1,000 public libraries in California have decided to save money while maintaining the city services by outsourcing.
However, even this pathetic, meager stab at privatization — in a state verging on insolvency, filled with cities many of which are verging on bankruptcy — has aroused the ire of the SEIU. SEIU tool Assemblyman Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara) has introduced a bill (AB 438) that in effect would stop any more cities from contracting out library services to private companies.
To be precise, this benighted bill would allow outsourcing library services only if no public employees would be “displaced” — meaning that no public employees could even be transferred to other work or libraries elsewhere, much less laid off — no matter how much it saved the city or how deeply the city is cash-strapped. Even more outrageously, the bill prohibits outsourcing to any private company whose compensation is lower than what the public library employees receive — which negates the whole reason for outsourcing to begin with, and ensures that cities can find no relief going forward from the high compensation rates extracted by the unions.(2)
The Battle of Wisconsin has been interesting to observe. Think about a strongly Democratic state electing a Republican governor along with majorities to both houses. The people had had enough of unions bankrupting the taxpayers with no end to their demands. I think the strongest statement about unions is made when dues are voluntary, not forcefully removed from their paychecks. Union members seem to be mostly fair weather friends, supporting the union only to get what they want, but dropping out when they can and avoiding those union dues. It is unquestionably true union membership declines wherever due are paid directly by the members, not held from their paychecks like the government does our taxes.
Obama was all for education reform before his election, after it was only union approved reform he supported. Bye, bye charter schools and vouchers. Will the unions allow non-union tutors? Most schools are struggling with No Child Left Behind (really bad ideal, George, REAlly Bad ideal) resulting in the Dept. of Ed. considering waivers. (3) Don’t get in a hurry Mrs Duncan, your bureaucracy has been screwing up our national education for over forty years, a couple more won’t matter much. Better think about what’s best for your boss which means getting him re-elected so you can keep your job too! Is it worth discussing why we don’t pay good teachers more and bad ones less?(4)
FAA and the controllers union — with assistance from NASA and the Mitre Corp., among others — formed a working group a year and a half ago to study fatigue among controllers and develop recommendations. Among those recommendations, which were presented privately to Babbitt in January, is that FAA change its policies to give controllers on midnight shifts as much as two hours to sleep plus a half-hour to wake up.But a key member of Congress said building in time to sleep on the job is unacceptable.”I think that is totally bogus,” Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told the AP. “There are so many professions that have to work long hours. I was greeted this morning by a young surgeon that had been working all night in an ER.(5)
On the August 15 “Dylan Ratigan Show,” MSNBC anchor Dylan Ratigan and the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney sparred over the extent to which Big Labor impacts the political process relative to other industries.Ratigan, who has made a career out of bemoaning the influence that the energy, banking, health care, defense, telecom, and agriculture sectors exert on politics, omitted organized labor from his exhaustive (exhausting?) list. After Carney pointed out that labor unions collectively direct more campaign contributions to political candidates than any other industry in the country, Ratigan sternly corrected him: “That’s not right. You can’t invent facts…that’s a great distortion of facts to make it look like labor controls the government.”So who’s right?According to Duquesne University professor Anthony Davies’ chart, posted by Big Governmentlast month, Big Labor has contributed to more money to political candidates and political parties from 1989 to 2009 than all “Top-100” special interest groups combined.The study shows that during that time, labor unions have donated twice as much money to political candidates and parties as the telecommunications, insurance, pharmaceuticals, and real estate industries combined.Honing in on more recent spending reveals that while Big Labor expenditures vary by election cycle, the top unions are always formidable forces.Open Secrets datashows that while the Chamber of Commerce, a pro-business lobby, spent the most money among non-party committees, nearly $33 million, during the 2010 cycle, the top three labor unions combined to outspend the Chamber: the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) spent almost $16 million, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) spent $13 million, and the National Education Association (NEA) spent $10 million, for a grand total of $39 million.Data from the 2008 cycle paints an even more promising picture for Carney’s case: the SEIU spent the most money, $42 million, and the AFSCME spent the second most, nearly $20 million. Meanwhile, the Chamber of Commerce spent about $16.5 million. Overall, spending by non-party liberal groups outpaced non-party conservative groups by $159 million to $120 million, respectively.While no one doubts the influence of pro-business groups, Carney seemed to be on solid footing by insisting that Ratigan add Big Labor to his list of influence-peddling bogeymen.A transcript of the relevant portions of the segment can be found below:MSNBC(6)
(You can’t invent facts…that’s my job as a media commentator) Remember John Melencamps sage advice, Play Guitar? Not if the unions have their say…(I will have more to say about Gibson Guitars in a few weeks, but thought it interesting that the unions almost destroyed the company.)
The Gibson Company was started by Orville Gibson in 1894 at his workshop in Kalamazoo, Michigan. As the popularity of Orville’s instruments grew, his company grew with it. Gibson eventually became the most respected name in Mandolins, banjos and guitars in the world. In 1963, Gibson was having difficulty remaining solvent and parent company CMI president H. H. Berlin hired Stan Rendell as V.P. for manufacturing to straighten out the problem. In the book, 100 years of Gibson, Rendell says explaining the problem the company faced:
“The problem was the steelworkers union!” he details (the company had been unionized during World War II, when the plant was making metal-intensive war products). “They were dictating everything.”
Rendell’s solution was simple: Move all string manufacturing from Kalamazoo across Lake Michigan to Elgin, Illinois. This reduced the crossover from job to job and increased efficiency both in guitar production and string making. It also sent a message to the union that Rendell was not going to mess around. (Mulhern, 1994)
Rendell soon returned the company to profitability but labor and quality problems persisted. Finally, the decision was made to open a new production facility in Tennessee, a right-to-work state. Hear this Boeing! Manufacturing in a new location with a new labor force was not easy but eventually the old Kalamazoo plant was phased- out with products coming out of plants in Nashville, Memphis and Bozeman, Montana.(7)