Phil Hauck's TEC Blog

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On The Recall Election!

        On June 5, we in Wisconsin have a Recall Election ... and there is information not being talked about that needs to, as follows:  The reason for the Recall election was the reduction in collective bargaining rights for public employees, although that reason is now being downplayed in favor of a job creation one.  As you know, I believe that employees need to be educated on some of the background about collective bargaining for public employees ... because it is being touted as a "universal worker right" by national figures ... when in fact, it isn't and shouldn't be, for these reasons:

      As natural as it seems to many these days, strong collective bargaining for public/government employees wasn't a "no-brainer" for many years (and still isn't for two-thirds of public employees).  The reason:  The fox in the henhouse.  Unions can take a portion of their dues, and use them as campaign contributions to supporters running for a school Board or Legislature, those who then have the responsibility of negotiating and/or approving the union's contract.  The supporter is then, hopefully, more beholden to the union positions and more amenable to their wants.
In the heydays of unions, when corporate abuses were manifold and a host of employee protection laws were put in place, President Franklin Roosevelt, a significant supporter of private sector unions, wrote the case against public sector unions ... primarily for the reasons just cited.  It was supported by subsequent national labor union leaders.
This all changed in 1959, in Wisconsin(!), when politics intervened.  Wisconsin became the first state to permit collective bargaining by government employees, as payback for union support and power in the state campaigns.  (Indeed, the predecessor that became AFSCME was formed in Madison in the 1930s.)
In 1960, President Kennedy approved collective bargaining for federal employees due to the support he received from unions during his presidential campaign.  But in 1977, President Carter and Congress reduced what collective bargaining could include to eliminate much of this effect because of the number of laws that had been put in place to protect workers.  
In other words, the creation of collective bargaining for public employees was due to partisan politics, not logic.
Today, only 35% of public employees are represented via collective bargaining yet, on average, all public employees as a collective group have greater benefits, especially upon retirement, than private workers do.

Three other points:
        1.  Two-thirds of public employees, and 93% of private workers ... aren't unionized and apparently don't feel the need to be.  They work well, directly, with their hierarchy to do what the organization needs to do to compete and service its customers.  They are protected by labor laws created due to the abuses of the early 20th century, and owners know that they succeed only if they create a great place for their employees to work.  Unfortunately, at least two generations of Wisconsin public employees haven't experienced that, have always been represented by a union during their entire work life ... and don't know that the alternative can be even better and more self-fulfilling.
        2.  Union leaders need to protect their jobs and their livelihoods.  The key to that is the automatic union fee deduction that they negotiate for the employer to take from the employees ... all of them.  It feeds the union, as well as the political contributions they make to create the "fox in the henhouse" effect.  It's very important to them ... indeed critical ... to get this capability back.
        3.  Lastly, think of an organization's purpose.  It is to serve its customers in providing sufficient value in a constantly upgrading marketplace so that the customers keep coming back.  That's what the "business" does.  So, who is the customer of the union?  It's the member.  The union's objective is to serve the interests and protect the livelihood of the member.  It is NOT focused on the employing organization's self-interest ... serving its customers.  That's NOT alignment of interests.  IF the employer is not abusing its employees, there should not be a union.  Today, organizations don't survive and thrive if they aren't treating their employees well;  certainly, there are breakdowns but increasingly it's a joint effort to serve the customer well and reward the employee with both good working conditions and commensurate rewards ... which avoid the need for a union.
        That's why our public employees and their union leaders are fighting so hard to get the capability back.  Our public institutions will actually work better, more effectively, in serving us, their customer/public, without a third-party union contract to hold them back ... and there are plenty of ways, used constantly by all other organizations, to correct leadership/ownership when the relationship isn't a rational win/win.
        (If you'd like another resource that well explains this phenomenon, Google "Collective Bargaining Public Employees Yuval Levin."  Yuval Levin developed his writeup in February 2011, at the peak of the Madison protests.  He is a fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC.)