Our paychecks now face constant ballot test

In a glimpse of what could easily have happened in Minnesota and could yet occur, a Republican legislature and governor passed “right to work” laws in Michigan yesterday, one of the biggest union states in the nation yesterday.

Lawmakers did so with little debate and no hearings, ushering in laws that weaken both public and private sector unions. The argument for the law, which makes it illegal for union contracts to require membership or fair-share pay for collective bargaining, is that it makes business more competitive. The argument against is that this reduces wages and benefits, something widely seen in other states that have adopted this kind of law.

I get that there are two sides of this debate. What I don’t get is why this is remotely healthy for our national morale to pass laws affecting a large number of workers to benefit a small number of business owners. I respect business owners, having come from a long line of them, but I also come from a parallel line of blue-collar union workers. Why must my grandfather’s modest, lower middle-class life as a miner disabled on the job be held up for scorn in our national discourse? Why are we told he, or I or my sons should make less when the income disparity in this nation grows independent of all economic factors?

It’s very frustrating. I’d be much more open to conservative ideas if members of the conservative party weren’t openly contemptuous of the work my colleagues and I do in public schools and colleges. And they are. I see it all the time.

If you like the nonstop emotional wringer that our national politics have become, try putting the wages and benefits of millions of workers on the ballot every two years. Want a cost-of-living increase? Want your insurance rates to stay the same? It’s on the ballot. Every time. I don’t know that this is a healthy way to approach workers rights, and it creates very hurtful divisions in our communities and workplaces. It also stymies productive debate over the role of government and budgeting, because vengeance and fear are the only political commodities being traded. But it will nonetheless continue until the reckoning comes to pass.

Comments

  1. I must confess that your post seems a bit confused to me. Right to work laws empower employees, not management. I remember when I was a mere college student going out to student teach. I was required to pay dues to the union simply in order to student teach. It wasn’t even as if they were taking a portion of my income because I had no income from student teaching.

    Right to work is about individual liberty and freedom. In this country it really shouldn’t even warrant a discussion. The principled argument for right to work is the best one. The utilitarian argument, that right to work states experience substantially more growth, is a very small and secondary argument.

    And MNSCU receives hostility because it is a government funded entity whose members, in the execution of their duties, do not seem even handed towards Minnesotans of certain political persuasions. Do you really think the MNSCU faculty resembles Minnesota society in general?

  2. I’ll take this in two parts:
    1) “Right to work laws empower employees, not management.” You’ve been around this blog a long time and you’re a big boy, so I don’t mind calling a big, fat “bullshit” on this one. Yes, the argument (especially in ballot wording) says pretty words like that, but an individual employee really only gets the right to opt out of fair share, saving a few bucks a year while they have less ability to negotiate benefits and wages. Every single state that has done this has seen wage and benefit cuts over time, often in the form of layoffs and part time hiring. “Right to work” busts unions. If you don’t like unions and your goal is to bust them, that’s what this law does and congratulatons. But that’s what these things are to their very core, and they are a product of anti-union, conservative politics and not “worker empowerment.”

    Now, you could counter-argue that more Americans than ever are non-union already, and that’s true. The world keeps spinning and people with jobs generally don’t starve, also basically true. But THAT is why national wages are stagnating. I have worked in management and I know that health care plans are crazy expensive (were 10 years ago, anyway, when I dealt with them) and getting more so. I love Obamacare’s coverage model, but even its supporters know it does not bring the cost savings until after people are covered and the pool expands. Employers are looking to squeeze out savings and there are few options but adding to employee benefit package co-payment. Right to work makes it harder to fight that for many workers, or at least negotiate fair practices. That’s what this is about, my goodness.

    2) Pal! Buddy! Why you gotta do me like that? That’s an awfully broad brush. Working in MNSCU I know that MNSCU is not perfect. Not by a long shot. But maybe you need to know what it is I actually do. I walk into a classroom, or an online interface, and I teach students the #1 job skill that employers tell us they want people to know — how to communicate with customers and in organizations. Society’s #1 problem is the degredation of family and I teach students strategies for being better partners, parents and friends. I almost never know my students’ politics and, unless they look me up online, my students don’t know mine. Sometimes they ask and I say, but only if asked and always with open mindedness to other views.

    Former Rep. King Bainian works in MNSCU and is a widely regarded conservative professor. I am glad he teaches in MNSCU, even though I disagree with him. Some of the best teachers at my school are conservative Republicans.

    It sounds like you had a bad experience somewhere in MNSCU. Well, I’m sorry to hear that. I worked for a guy who bitched at me every day about liberals. I lived!

    I think if you met my colleagues you’d see a lot of regular people … a lot of them are academics and some of them are quite liberal, sure. But oil company workers and NFL owners are quite conservative, in general, and yet I still buy gas and enjoy football. So be it.

  3. >>>You’ve been around this blog a long time and you’re a big boy, so I don’t mind calling a big, fat “bullshit” on this one. Yes, the argument (especially in ballot wording) says pretty words like that, but an individual employee really only gets the right to opt out of fair share, saving a few bucks a year while they have less ability to negotiate benefits and wages.

    You mean freedom isn’t a trip to the Big Rock Candy Mountain? You’re simply providing the flip of the utilitarian argument for right to work. In either case freedom is right.

    At least you’re not trying to defend the practice of sticking college students with union dues while providing them with nothing.

    >>>Every single state that has done this has seen wage and benefit cuts over time, often in the form of layoffs and part time hiring.

    One might respond that states that don’t tend to see higher unemployment and benefits only for a few. That’s why the union criminals beat people up, like we’re seeing in Michigan.

    >>>”Right to work” busts unions.

    If unions can’t survive liberty they don’t deserve to survive liberty.

    >>>If you don’t like unions and your goal is to bust them, that’s what this law does and congratulatons. But that’s what these things are to their very core, and they are a product of anti-union, conservative politics and not “worker empowerment.”

    Conservative politics is about worker empowerment.

    >>>I think if you met my colleagues you’d see a lot of regular people … a lot of them are academics and some of them are quite liberal, sure.

    I think that pretty much concedes the point. Your whole response preceding this pretty much personalizes the whole matter. You don’t do something so MNSCU doesn’t do it or others inside MNSCU don’t do it. I’m glad you do your best to be fair minded and I suspect you do a pretty good job of it. But the overall perspective within the faculty does not reflect that of Minnesota. And you seemed to wonder why conservatives might not feel entirely positive about MNSCU. I tried to help you understand why. I’m not calling for its abolishment but hiring a faculty that thinks more like Minnesota might not be a bad idea.

    >>>But oil company workers and NFL owners are quite conservative, in general, and yet I still buy gas and enjoy football.

    Well the oil industry doesn’t get paid by the public purse and the NFL shouldn’t. And I’ve heard leftists beyond number continually express hostility to the oil industry so I’m not sure that’s your best example.

  4. Ah, I see. You want to privatize functions of public services so that people can’t vote on it unless they are investors. You want to lay me off from my current job and re-hire me at a private for-profit college where I get paid 40 percent less. You want my students to pay twice as much for tuition and get jobs that also pay less, again, unless they have money to invest in their own business to get in on all the action.

    Thanks but no thanks. We are in disagreement.

  5. Ah, I see. You want to privatize functions of public services so that people can’t vote on it unless they are investors. You want to lay me off from my current job and re-hire me at a private for-profit college where I get paid 40 percent less. You want my students to pay twice as much for tuition and get jobs that also pay less, again, unless they have money to invest in their own business to get in on all the action.

    Thanks but no thanks. We are in disagreement.

  6. >>Thanks but no thanks. We are in disagreement.

    I think our first disagreement is over your ability to reproduce my arguments.

  7. I was merely following my interpretation of the actual outcome of the utopia you describe. I respect the conservative concepts of self-determinism and the *idea* of freedom liberating our own best natures. But in practice, the outcome of these policies is what I describe. Moreover, we’ve done this before. That’s why unions were formed, not just here but across the civilized world.

    Ask someone making $25 grand with an insurance policy that barely covers the family if they feel “free.” Poverty is bondage and failure to create upward mobility through education, health care and strong communities will make poverty worse under libertarianism, or what you describe. That’s why our great nation has learned some things and blended better aspects of social democracy with the free, self-determinism that gives our country its special edge.

    Now, I am not here to tell you that the labor movement has nimbly adjusted to modern times. A lot of the old practices are long in the tooth and fail to reach the workers who most need help. But *outlawing* union leverage (the only real power unions can have) you run risk of returning to past practices. Indeed, such a return is likely and demonstrable in right-to-work states.

    You tell me why they had to pass this thing in a 24 hour blitz? An emergency? No, strategy. Rip off the band aid and yield the political benefits of weakening the opposition before another election, in hopes of once again selling failed policies.

  8. Mr. Gray has skillfully debated the issues and once again silenced Aaron so prolonging the arguement won’t penetrate Aaron’s inherent defenses, but when he says,

    “I’d be much more open to conservative ideas if members of the conservative party weren’t openly contemptuous of the work my colleagues and I do in public schools and colleges”,

    I have to defend the 85% non-union workers of America who’ve never worked under the cover of tenure, who’ve seen the justice in an employee get fired for continued poor performance, who’ve worked hard and felt the satisfaction of being recognized by co-workers and supervisors with additional responsibility and pay, who’ve watched the human spirit unleash innovativeness when given the freedom to do so.

    These thngs are rarely felt or witnessed in a union environment and therefore Aaron will never be “much more open to…ideas”.

  9. Just one more thought Aaron – If union members really believe in their union, why has the following happened??

    “After Colorado required public-employees unions in 2001 to have annual votes reauthorizing the collection of dues, membership in the Colorado Association of Public Employees declined 70 percent.

    After Indiana’s government stopped in 2005 collecting dues from unionized public employees, the number of dues-paying members plummeted 90 percent.

    In Utah, automatic dues deductions for political activities were ended in 2001; made voluntary, payments from teachers declined 90 percent.

    After a similar measure in Washington state in 1992, the percentage of teachers making contributions fell from 82 to 11″.

    Isn’t your opposition, your desperate opposition, really about the Democratic Party losing compulsory membership in unions and it’s conveyor belt of moving coerced dues money into the party?

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