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Unions are Obsolete

March 7, 2011

That’s probably a headline you haven’t heard before.

All the union anger and protesting that has been going on in Wisconsin and across the country notwithstanding, the Ohio senate last week passed a bill similar to the Wisconsin one.  The reasons are simple: as played out first in New Jersey, the unchallenged “rights” of public sector unions have been a driving factor in bankrupting the states that have them. To be sure, it’s not the only problem and Colorado is facing budget problems without a public sector union drag.

The issue is not just the matter of contributing to their own pensions and health care plans. The crux of the problem is that when public sector unions negotiate, there’s really no opposition to negotiate with. The taxpayers are represented only by their state government representatives–and these representatives have not been serious in keeping costs under control. There has been a conspiracy of sorts whereby the unions get their increases and the politicians get their campaign contributions and support. The taxpayers? They get the bill.

So when Wisconsin asks the unions to help balance the budget, the unions refuse and the Democrat senators leave the state rather than make the hard decisions. Their claim that this is all about collective bargaining rights is a bit disingenuous: after all, it was collective bargaining that got the states in trouble in the first place and if those rules don’t change, the states will be right back to square one in a few years. Insanity is indeed doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

The unions are really angry because they are afraid. Consider: the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that union membership in 2010 is down to 11.9% of the workforce from 12.3% just a year ago. In numbers of people, it is 612,00 fewer workers. Union membership declined in 33 states. No wonder the union bosses want “card check” and forced unionization. Their empire is crumbling.

Well more than 100 years ago during the industrial revolution unions made sense as a way to secure a livable wage and decent, safe working conditions. Today those basics are enshrined in law and public sector unions, in particular, are also regulated by a host of additional protections; federal workers also are supported by the Civil Service. Public sector union members at 7.6 million outnumber private sector members at 7.1 million. Restricting public sector unions strikes at the heart of union power.

With basic rights won, what do union do for their members? Sadly, they enforce conformity, limit productivity, prevent innovation, and reward “time in grade” over achievement. When I taught in the public school system, although I was not forced to join a union, I was forced to buy health insurance I didn’t need and a tenure system ensured that my previous teaching experience not with the school district would count for nothing. Many teachers are trapped working for a particular district because they would lose tenure if they moved. When enrollment made layoffs necessary, the rules ensured a strict seniority method was used.

The thing I think that most union members don’t realize is that when the workers unite in today’s unions, they are simply replacing one set of chains with another. It’s time to free the workers and let them become masters of their own destinies. Unions are obsolete.

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