There should not BE public-employee unions

At Rotary today, I had grabbed my food (kielbasa today, with peppers and onions, which I love) and was looking for a seat and Jack Van Loan waved me over to his table. He wanted to get my thoughts on this Wisconsin situation.

I sort of had to disappoint him. I explained about my person idiosyncrasy, about how little stock I put in Other People’s Politics (Down With O.P.P., indeed), which in this national-media saturation era (in which partisans across the country see every local controversy as another battle in the titanic war between Good and Evil — with their end of the spectrum being good, of course), we hear WAY too much about. Except that I hear less than others, because I block it out.

That is, I block out all but what I can’t help picking up through osmosis. And on this, the only thing I had picked up was that it had to do with public employee unions.

So all I could offer Jack was this:

I don’t think there should be public-employee unions. So I guess, on this issue, that sort of puts me on the side of that Walker guy. But that’s about all I know.

To me, working for the government — local, state or federal — is PUBLIC SERVICE, and you should have no loyalties except to the public. You know, like those “permanent government” civil servants in Britain, who serve as well as they can the elected officials of whichever party happens to hold power. Or, come to think of it, every employee below the political appointments in this country.

Private sector unions are one thing. I’m not crazy about them, and never wanted to belong to one. I never wanted a third party between me and my employer. (And yep, I still feel that way after being laid off — so much for those of you who think political positions inevitably arise from personal experience. Although, of course, as a vice president of the company I wouldn’t have been in the bargaining unit anyway.)

But at least in the private sector, we’re talking about people being out for themselves and trying to gain some leg up in a disproportionate power arrangement.

With public service, there should be no being out for yourself and whatever advantage that you, or people like you, can gain. It should be about the public service. It shouldn’t be about serving oneself, or a political party, or a union. It should be about serving your community, state or nation — which means serving the people, who ARE the community, state or nation, properly understood.

And to me, unionization gets in the way of that, big-time. It’s kind of an alien concept to me, as a South Carolinian. I was really taken aback when I ran across the historical plaque pictured below in Pennsylvania. Wow. A state that celebrates that. It surprised me. (I was about to make the categorical statement that we don’t HAVE public employee unions in SC, but it seems like I ran into some exceptions to that recently. I just can’t remember where. It was someplace really obvious… Dang it, I’m ALMOST sure there are no such unions here, but…)

And that’s all I’ve got to say about that. (Unless y’all provoke me into saying more.)

They may be right proud of public-sector unions in Pennsylvania, where I shot this, but we don't hold with 'em down heah.

They may be right proud of public-sector unions in Pennsylvania, where I shot this, but we don’t hold with ’em down heah.

18 thoughts on “There should not BE public-employee unions

  1. Juan Caruso

    Brad, I respect your intellectual honesty and opinions with which I may, from time to time, disagree.

  2. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    I see–so public employees are less than private employees–fewer rights–so in a rational marketplace, you’re going to get inferior applicants…

    We’re not talking about policy makers and professionals, here–exempt employees–we’re talking blue-collar folks. Human widgets, more or less. So if an employee is just a cog in the machine, which machine is a self-respecting clever sheep going to choose?

  3. Rob

    Well put Brad. But judging by the typical flavor of the commenters who read this blog, your common sense will probably be met with some partisan liberals wanting to pick a big ol’ fight…

  4. Norm Ivey

    I don’t think we have state employee unions–forbidden by law, I think? Federal employees and Postal Workers have them, though. I don’t know about municipal employees.

  5. Luke

    Interesting that we don’t have public employee unions but that doesn’t stop SC public employees from being vilified as undeserving, lazy, high paid, receiving too many benefits, well you get the picture. My point is they might as well organize and have some power if all they are going to be is a political scapegoat.

  6. Phillip

    Regarding public sector unions and their right to collective bargaining, police and firefighters are exempt from Gov. Walker’s proposal, incidentally. So it all depends.

    I have mixed feelings about public sector and private sector unions (even my own fairly useless–for me–union, which I finally quit last year after 27 years). But you have a very odd view of American history if you think unionization is about “being out for yourself and whatever advantage that you, or people like you, can gain.” When you talk about not wanting a “third party” between yourself and your employer, that’s exactly what you are doing: being out for yourself. Historically in many industries, without the right to bargain collectively, that has tended to work out in favor of the party negotiating from the position of power.

    Well, as the saying goes, for those of you who enjoy the concept of “the weekend,” you can thank unions for that. A superb summary of the deeper meanings in this struggle was written by Kevin Drum at Mother Jones magazine. His main point:

    “Of course unions have pathologies. Every big human institution does. And anyone who thinks they’re on the wrong side of an issue should fight it out with them. But unions are also the only large-scale movement left in America that persistently acts as a countervailing power against corporate power. They’re the only large-scale movement left that persistently acts in the economic interests of the middle class.”

    A good piece, worth reading, which is by no means necessarily incompatible with thinking the Wisconsin teachers’ benefits should be reduced, etc, just that destroying unions period is one more step on the way to the destruction of the American middle class.

  7. jfx

    You might want to make an exception with regard to OPP in this case, since the efficacy of Walker’s tactics in Wisconsin will have relevance in every state with a new tea party darling as governor. Hint: this isn’t about unions. Remember when you were in the UK, and you talked about how, over there, they had the good sense, in a major recession, to cut spending AND raise taxes? Yeah…why aren’t they doing that in WI? And why aren’t we doing that in SC? Why are some state legislatures ramming through tax cuts, then crying “deficit crisis!”, and then fast-tracking “non-negotiable” chop-chop legislation? Flim flam.

  8. tired old man

    We do not have public unions in SC (at least as far as state progams go). What we have is the seed for them to inculcate due to a series of digressions from past personnel policies that protected state employees (as a trade-off for generally low pay and the increasing politicalization of their working environments, a la Gov Office telling HHS to ignore monetary realities in dealing with Legislature as well as Corrections and and DSS miraculously cleaning up their $50 million). Now state employees are pretty much chaff, and can be dismissed, disregarded and/or dismayed with little ability to appeal or repeal.

    Supposedly, people who have completed TERI by law are first to be laid off (afer temps and people who have not completed their probationary periods) but lay offs have occured in the Governor’s HHS which bypassed the financial deputy director who was post-TERI even as he directed the lay off of lesser staff. Same goes true for the Lt. Gov’s office. And several more agencies where the highest paid deputies and directors who have already retired and have already picked up five years of escrowed retirement payments (which the TERI progam is all about) are now continuing their high salaries, pocketing their high retirements and investing five years of escrowed accounts. And somehow, they claim (and are not challenged) that they and their highly paid selves are someone exempted from the rule that says they go first.

  9. Burl Burlingame

    Nothing like a whipped-up “emergency” to use as cover to attack your opponents whilst they’re down.

    Right-wings PACs and corporations outspent left-wing “organizations” — chiefly unions — 19 to 1 in the last election. They’re trying to reduce that to 19 to zero.

  10. bud

    But at least in the private sector, we’re talking about people being out for themselves and trying to gain some leg up in a disproportionate power arrangement.

    What could be a more “disproportionate power arrangement” than the almighty government and some poor teacher who has to pay for school supplies. Seems like we need more unionization at the public level not less.

  11. Brad

    One thing I didn’t do in that long response, though, was respond to Burl’s point above.

    Burl, I don’t care how much unions spent on elections, or how much their political opponents did (at least, I don’t care within the context of this discussion). As you know, I don’t care whether the left or the right wins their eternal tug-of-war. And I care even less about Democrats and Republicans.

    But I would add this, to those who DO care, and who DO believe in politically-active unions: Look again at those figures Burl cites. Folks, this isn’t working for you. Better try something else to achieve your goals…

  12. Elizabeth

    Your thoughts on public service is at the heart of our right to work state. However, having been a state employee in a fairly dangerous job, I know that the poor pay and the danger many experience day in and day out could be helped by some type of union. There was nothing and no one to help when employees were injured or threatened. Supervisors were unable to fix the problem, even if they wanted to help. (and most did). In SC, we could have used unions for many state jobs, and still could benefit. I am on the side of the workers in Wiscon. Try being a prison guard, a firefighter, a policeman, a psychologist, social worker, teacher in a prison setting for just one month. And there are many more jobs that can be in that list. These people need protections that policy and procedure books can not address.

  13. Jim Duffy

    I agree. Public service is paid for by the tax payers of the political subdivision in which the people are employed. Therefore these tax payers should not be required to support union policies and procedurs, as well as political actions, they do not support. That amounts to taxation without representation which, I believe, helped start the entire history of this Republic.

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