The events taking place in Wisconsin regarding collective bargaining agreements, there’s no better time to address the relationship between unions and businesses. When labor unions began in the late 19th Century, they were desperately needed to represent the interest of workers in America against the exploitative nature of industry. Over the years, these organizations helped institute minimum wage laws, child labor laws, 8-hour work days, vacation time, sick time, and more. These were well-intentioned measures, and most Americans are happy they exist today. But making sure workers have basic rights is not what labor unions are about today. They are about profit, greed, and political influence.
Today, most labor unions are very similar to the “evil corporations” they so frequently rail against. They claim big business doesn’t care about its workers, only profit. But are unions any different? They need members to pay dues, or they cease to exist. Clearly they are also profit-driven. They believe industry has too much influence compared with the working class. But unions have far more influence than their numbers would suggest, given that only 8% of Americans are in unions. And what do many of these labor organizations do with the hard-earned dollars they take from their members in the form of dues? They give them to politicians running for office – almost exclusively in the Democratic Party – whether their members support them or not.
The issue with unions today is a simple math problem. For years, unions have negotiated pretty good contracts for their workers. These contracts typically result in higher pay, better benefits, and more perks than non-union employees receive. As years go by, these contracts are renegotiated over and over again, raising wages and increasing benefits and perks each time. Then, when we have an economic crisis like the Great Recession (2008 – present), companies can no longer afford the expensive contracts they negotiated when profits were good. As the costs of these labor contracts rise, profits must rise along with them – or something needs to give. Either the union agrees to make concessions, or the business goes bankrupt.
This face-off is happening all over the country, including in Wisconsin. During the economic crisis, some unions have agreed to work with businesses to arrive at a mutually-agreeable solution to the problem of expensive contracts and low profits. But that is not always the case. Unions were willing to do very little in the case of Ford, GM and Chrysler, so the companies had no choice but to declare bankruptcy in order to restructure their organization and renegotiate labor contracts. Who are the labor unions helping if their own greed causes businesses to fail? It’s clearly not the workers, who end up out on their collective-bargaining asses when their company closes its doors.
We see this problem everywhere in America, and frankly it is out of control.
In government, collective bargaining agreements are paid by tax dollars. When federal, state and local government experiences drops in revenue due to high unemployment and a slow economy, unions like the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) are unwilling to give up a dime. Governments are then forced to fix their budget issues while suffering under the strains of paying these high-priced contracts – which would never have been agreed to under the present conditions.
In business, the unions’ unwillingness to cooperate often results in businesses going bankrupt or closing altogether. This may be good for the individual unions who get to show off their “power,” but it’s bad for their members who have no jobs, and bad for America. If businesses go away, so do our hopes of putting Americans back to work. Industry should not be allowed to exploit workers, but unions should not be allowed to exploit industry either.
In education, unions may be the largest contributor to our failures. Without declaring financial exigency (think bankruptcy), universities cannot renegotiate their contracts with tenured professors. In K-12 education, unions demand more and more money be spent on education, yet they ensure that very little ever makes it into the classroom. Nevada is the perfect example of the problem with education, since it has the lowest graduation rates in the nation. The Clark County School District (CCSD), which covers Las Vegas and surrounding areas, is the 5th largest school district in the country. Only 11% of its operating budget makes it into the classroom, yet unions and education officials are screaming bloody murder over impending budget cuts. The University of Nevada – Las Vegas (UNLV), where I am currently a student, has $647 million in total operating funds for this year. Under budget cuts proposed by newly-elected Republican Governor Brian Sandoval, UNLV will see a cut of $47.5 million (or 7%). Unions and education officials, as well as Democrats in the state legislature, are twisting the numbers and telling Nevadans that the cut is 29%.
Americans won’t put up with this nonsense much longer.
They see what is happening in Wisconsin, and realizing that this is a battle between greedy unions and over-taxed taxpayers. They see teachers shutting down schools so they can protest, instead of educating their children by DOING THEIR JOB! Fire these teachers for abandoning their positions, and replace them with unemployed Wisconsinites who put education above greed.
Americans are starting to see the damage unions can do when they put greed ahead of their original purpose – protecting the basic rights of employees.
This is not an issue unions can win, unless they are willing to work with businesses and governments to achieve mutually-agreeable solutions. Bankrupting businesses and governments through unreasonable demands during this economic crisis won’t earn them any support from hard-working American taxpayers.
We will learn as these battles unfold exactly how much power unions will be allowed to have in America, and how the outcomes will affect their power in the future. We will also see how this will affect the Democratic Party, with which labor organizations are closely aligned.
With unemployment at 10% nationwide, there are plenty of Americans ready and willing to take the jobs of ANYONE who strikes. Perhaps it is time to call their bluff.