I always stress that my reprinting a reader email doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with it. This one, as you’ll see, requires restating that upfront. But I’m reprinting TPM Reader HS’s note because I think he’s speaking for what is a real animus or lack of sympathy for public employees unions afield in the electorate in these straightened times. Bracing stuff. That’s what I take from the little discussed victories for public employee pension cuts in two major California cities on Tuesday. But I think it’s foolish to ignore and important to read.
I can think of a few things that the Wisconsin Governor’s recall mean.
Unions, particularly public employee unions, are not that popular.
Yes, Scott Walker is a dick. Yes, I think he wants a right to work state. I tend to side with the Wisconsin Public Employee Unions.
But it is also difficult for me to feel much sympathy or even understand Unions. I received a degree in Finance, Insurance and Real Estate in 1987, and have been in Sales and Marketing for most of the last 25 years in the Tech and CE sector.
I don’t want to demonize School teachers, and I am sure it must be a tougher job than I think. But over the last 10 years, I have taken a full 1 week off for vacation a grand total of 4 times. I take a day here and a day there, but if I am lucky it will work out to 2 weeks per year, usually less. Then there is the ever present e-mail, texts and phone calls that intrude into my evenings and weekends.
Teachers get that much time off around Christmas time.
On my Son’s little league team, one of his teammates father was a teacher in the LAUSD. He told me that he wouldn’t know what to do if he had to work in the summertime. Really? I’ve only been doing it for a quarter century. But I do see his point, working has put a bit of a crimp in my life. Especially in the summertime. Actually, in reality, work is my life.
In addition to this, the LAUSD fires like 1 teacher a year, and it usually cost big money and lengthy litigation to get rid of absolute pond scum. Of course, once you don’t have accountability, you get the obligatory sex scandal, which has rocked the LAUSD this year, with multiple instances of teachers engaged in inappropriate behavior with students, being moved around the district.
So I think there is a preception that the pay for teachers isn’t great, but not terrible either. But great benefits, a chance for a decent to good retirement, and it seems a bit like, if not a part time job, certainly not a full time job in any sense that I would recognize it. And pretty much limited accountability.
Public Safety Unions I precieve to be much tougher, and stressful jobs. But oh lord, the motherload of great pay, great benefits, high degree of public respect. Retiring at age 50 or earlier seems a little ridiculous though, especially given the gold plated retirement package.
Also, it seems like a lot of nepotism and some insider type employment practices. It appears at a glance like there are a lot of Father and Son, or other famalial relationships, often in the same department, serving as Firemen and Police Officers. But yet, it seems like it is very difficult for other people to get into these professions.
Additionally, are we really paying a market wage and benefits? Whenever they hire Firemen or Police Officers it seems like there are 50 applicants for each opening. When the job attracts that ratio of qualified applicants per job, I think that says something about what we are paying versus what we should or could be paying.
That is how non-union people get paid. Based on how much value you offer relative to others. Wages are usually governed by the laws of supply and demand for non-union workers.
There was a particularly nasty retail clerks union strike in Southern Cal about 10 years ago. I never understood the concept of the strike. I don’t hate Union’s, I don’t wish them ill, but I don’t want to get dragged into the middle of a fight between them and their employer. I don’t feel any obligation to not cross a picket line when I am buying groceries for my family. My 74 year old was harrassed by picketers going to buy groceries. Yeah, better have a 74 year old women drive several extra miles to buy her few meager staples. Obviously, this didn’t endear me to their cause. My relationship with my brother-in-law who is in a Union has been strained ever since. This is the Union way, agree with me, support me, or you are my enemy. OK, I am your enemy, but let’s be clear. That was your choice, not mine. From a practical standpoint, it is counterproductive. If you fight with, and slam your employer and their customers, you hurt their business, and therefore limit their ability to pay you a decent wage and benefits.
The lady who slapped Barret yesterday was the perfect metaphor for Union behavior. Lashing out at people who are not their enemy.
I just think due to many changes in the labor and general business environment, many outside the control of Unions like globalization, they are a dying institution. Much of their dialogue seems like a fantasy drifting in from another world.
To listen to Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow, or to read Steve Benen, one would think that by simply returning Unions to the power and place they had 40, 50 or 60 years ago would magically return us to the salad days of the middle class.
Having traveled to Europe and Asia on business many times over the last 20 years, I see the reality of what they are up against. Simply changing the laws to encourage unionization will not make a big difference. Germany is all about training, training, training. I hear alot about training and re-training in the U.S., but the thing they are missing, I don’t see Unions or some American workers all that interested in training or re-training. The attitude is more like, I am an American and therefore I am entitled to a good job. Or as a Democrat from South Carolina named Mudcat Saunders once said, “What y’all are missing is that you didn’t train Bubba in the first place.”
While I understand that Unions have bettered the lot of all employees, like the 40 hour work week, and occupational saftey standards, it is not necessary to have trade unions to improve workers conditions. The conditions for all employees, not just Union workers, can be improved by statute. For example, it is disgraceful that there is no guaranteed vacation for American workers. While for the most part, people are offered vacation days as part of there employment, partly because of the efforts of Unions, why shouldn’t there be a federal or state law mandating a certain amount of PTO tied to how many hours worked? How about having a national labor or industrial policy? These would have a far greater chance of success than trying to revive a nineteenth century institution.
Lastly, there is alot of caterwauling about how the Democrats will not be able to compete electorally without the financial help of Unions. Much like your reader and his “johnny Fontaine” comments, what a bunch of cowards. How much money did Lech Walesa and the Polish Unions have? How much super Pac money did the Arab spring protestors have in Tunisia and Egypt?
These are my impressions, and I would welcome anybody to enlighten me if my impressions do not have a basis in fact.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.