Strength in a Union (Readers Respond)

We’ve had an avalanche of responses to TPM Reader HS’s rough email on public sector unions. Here’s one of many, focusing on what I think is a key point. From TPM Reader BB

I’m sure one of many emails that you received concerning the financial guy commenting on public employee unions. Full disclosure: public school teacher from WI that signed and collected recall petitions, marched in Madison in the winter and cannot wait to vote for anyone else other than Scott Walker. But I also believe that the author of the email is voicing a popular sentiment concerning public employee jobs and unions in general.

Yes, there is a reason why we get 400 applicants for each job opening, these are good jobs, especially in these times. And the ‘reforms’ of Scott Walker have not taken hold state-wide to drive the applicant pool down, yet. But I also think the author misses some key things. One, we work reasonable hours because we have a union, the author works like a mad man because he does not. I personally see no virtue in working like that while giving up everything else in my life. As the old adage says, few people lie on their death bed wishing they’d spent more time at the office.

I work a lot while school is in session, and I would say that I am about average for most teachers, some less, some more. The next time you see a dedicated grade school teacher (I am a high school teacher),buy them a drink because they work more than anyone I know.

Two, to think that some legislature somewhere will magically start passing workers rights laws is pure fantasy. The tone of the author’s email was that he wished he had more time off, I wish he had more time off as well. But my guess is that European countries have mandated vacation time because of unions. In this country simply trying to get employers to provide a safe working environment is a struggle, good luck with the mandatory vacation.

All that to say that legislators do things because they have to, not because they think it’s a great idea. They have to be forced to do those things. And the only way that improved working conditions, generally speaking, would change is if there was a push from unions. Three, the flat salary increase over the past thirty years for the middle-class is attributable to the demise of unions. Teachers have kept their unions and have been able to negotiate and keep up with benefit and salary increases. Other people have not because they have not kept their unions.

I know two people who are not public employees but do have a union. One is 55 and just retired after 30 years with the same company, just like what happens with a teacher (actually its better, these days). The other is my brother who is a garbage man in Seattle and he makes about what I do and will retire in the next five years. He will be 57.

So while I appreciate the sentiment of the author, and believe it is pervasive in our society toward teachers and union members in general. I do believe it is based on jealousy that we have kept benefits, salary, working conditions over the past 30 years while the rest of society has lost these things. But we have kept them because we have a union.