This short but succinct article sums it up rather well:
From the http://www.chicagotribune.com
Lost: The common good
7:36 PM CST, February 17, 2011
America’s labor movement can claim historic victories that have served the common good. Safer workplaces. Laws to protect children from workplace exploitation. The eight-hour workday. Those who are in unions can justifiably be proud of those and other accomplishments.
But how proud are they that the children of Madison, Wis., have missed school the last two days because so many of their teachers abandoned their classrooms and joined a mass demonstration? Joined a mass demonstration to intimidate the members of the Wisconsin Legislature, who are trying to close a $3 billion deficit they face over the next two years?
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has demanded that state workers contribute roughly 5.8 percent of their wages toward their retirement. He wants them to pay for 12 percent of their health-care premiums. Those modest employee contributions would be the envy of many workers in the private sector.
Walker wants government officials to have authority to reshape public-employee benefits without collective bargaining. Walker wouldn’t remove the right of unions to bargain for wages.
No, he is not seeking to eliminate unions, though you might get that impression from the heated rhetoric of the employees and even from President Barack Obama, who called this an “assault on unions.”
Walker is trying to give Wisconsin a reality check. In response, public workers have interrupted the Legislature. Madison and many neighboring public schools have closed because so many teachers called in sick and left to join the protest. Democratic lawmakers disappeared on Thursday to stall a vote on the budget measures. Apparently some of them fled to … Illinois.
Public sentiment is changing. There is a growing sense that public-sector unions are not battling for better, safer workplaces. They’re not battling unscrupulous employers. They’re battling … the common good.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie became an Internet sensation when he confronted a teacher in an argument caught on video. A recent Quinnipiac University survey in New Jersey showed that citizens overwhelmingly support layoffs and wage freezes for public employees to save the state government from fiscal disaster. The poll found 62 percent of New Jersey voters had a favorable view of teachers, but only 27 percent had a favorable view of the state’s largest teachers union.
Private-sector union membership has declined over the years, while public-sector unions have thrived. One reason: In the private sector, unions and management may argue but they have a common cause. They understand that if their company cannot compete, it will fold and no one will have a job. Look what happened to the U.S. auto industry.
Governments don’t operate under the constraints of market forces. They operate under political forces. Public unions play an inordinate role in the selection of management — witness the heavy union support for Gov. Pat Quinn’s election last year. In Illinois, labor and management, Republicans and Democrats, have been complicit over the years in overpromising wages and benefits. In negotiations, they essentially sit on the same side of the table: Public officials who generously compensate workers tend to reap votes, contributions and campaign work from those same employees and their unions.
Many states — Illinois is not yet among them — are coming to the realization that that calculation has to undergone a wrenching change.
It might surprise the protesters in Madison to know that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt counseled against public-sector unions because “militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of government employees.” Even the late AFL-CIO President George Meany expressed reservations.
Something is happening. Something is changing. In Madison, we see public servants in mass protest to preserve a status quo that has pushed the state toward insolvency. This is not labor versus management. This is labor versus the common good.
Copyright © 2011, Chicago Tribune