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The Attack on Employee Rights

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Arizona is following on the heels of Wisconsin in its attacks on the middle class and working people in general by proposing legislation to bust public employee unions, including those protecting and representing public safety workers, which include fire and police employees..

The proposed legislation would:

  •  Make it illegal for government bodies to negotiate with employee  groups. Public safety unions would be included in the ban.
  •  End the practice of automatic payroll deductions for union dues.
  •  Ban compensation of public employees for union work.

Aside from trampling on the right of employees to organize, this is the beginning of a Republican attempt to ban all employee unions in the state of Arizona. Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, has apparently been pursuing this legislation since mid-2011, at the urging of the Goldwater Institute, a libertarian think tank, and with the support of Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker. Walker was the guest of honor at Goldwater’s annual dinner last November. The Goldwater Institute also worked with the governor and other Arizona lawmakers to draft the package of bills now being considered by the legislature. This package of bills is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Government Reform Committee on Wednesday, February 8, 2012.

A report released on October 13, 2011, by the University of California’s Berkley Center for Labor Research and Education and Center for Wage and Employment Dynamics, shows that the recession and the bursting of the housing bubble are the causes of state budget deficits, and not public sector workers or their unions. Summing it up, there is no link between the budget deficits and the public employee unions that they are essentially trying to dissolve.

America without unions would be a much darker place for the worker. We would see many more minimum wage jobs, greater worker inequality, unsafe working conditions, little to no health insurance, and far less vacation time. Because of the fights that unions have waged on behalf of their workers we all reap some of the benefits in higher wages, safer working conditions, and better benefits. Eliminating or further hindering employee unions would serve to further the erosion of the middle class which both political parties claim to want to save.

In the case of lower wage workers, according to The Center for Economic and Policy Research, unionization raises wages, provides health care and pension coverage for all workers, and provides the most benefits by far. For workers who make less than 90 percent of the rest of the workforce, unionization raises wages by almost 21 percent. Workers in the 15 lowest wage jobs are 25 percent more likely to have health insurance than the same worker in a non-union job. The types of jobs included in this wage class are janitors, bus drivers, and teachers aides, to name a few. These same workers are 25 percent more likely to have pension plans than their counterparts who are not unionized. These are the workers who are most likely to be disenfranchised. At these wage levels, unions will not make these workers rich, but will provide a better standard of living and security over their nonunion counterparts.

Without the collective bargaining rights that workers now have, public employees like our teachers, who to this day remain drastically underpaid would be far worse off than they are now. The very people we expect to protect us from fire and crime, and the teachers on whom we rely to educate our children for this 21st century global economy, are the ones that the Republicans are striving to marginalize.

Unions are an easy target for politicians who want to blame state budget shortfalls on something other than unsustainable tax rates, the housing crisis, unemployment eroding the tax base, and public mismanagement. The states’ problems are not public labor unions, but state governments themselves. This is merely another attack on the working men and women of this country, and an attempt, under the guise of fiscal prudence, for the Republican party to destroy first, public employee unions, and then private employee unions.

As Thom Hartmann, the intellectual, progressive radio show host, and bestselling author says, right-to-work states are really right-to-work-for-less states. Americans should be outraged by these attacks by state governments on the working man. Indiana just joined the ranks of the right-to-work states, and if Jan Brewer and the Republican party aren’t stopped, Arizona could follow in their tracks. If you are a working person, union or not, you should be concerned. You could be next.

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About Dominic DiFrancesco

  • To the best of my knowledge, the age of PTAs has long expired — most parents are either too lazy or too overworked to play an active role in their children education; except for the affluent suburbs, if there are still any; but in that case, private schooling is a real option.

    I can’t help but wonder whether defending our public school system under the circumstances is not just another liberal knee-jerk reaction.

  • Clavos


  • Igor

    I read the reviews and I’m still not inspired to reprise “Waiting…”. I think the reviewers have the same malady that the movie had: they believe they really have something important to say and if people will just listen to them that those people will agree. But really, the poor auditor has to search amongst all the confusion to make the point himself, which means that it has no force.

    The form of presentation is unconvincing, a poor argument.

    The content is also starting to suffer as Michelle Rhee and Charter Schools come under closer inspection and more criticism. Since the presentation is so weak the content is starting to unravel.

  • Clavos
  • Igor

    I watched “Waiting for Superman” a few months ago and was disappointed that it seemed to not make any real points. I was hoping and expecting that it had important things to say, but it just seemed ironic.

    YMMV. If anyone can make a good argument for “Waiting…” I’ll watch it again.

    IMO it’s not teachers but parents who ruined the school system with extraordinary demands. The PTAs have too many chiefs and not enough braves, a consequence, perhaps, of overprivileging a whole generation.

  • zingzing
  • Clav: No, I haven’t seen it yet. I’ll have to find out if it’s available on Redbox or Hulu or something.

  • Clavos

    Doc, haven’t looked at your source yet, and it’s late now, but I’ll check it out for sure in the next day or two.

  • Clavos

    While you may have a point about the DoE, it doesn’t follow that unions are to blame for falling educational standards and performance.

    Doc, I’m convinced that the unions’ work rules and their ongoing efforts to block every proposal to measure teacher performance that comes down the pike have played a huge role in assuring the continued mediocrity of US K-12 education.

    BTW, did you ever see Waiting for Superman?

  • Until the unions’ stranglehold on our educational system is broken, nothing will change.

    Clav, I think you’re confusing correlation with causation here. While you may have a point about the DoE, it doesn’t follow that unions are to blame for falling educational standards and performance.

    The other day I was watching a Dan Rather Reports show about the education system in Finland. Finnish youngsters consistently outperform students in every other country, and teacher job satisfaction and retention rates are extremely high even though they’re paid comparably to their American counterparts and are strongly unionized.

    The key to Finland’s success is that they don’t try to force a “one size fits all” solution onto kids, who they recognize are all individuals with different learning styles. There’s very little standardized testing, virtually no emphasis on exams, and teachers are largely free to teach they way they see fit, rather than as slaves to a statewide curriculum.

    In order words, Finland recognizes that kids are naturally predisposed to learn, and that conventional, production-line approaches to education often stifle that interest.

    There are some video clips from the broadcast here, and there’s also a transcript available on the website if you poke around a bit. It’s well worth looking at.

  • Clavos

    …government workers are quite often more educated and/or experienced and/or qualified…

    If that’s true, then why is so much of what the federal government attempts performed ineptly and cluelessly?

    A prime example? The DOE. Funny how, after WWII, and on into the seventies, our schools graduated kids who could read and write (for the most part), but since 1980, when the Dept. of Education was added to an already bloated federal government, the quality of our graduates has been on a continuous downhill slope, to the point now that a significant number of HS grads who are released into the economy or admitted to some luckless university, are functionally illiterate.

    Thankfully, most state governments and their staffs tend to do better — likely because they’re much closer to their bosses, the taxpayers and thus more accountable than the minions in Washington.

    Regarding the alleged underpayment of teachers: we could start paying them all six figure salaries tomorrow and the schools still wouldn’t improve. Why? because their unions, with their impossible work rules, control the entire educational system, and every intelligent plan to start measuring teacher performance, identify the slackers and get rid of them is vehemently opposed by the NEA and AFT; so far, very successfully. Until the unions’ stranglehold on our educational system is broken, nothing will change.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Riiiiiight. So how are the compensation packages for MBA’s as compared to government workers with comparable educations – like teachers. How many MBA’s have to moonlight just to make a living, like 25% of ALL teachers in Texas are doing right now?


    Y’all need to start comparing apples to apples, because government workers are quite often more educated and/or experienced and/or qualified than their civilian counterparts. Furthermore, the sheer scope of responsibility of government workers is often far more than the civilian jobs that the right-wing media like to compare them to.

    Now I know that there’s going to be a few BC conservatives whose heads will explode at that last paragraph – so when y’all start sending flaming arrows back in my direction, show me the jobs that y’all are comparing.

  • Phil_EngageAmerica

    I think there are some things we need to think about here. While most understand how instrumental unions were to the labor movement of the past, there needs to be an acknowledgement of the changing times. In the global economic market, the current trends we are seeing are unsustainable. You see consistently that collective bargaining awards state and local employees total compensation packages that far outstrip those found in the private sector. As a result during the recession we’ve seen public sector compensation hum along while private sector compensation has struggled. That can’t work.

    If you want to protect wages from the realities of the time, it comes at the cost of a loss of jobs. Since Wisconsin is the epicenter of this issue, let’s take a look at it. In areas in which Governor Walker’s new legislation was unable to be put in place due to previously negotiated union contracts, districts had to lay off hundreds of employees.

    What it comes down to is numbers. You’re protecting a few at the expense of many others. If collective bargaining was providing fair compensation, we wouldn’t be seeing these issues crop up so much all around the country.

  • Yep, they all behave like old whores.

  • Igor

    1-Mike: your mistake is in promoting “making your state more competitive” which just impoverishes all states. And very often it results in fruitless tax bribes that companies scoop up and then soon leave the state anyhow, leaving the taxpayers poorer for the experience.

    Dumb dumb dumb.

    You just cut your own throat.

    Dumb dumb dumb.

  • Clavos

    Well put, Mike.

    Though I lived in a right to work state when I started working as a youngster, it was in an industry engaged (under the law) in interstate commerce, so federal law overrode state law and I was forced to join the union. Later, as a member of management, I was part of the management team charged with negotiating with the union on everything from contract renewals to grievances, so I saw the union/management relationship from both sides of the fence.

    Everything you say is true — especially how the unions themselves are no longer what they were; they have descended into nothing more than political lobbying machines ensuring the well being of themselves as organizations and that of their leaders, rarely looking out for their members anymore.

    Forcing people to join a union and pay their dues with no say on what those dues are used for is nothing short of unAmerican.

  • Mike

    As a resident of Indiana and an ex-union employee, I stand against your opinion. It isn’t a matter of “who”… “caused”… the problem. It’s a matter of making your state more competitive for what few monies exist for manufacturing. In Indiana, we’ve already solved our state worker union problem by taking away automatic dues paying for those individuals. Since its enactment in 2005, their dues collection went down 80%. These workers “choose” not to pay the unions. Good luck kicking them out and firing them as you would in a factory! Wouldn’t set well with the public, at all. The problem with manufacturing unions is that when you get hired, you have no way to “choose” if you pay them or not. They say, “Well, you benefit from our negotiations with management. Fine, allow those employees to “choose” a different arrangement. I bet they get the very same contract. Unions fear people being able to “choose”, so we are ensuring that right. The establishment you are trying to defend is a tired and useless one that has been defended, even though it is resting on the laurels that it received during the 19th century. It attacks the fiscally responsible, promotes a “I want more, you got more” attitude, and sets employees against whomever “management” is. And in the case of public sector employees… that’s the tax paying public. Democrats, the traditional supporters of unions, have run state budgets to their breaking point with spending and there are the PSU’s, waiting with their hand out, continually. Good riddance, I say.