February 23, 2011

Union busting by any other name would smell as bad

I initially found myself a little conflicted on the whole Wisconsin union thing. At first it sort of made sense to me that union members should not be immune to the financial issues the rest of us are dealing with. In fact, tonight at dinner, a friend spoke of being a bit ambivalent, of wanting to see government workers sacrifice as the rest of us have. 

I confess I’m not a union member, and for the most part I think that’s been beneficial to me throughout my career. I’m not in a dangerous profession; I’ve been fortunate to work for companies that provided decent wages and benefits; and I’ve been rewarded as an employee that works hard and does a good job for the company and its customers.

My close encounters with union members have been pretty typical, I think. Some have been very pro-union, supportive of their union leadership, politically in sync, buying union-made (ideal) or American-made (next best thing). Others appreciated the benefits, but were of a completely different political stripe. Some accepted membership but were not actively involved, taking more of a go-with-the-flow approach. And some, like my Mom and Dad, tried to balance what was good for the union with what was good for everyone else, through their work on negotiating and curriculum committees.

Would they have been better off if they hadn’t been union? Would their work conditions, salary and benefits, and future security have been better or worse, without their respective unions?

It’s hard to say for sure, but I suspect none of them would be happy with what’s happening in Wisconsin. You’ve got Governor Scott Walker pretending that he’s simply trying to balance the budget, by asking for wage and benefit concessions – but he refuses to accept that the unions will make those concessions. He wants to make it impossible for unions to negotiate anything other than wages, which he also wants to cap. And of course there's stopping the automatic deduction of union dues from paychecks, and annual recertification.

Then it broke that Walker had been 'pranked' by a blogger who pretended to be a wealthy conservative donor.  Recordings of the call between Walker and a man he thought was David Koch make it really clear that this is not about balancing the budget; it’s clearly about breaking the unions. 

You’ve got a politician talking to out of state donors at the same time he's complaining about out of state protesters. 

You’ve got a guy complaining about unions spending taxpayer dollars lobbying for more spending of taxpayer dollars – which frankly is no different from the Chamber of Commerce or any other business group that takes our hard earned dollars and spends them freely trying to get deals from governors, senators, and other politicians of all stripes. Including the businesses who apparently are on the receiving end of some healthy tax breaks in Wisconsin.

You've got a governor talking about the tactics he and his party are considering using to scam their way into passage of the legislation, at the same time he's complaining about the tactics used on the other side to prevent passage. 

It's a mess, but I no longer feel ambivalent.

The fact that it was a call from an alternative online newspaper, not from a donor, makes it more entertaining, but no less disheartening. Listen to the recording here, or read the transcript here.