Saturday, July 10, 2010

Obama and the Unions

I'd like to start by giving you a little background. My grandfather, an Englishman, came to this country came to the USA in 1902. His father died when he was just 13. Since he was the oldest male in the family, he became the head of the family. In 1911, the only people hiring his ilk were coal mines in western PA. That's where he went to work. In the 30's and 40's he was an avid unionist, so much so that he joined with John L. Lewis in the effort to organize the miners into the UAW. When I say he fought for the union, I don't mean he stood up and argued, no, he fought. He showed me the scars to prove it.

My dad followed in his steps as a union guy, he became a shop steward in chemical processing plant. I loved them both very much but disagreed with them on unionism .

I thought that the only people who needed unions were those who couldn't sell their own value to those that paid them. The difference is 55 years. I entered the workforce in 1961. By the time I entered the workforce companies were looking for talented, producing personnel regardless of union affiliation, or maybe non-union was better. I worked for both but never joined the union. In 1966, I graduated from college and my union sympathies were, forever, lost.

Why? Because I was educated. I thought that I would now embark on a career path that would be based solely on my skills, talent and intelligence. Nothing has changed since. What's more a vast number of my fellow Americans have made similar choices resulting in a relatively large reduction in union membership.

Approximately 12.3% of the US workforce is unionized, a decrease from 20.1% in 1983. Even more enlightening is the fact that more than one-half of all union members are employed in the public sector despite the fact that private sector workers outnumber public sector workers by a ratio more than five to one.

Today's Unions

The unions, today, a far afield from those of my ancestors. They don't seek fairness or economic power for their they seek political power for their leaders. Their campaign for political power cannot really be won by recruiting coal miners and steel workers since those workers , along with their employers, must compete in the world markets and are required to control costs and maintain productivity. All you have to do is look at General Motors, who was unable to maintain cost controls and productivity under union demands for non-affordable wages and benefits. The result, over time, was a massive bail-out by the taxpayers to maintain an industry while reducing the number of workers employed and thereby further reducing union membership. One must note than when there are concessions by the unions they are always applied to newer, younger workers. This maintains the union leaders power on the back of the younger workers. GM, plus Ford and Chrysler, now has a two tier wage plan that compensates older worker at an higher unsustainable rate and newer workers at lower rate which allows the company to remain competitive. It would appear that unions do not support equal pay for equal work.

Since the private sector union worker must also compete in the world markets, their number have shrunk dramatically cannot be leveraged for power. The result is that unions have turned to public sector for members. As noted above, they have been very successful organizing the public sector.

This campaign for political power often cost their members, the youngest with less seniority, their jobs. Take for example the teachers union in Milwaukee, the citizens of Milwaukee, knowing of reduced revenues and reduced enrollment declined to raise taxes to support the retention of the 428 teachers. The union could have avoided layoff of up to 480 teachers by agreeing to some co-pays in the healthcare plan covering all members. Without consulting with their membership, the union leaders opted for the layoff. So, 428 teachers get laid off, not the worst teachers, just those with the least seniority.

It was believed that the union leadership assumed that the Obama administration would bail them out with a stimulus package. That may still happen, if the Democrats have their way. But, all taxpayers should take note that the Milwaukee problem could have been solved locally with relatively little pain and suffering by the entire teacher corps. Instead, the union leadership, while collecting dues from members, use those dues to buy political favor from the likes of Obama and the Democrats. Actually, the last time I heard of a union supporting a Republican was back when the Teamsters supported Nixon to insure the release of Hoffa. Those political contributions give the union leadership the political power they seek.

The working man has become a means to an end but most workers haven't received the message because of my age and the fact I haven't lived or worked near union territory for years, I know only elderly union members or retirees. They are only concerned about pensions and healthcare, not how the union operates.

Obama more than any presidential candidate has learned this very well. I think this what Ted Kennedy meant when he said Obama was an "inspiration" as he endorsed him.

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