Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Unions and forced association

It turns out that 27 states have laws that make union membership compulsory. I didn't know this and I found it shocking. Whatever happened to freedom of association? What's even worse is that, while employees are ostensibly supposed to get back any dues spent for things other than employment related matters, most don't realize that they have this right. Here's the wacky, unpleasant reality of this scenario, based on this forced dues-paying:

So how did unions spend their members' money last year? The 1.8 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the largest union in the AFL-CIO and the one spearheading the threats to pull out of the federation next week, spent $65 million not organizing new members but trying to defeat President Bush and Republicans in Congress. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees spent $48 million in the same, failing effort. The AFL-CIO spent $44 million trying to defeat Bush, and the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) spent another $8 million in the same quest. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. These unions also gave millions to so-called 527 organizations, which can collect and spend unlimited amounts trying to elect or defeat candidates. According to its own press releases, the SEIU alone gave $26 million to America Coming Together, an anti-Bush 527, while the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) gave $1 million to the Media Fund to run ads against the president and Republicans. All of this money came from union dues, not from the voluntary contributions unions collect through their Political Action Committees, which spent an additional $52 million in the 2004 election cycle, 86 percent of it going to Democrats. Some 43 percent of voters in union households voted for President Bush in 2004, according to exit poll data.
Based upon my experiences as a student in a union-driven school district, on my father's experiences as a teacher represented by the unions, and on the present state of California schools, which are controlled by unions, I've come to be adamantly hostile to unions. Frankly, I see them as anachronisms. They made great sense in an early industrial era, when ill-educated workers were being savagely abused, and I think they still have that role in certain areas (industries that employ [legal] immigrants who speak little to no English; dangerous industries; etc.). Most of what the early unions wanted, though, we've got now as an integral part of our legislation, state and federal -- limitations on hours worked, workplace safety, pensions, etc. The unions' role is vestigal. A couple of anecdotes. As happens every few years near here, hotel workers went on strike. They march around in front of hotels, children in tow, complaining about their horrible maltreatment. Somehow the subject came up while I was talking to a friend, and I expected her to be totally pro union. Imagine my surprise when she was not. Why? A friend of hers manages a kitchen in one of the large hotels. He loves the strikes, because he says the strikes are the only time he ever gets access to good workers. He considers his union employees slackers. My own experiences have also shown that modern union strength encourages employee dereliction. When I was quite young, I got a temporary secretarial job in a big hospital. I was to fill in for a woman on maternity leave. The doctors for whom I worked were researchers (publish or perish), but had published nothing in five years -- solely because of their secretary. The day I arrived, I opened the file cabinet by my desk, and discovered mountains of garbage (real garbage, such as an old sandwich). In three months, those doctors published five papers. It's not that I was such a stellar secretary. I simply did my job, something their previous secretary had not done -- and yet, they could not fire her. The daunting union rules governing employee discharge defeated them. Even though she didn't do anything, she also hadn't done anything wrong, as wrong was defined through labor negotiations. This, of course, is not what unions were meant to be about, nor is it what unions should be about. So, I'm all for unions, provided that (a) they stay out of classroom curriculums; (b) they stop providing shelter for useless employees; and (c) they stay out of politics. One last random thought: Have you noticed generally how many of the Left's most fiercely held positions are anarchronistic? I blogged here about the fact that they're fighting a 20th Century abortion debate that has little to do with 21st Century realities -- and that's true whether you're for or against abortion. Unions, too, still approach the public as if they're trying to get children out of 12 hour work days in cotton mills, or prevent the railroad men from abusing Chinese and laborers slogging barefoot over the Sierras (and that, by the way, was an extraordinary feat of human endurance). Perhaps I would be more sympathetic to NOW or to the unions if I got the feeling that they were addressing me, in the here and now, rather than constantly re-living history.