From the Right: Unions should fight for what is fair

I am often criticized for being anti-union. That is not exactly true. I grew up in fact in a family where both parents were union members for most of their careers. I have always applauded the ascent of employee rights and the improvement in worker conditions which were brought about mostly because of the unions. For such things, just about every worker in the country can be thankful. Unfortunately, most union organizations have drifted far from these noble beginnings and nobler accomplishments. The logic of steady advancement in the conditions for workers was, well, for a long time, just logical. Not anymore.

This shifting from the original purposes of the older unions and the rise to power of public sector unions now greatly contributes to the economic difficulties we are facing and to even greater challenges we will face in the decades to come.

As a youngster, my understanding of unions was shaped by a couple of things. My earliest memories center around union-sponsored picnics in which whole families of workers got together, enjoyed each other’s company, ragged about the bosses in starched shirts and ties, and generally had a great time. I remember my father leaving home with his picket sign when his group went on strike. I also remember someone within my father’s union organization putting a pipe bomb under the roof of my mother’s car because she was forced to cross the picket line. Her union group had voted to continue to work and she either showed up or lost her job. My father’s union didn’t quite seem to understand that strike-breaking logic. But that is what is now missing from most unions: any logical thinking.

Think back to the ’70s and ’80s. The United Auto Workers nearly destroyed the American car industry. What originally and appropriately was about fighting for improved and fairer working conditions evolved into demands for unsustainable pay and benefits that were four and five times what other auto workers around the globe were receiving. The sinking ship was saved but the effects still continue. The taxpayer funded bailouts to GM and Chrysler of a few years ago were necessary because of unmanageable pension and retirement costs. Where is the logic in that? Run up the bill as high as you can because someone else is paying for it.

The public sector unions have taken the whole shifting of purposes to a new level. They, like the private sector unions, originally sought to create improved and fairer working conditions. They appropriately argued that public sector employees were vastly underpaid compared to their counterparts in the private sector. Fast forward several decades and we now have a situation where the public sector has higher average pay and benefits that are significantly larger. Almost every city, county and state has underfunded pension and benefits cost, which will financially cripple these bodies for decades to come. In fact, some of those governmental entities could reach the point that they are spending more on retirement than they are actually spending on needed governmental services each year. Logical? Only if you’re the one not having to pay.

Logically, I am more critical of public sector unions then those in the private sector. Not because they are worse but because it is the taxpayers’ moneys that are being spent. When negotiations in the private sector lead to unrealistic pay and benefits, it is the employees and the company that ultimately will face dire consequences. In the public sector, it is the taxpayer that will pay more and more and receive less and less. Logical?

No I am not really anti-union. Nor do I want them to be banished into oblivion. Nor do I desire those within unions to lose all their pay and benefits. I do wish that logically they would go back to fighting for what is fair, fighting for what is practical and fighting for what is sustainable. In this way it is logically a win-win for us all.

Jon Edney is a former El Centro city councilman.

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Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
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