Thought on Wisconsin Protests

Collective bargaining was adopted as a key tactic for labor out of the sense that, by banding together in labor negotiations, workers were able to offset a perceived power imbalance vis a vis employers.  But what happens if the management team on the other side of the table in labor negotiations is not actually an adversary?

We have seen in the last week that the Democratic Party is operating, right up to the US President, as a wholly owned subsidiary of the public employee's unions.  In such a case, where state governments are historically dominated by Democrats, is it any wonder that compensation packages for unions have skyrocketed?  They have been negotiating with themselves!

  • me

    I'd say it's even worse. It's the unions vs politicians. Can you imagine the 2 second thought process that goes on in the brains of the latter? "My, those unionist are asking for a lot. I'd have to spend more of the taxpayers money... wait. I don't care. I like spending taxpayer money."

    If only there were laws that required every increase beyond 2% to be submitted to the public for a vote, I'd think things were different.

  • Bearster

    The idea that there is an "imbalance" is just marxist class warfare garbage. In any transaction, both sides have the power to say no. What--in a free market, at least--neither side has the power to do is force the other side not to talk to one's competitors.

    The so-called "right" of collective bargaining forces employers (in this case, the state of WI) not to talk to any other potential employees.

  • morganovich

    if you give your boss a a breifcase full of money to get a raise, that is called bribery and you go to jail.

    if a public union does this to an elected official (so long as it's to this PAC etc) then it is called "politics" and seems to be fine.

    and i agree with bearster - a right to bargain collectively is one thing, but the right to force up to 49% of those employed to accept your terms, to forbid those who do not pay you from working, and to forbid an employer from hiring those who do not pay you is extortion, pure and simple.

  • perlhaqr

    Bearster: I would say that the employees absolutely have the right to band together to negotiate a contract with their employer. "If you don't give all of us a larger raise, we'll all quit."

    I would even say it's legitimate for them to negotiate a contract which states: "You must only hire members of our union, and require all new hires to join our union." using, of course, the threat during the negotiation process of "If you don't accept this contractual obligation, we'll all quit."

    I think it would be suicidal for a company to accept such a limitation on hiring, but that's just my opinion.

    What I strongly object to are various laws that prohibit the employer from calling their bluff. "Ok, you're all fired. Clean out your desks and leave the property. We'll be conducting interviews in a week if any of you wish to apply for your old jobs back."

  • Mesa Econoguy

    And that's precisely why public sector unions need to be banned.

    The usual bargaining tension present between employer and labor is mostly absent when the employer is government, who has little or no incentive to minimize cost.

  • perlhaqr

    Mesa Econoguy: I can buy that. I can even make it reasonably justifiable tot he libertarian perspective, I think.

    "Law says no collective bargaining for public service employees. It's like a negotiated contract that says all employees must join the union, only in reverse. You don't want to deal with that limitation, don't work there."

  • Henry Bowman

    I used to think that collective bargaining was an acceptable practice, mostly because I didn't think about it very much. Eventually I realized that, at least in the U.S., the existing labor laws implied that collective bargaining by unions always involved the threat of force. To me, this means that it is an immoral practice.

  • Dr. T

    When I worked at a VA medical center, the hospital administrators actively supported more unionization of employees, including resident physicians. The administrators approved a nonstandard voting policy: they decided that the union needed only a majority of the votes cast. Most workers didn't know this, and only 25% voted. The others thought no vote was the same as a "no" vote.

    When I asked top administrators why they did this, they said it was easier to negotiate with union representatives than multiple employees. My reply was something like, "When did you ever negotiate with individual non-exempt employees?" Of course, they never had. The VA administrators were just jumping on the pro-government worker union bandwagon that has swept all levels of government this past generation.

    Since we supposedly have government of the people, the public worker unions should either be negotiating with taxpayer panels or be disbanded. As others noted, public union negotiations with government bureaucrats have led to runaway pay and benefits (especially the cushy pensions that will bankrupt us).

  • me

    This blog asks an interesting question and provides one sample point: http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2011/02/state-employee-salaries.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+marginalrevolution/hCQh+(Marginal+Revolution)

    It looks like collective bargaining might not make as much of a difference than the simple fact that there's a union negotiating on behalf of public workers and employers who don't care about cost because a third party is footing the bill.

  • markm

    Henry: A long time ago, when I was young and foolish, I helped the UAW get into the factory where I worked. Getting through the petition process and winning the certification election was easy - management had been setting themselves up for that for years, with low pay, poor working conditions, and obvious disdain for anyone who'd ever worked with his or her hands. But that just brought us to the contract negotiations - and the company wasn't negotiating anything. If we wanted to strike, bring it on...

    So, we started gameplanning strike scenarios. Let's see, we call a strike and everybody walks out of their minimum wage plus $0.20 jobs ... except all the people that really need to keep their families fed. And the company goes out and hires replacements for the others; that wouldn't be hard, because the Michigan economy was in the pits back then (too), and all HR had to do was dig out a stack of rejected applications and start calling. Net effect of the strike, one week's slowdown in production, and the cost of about a half day of training for no more than half the work force. How do you think management would weigh that versus being held up by the union forever after?

    So the guys from the UAW threw out some hints. We would have to "persuade" our co-workers to "solidarity" - that is, intimidate them. And with the new hires ... they didn't say, but at another plant 300 miles away, UAW strikers were firing upon buses bringing in scabs. I'm glad to say that no one in the group that had been leading the unionization effort was willing to follow that example.

    So yes, in a commercial enterprise (and assuming management isn't self-destructive), a union cannot succeed unless it can credibly threaten to close the operation, and it cannot do that without the threat of force. Generally it's not enough to just key cars or shove someone around a little, but willingness to start on a path that can lead to murder is required. A successful union in commerce is a successful extortionist gang.

    Governmental unions are a different case: you don't have to threaten to call an effective strike if you can gain control of the "management" negotiators through political means. So governmental unions do not have to be extortionists; they can just be successful at offering campaign funds and campaign workers in return for particular actions by politicians - and that *is* the crime of bribery. A governmental employees union is still organized crime even if no one in it knows how to throw a punch.

    But what's worse than having your teachers and DMV clerks be members of an organized crime group? When the cops are also members...

  • Smock Puppet

    > They have been negotiating with themselves!

    An open offer to Mr. Obama:

    I will give you two pats on the back for one osculation of my posterior.

  • caseyboy

    You either need to ban public service workers unions altogether or you have to restrict their ability to make political contributions. We now have the worst of symbiotic relationships, i.e., unions feeding from political favors and politicians feeding on union contributions.

    But then again you can't blame union members from wanting to be protected from the "robber baron citizens" that pay them.

  • LoneSnark

    Not at all. There is no need to ban public sector unions. Just don't pass a law making them both binding and mandatory. All workers should have the right to form associations among themselves. The trick is that they should also have the right to refuse to join. Similarly, employers should also have the right to refuse to join such an organization.

    As markm says, this will sometimes mean abused workers earning minimum wage will feel trapped by idiot managers without the right to violently threaten society. This is a cost well worth paying. As it would be wrong for management to force employees to keep associating against their will, it is wrong for workers to force management to keep associating against their will.

  • Mike

    Part of Governor Walker's Budget Repair Bill takes the employer (the state) out of the union dues collection process. Union members will have to write a check.......dues will no longer be withheld. Also, it makes paying union dues non-mandatory, yet the worker will still be represented by the union. As a Wisconsinite, I'm cheering the Governor!

  • chuck martel