Governors vs. Unions


Let me start off by saying that I'm not a fan of labor unions. I've seen too many instances of screw-ups being protected by unions, and too many union members who abused the system and were protected. I firmly believe that union work rules ultimately nearly destroyed the railroad industry in this country. Labor unions take away the ability of management to reward individual workers for doing a superior job.

All that not withstanding, I've long recognized that, at least in some instances, labor unions are necessary to keep management from screwing the workers.

And you have to admit, regardless of where you stand on the issue, every disruptive work rule, every too-high wage rate, every overly-expansive benefit, got through because top level management agreed to it. That's right, top management is as much to blame for whatever problems there are as the union negotatiors.

When I looked at what's happened over the past generation, I found that I had to readdress my long-held belief about the occasional need for labor unions. My conclusion is that unions are more necessary today than at any other time since the 1930s.

It started in the early 1980s. Top management then made a healthy multiple of the wages of the average worker, enough to make them wealthy by any reasonable standard. That year, CEOs made about 42 times as much as their average worker. The disparity had increased to 550 in 2009 (I haven't been able to find figures for 2010). Were CEOs actually doing seven and a half times as much work in 2009 than in 1980? If not, why had their compensation increased so much more than that of their employees?

Median household income, according to the US Census Bureau, increased from about $40,000.00 in 1980 to a bit under $50,000.00 in 2009 (adjusted for inflation). That's household income, not individual income. Does it reflect more income earners per household? I don't know. Whatever, the household increase was 18%, or less than one fifth. Compare that to the 1980-2009 CEO compensation increase of more than 13 times.

Some figures I heard on the news over the years: In the 1980s, the income disparity between the top earners and the rest of us had grown to its greatest level since before the Great Depression. Earlier this century, it had increased to its greatest level since the days of the Robber Barons. Earlier this week I heard that the disparity between the top 1% of earners and everybody else was the highest it's ever before been in American history. I don't know if that includes pay that wasn't made to slaves before the Civil War, or the pittances paid to indentured workers when that was legal.

And now at least some of the top-income people want to strip collective bargaining rights from labor unions. How much do you want to bet that'll result in lower pay for the workers and higher compensation for the fat cats? If you believe that won't happen, I've got a bridge I want to sell you.

Back to my title here, "Governors vs. Unions," Governor Scott Wilson of Wisconsin cut some business taxes. The government employee unions have agreed to wage and benefit give-backs to cover the corporate tax breaks. But that's not good enough for the governor, he wants to essentially disenfranchise the unions. Except for, incidentally, the police, state police, and firefighters unions that supported him in the election. The unions he's going after are the unions that opposed his election. Think that has anything to do with what he's attempting? Did you hear his telephone conversation with a man he thought was David Koch? He made it absolutely clear that he wants to break the unions. Honestly, if I lived in Wisconsin, I'd be agitating for a recall petition, or for impeachment. It seems to me that Governor Wilson is working against the interests of the people of Wisconsin.

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