By Paul R. Hollrah, Guest Blogger
Republican governors Scott Walker, Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Mitch Daniels are not the originators of the fear of the overreaching power of public employee unions. That credit goes to FDR and the president of the AFL-CIO, George Meany. In 1955, Meany said, “It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”
The point Meany was trying to make is that government is so big and so powerful that any group of workers who attempted to bargain with it (coerce it) would be squashed like so many bugs. What he failed to consider is what labor leaders of subsequent generations have discovered, which is that government doesn’t have to be bargained with if it can be bought. In recent years, public employee unions have discovered that, by taking hundreds of millions of dollars from their members and using it to elect (buy) more and more Democrats, at all levels of government, their “collective bargaining” efforts became easier and easier with each passing year.
The subject of public employee union power is now being rehashed in state legislatures across the country. However, there is a much larger question that more and more politicians are now beginning to address… a question that has never been fully tested and argued before the courts. It is the question of whether or not workers in any industry or any economic sector have a right to bargain collectively for uneconomic wages, benefits, and working conditions.
In a September 3, 1937 speech titled, “Labor and the Nation,” delivered just months after the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO), United Mine Workers president John L. Lewis stated the union position in terms that union members and labor leaders still embrace. He said, “The workers of the nation were tired of waiting for corporate industry to right their economic wrongs, to alleviate their social agony, and to grant them their political rights… They, therefore, have organized a new labor movement, conceived within the principles of the national bill of rights and committed to the proposition that the workers are free to assemble in their own forums, voice their own grievances, declare their own hopes, and contract on even terms with modern industry for the sale of their only material possession – their labor.”
No one would deny that workers are free to assemble in their own forums, voice their own grievances, or declare their own hopes. Those rights are guaranteed by the 1st Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The constitutional principles that Lewis spoke of endowed workers with: a) their freedom of speech, b) their right to peaceably assemble, and c) their right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. These rights are not at issue in the growing debate over union rights in Indiana, New Jersey, Ohio, Wisconsin, and elsewhere. What is in dispute is the right of workers to enforce their economic demands through coercive collective bargaining and work stoppages.
In the operation of every business enterprise, whether privately or publicly owned, the managers of the business must go into the marketplace to obtain three primary necessities: goods, services, and labor. It is then the business manager’s job to apply whatever quantities of goods, services, and labor are necessary to produce a product that consumers wish to purchase, at a price they are willing to pay. The goal, of course, is to produce a product that is equal to or better than the competitors’ product, and that the cost to produce it will be such that the employer can still earn a small profit, over and above the cost of goods, services, and labor.
Now let’s assume that the workers decided to exercise their right to peaceably assemble and their right to freely state their opinion regarding their compensation and their working conditions. So far, so good. The worker has an absolute right to complain to anyone who will listen… his wife, his friends, his co-workers, or his employer… that he feels he is underpaid or underappreciated. However, it is when workers organize themselves to bargain collectively for wages and benefits, where workers are guaranteed a certain level of compensation, regardless of the quality of their work and regardless of their productivity, that the process runs afoul of the rights of others.
To illustrate the point, let’s assume that Company A decides to restock its warehouses with enough raw materials and component parts for a full month’s production. And let’s assume that the company has some twenty suppliers from which it can obtain its component parts and/or raw materials. However, if those twenty suppliers, in an effort to insure their continued profitability and the jobs of their workers, exercised their right to “peaceably assemble and at that meeting they all agreed to engage in “collective bargaining,” arriving at a uniform price that Company A would be forced to pay, at least twenty people would go to jail. It comes under a body of law called anti-trust, and the prisons have housed thousands of businessmen who thought they could engage in restraint of trade and get away with it.
Replace "UAW" label with "Public Employees Union" and this cartoon works.
Companies also require services in order to produce a product: legal, accounting, utilities (gas and electric), communications, data processing, personnel, janitorial, etc., etc. And while they may not have a large number of gas and electric companies to choose from, all of the other services are obtainable from a large number of providers. So let’s assume that AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, and Verizon all got together in a “collective bargaining” effort to determine what Company A’s wireless telephone services were going to cost. Again, if the conspiracy was discovered, people would likely go to jail.
But what about the labor component? In a recent appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” host David Gregory asked Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) his opinion of the possibility that most public employees in Wisconsin will lose a major portion of their collective bargaining “rights.” Durbin, the assistant majority leader in the U.S. Senate, replied, “Let me tell you why what’s happening in Wisconsin… goes way beyond the discussion of the Wisconsin budget… For over 80 years in America, we have recognized the rights of our workers to freely gather together, collectively bargain, so that they could have fairness in the workplace and fairness in compensation… This governor of Wisconsin is not setting out just to fix a budget; he’s setting out to break a union. That is a major move in terms of American history. I believe the president should have weighed in. I think we should all weigh in and say, ‘Do the right thing for Wisconsin’s budget, but do not destroy decades of work to establish the rights of workers to speak for themselves.’”
Yes, the assistant majority leader of the United States Senate actually said, in a nationally-televised interview, that what the public employee unions have been working toward for decades is “fairness in the workplace and fairness in compensation” and to “establish the rights of workers to speak for themselves.” To understand what Durbin said would require, in Hillary Clinton’s words, a “willing suspension of disbelief.”
The truth is, Wisconsin public employees have worked for decades to establish UNFAIRNESS in the workplace and to establish the right of workers NOT to speak for themselves. Through collective bargaining, they have worked tirelessly to establish a system in which the laziest, most unproductive workers are compensated at exactly the same rate as the very best workers, and where union leaders, who have no concern for the relative value of individual workers, do all of their speaking for them. It is a system in which the only “value” is the possession of a union card and nothing more. It is a system that rewards sloth and incompetence, while unfairly penalizing hard work and dedication. It rewards the unworthy and punishes the worthy.
Being a liberal Democrat, a believer in the redistribution of wealth, it has apparently escaped Durbin’s attention that, when numbers of people conspire to take the assets of the owners of business through coercion… i.e. collective bargaining… they are engaging in theft. If Durbin were asked to show where in the U.S. Constitution workers have a right to hold hostage the property and the invested capital of the owners of business, or the taxpayers of a city or town, he would be unable to do so. The right simply does not exist.
Union leaders and Democrat politicians would have the American people believe that the public employees in Wisconsin are “fighting for the middle class.” Again, nothing could be further from the truth. What they fail to acknowledge is that 86% of workers who do not belong to unions… who are responsible for their own economic advancement in their jobs… are the same middle class people who pay the taxes that pay the inflated wages of public employees. They are the same middle class taxpayers who send their children to the Wisconsin public schools where only 34% of 8th grade students are able to read at an 8th grade level.
Those who sell the only thing they have to sell… their time and labor… have the right to peaceably assemble, and they have the right to form an opinion of what their labor is worth. What they do not have is a right to force that opinion on an employer under threat of withholding their labor and preventing other willing workers from taking their place.
Employers, whether in the public sector or the private sector, are interested in hiring only the best, most capable and productive workers. It is the obligation of the individual worker to insure that he/she is one of those whose continued employment the employer wishes to obtain. That transaction, between the employer and the worker is what John L. Lewis spoke of as “the sale of the worker’s only material possession – his labor.” But it is an individual right, not a collective right. And when it is consummated through collective bargaining and coercion it is indistinguishable from extortion.
Paul R. Hollrah
Hollrah is a senior fellow at the Lincoln Heritage Institute and a contributing editor for Family Security Matters and a number of online publications. He resides in northeast Oklahoma.
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