In defense of labor


I understand that unions are part of the problem that many California cities are in danger of bankruptcy, and that fair wages and decent benefits are part of the reason schools are in trouble.


Let's be fair.

The reason America's in the tanker now has nothing to do with unions. It's the fatcats sinking banks and taking huge bonuses. Imagine what schools could do with 10% of Wall Street's bonuses.


  1. .

    The real question is why more professions aren't organized.

  2. .

    And who else is going to push back against the top .1% Congress? >lafftrak<

  3. Unions are hardly part of the problem, they're merely a convenient scapegoat. Reducing pensions would do extremely little to balance *either* municipal *or* state budgets over any short time horizon and would most certainly weaken the funding basis for current retirees (who are payed anywhere from 7-10% less than private sector employees, a reason I've never worked for the state or a city)

    The elephant in the room is Prop 13 and the attitude that it wrought which, while keeping property taxes quite low (nevermind screwing the new purchasers), also introduced the 2/3rds requirement for any tax passage in California. Nevermind that Prop 13 reduced property taxes which were really the largest source of funds for localities-- but when the state hits financial hard times and reaches down into local coffers (and it does), they hurt *even* worse because these coffers are quite a bit smaller (unless they can get special assessments passed, but those are nearly always earmarked).

    The unions are the scapegoats for undertaxing while continuing to provide services at the levels during Pat Brown's administration, a very different tax climate. Further, in California, at the state level, government employment per capita is 27 percent below the U.S. average, ranking 48th among the states. The situation in most cities is not terribly different than it's ever been *per capita* either, except with respect to greatly reduced tax receipts.

    Brad Delong:
    "In the generation after World War II, California bet on social democracy: fueled by large federal defense expenditures and by the migration of Americans to the resource- and sun-rich west, California set out on a high tax, high infrastructure, high public education system, high social welfare benefits trajectory. Then come 1979 all that changed (California is a decent microcosm for the nation as a whole in this regard, but I digress): California voters turned in what Robert Kuttner called "the revolt of the haves," and for the past generation they have been voting in larger numbers for politicians who and referenda that seek to transform California into a low-tax state."

  4. .

    It's true that Prop 13's legacy is complicated and not as good as the Jarvisites would have us believe. I'm still trying to work out the details, but I'm no longer nearly as rahrah as once I was.

  5. On the other hand, I went to do a hardware/software installation at a factory in Oregon a few years ago. It was a matter of plugging in a computer and ensuring the pre-installed software was working properly. I took the computer into the factory, and as I was about to plug it into an outlet, my escort stopped me. "Union rules. You have to schedule an electrician for that." So, we went to a room full of "electricians", all sitting around and watching TV. They were watching some kind of football game, so they refused to allow themselves to be "scheduled" until it was over. So, I sat there for about an hour, waiting for an electrician to be available. Once one finally meandered to my location, he plugged in the computer and returned to the room. I then verified the software. Once the software was verified, a cable from a robot needed to be plugged into the computer's serial port. Again, I had to schedule an electrician to do this for me. It took 3 and a half hours for me to do a 10 minute job because the union had this company by the short and curlies.

    The company would have only needed to pay my time, and only 10 minutes of it, but instead had to pay 3 and a half hours of my time in addition to having to pay a room full of "electricians" to sit around and watch TV all day. What a waste!

    While unions, in some situations are a good thing, let's not forget the incredible waste and laziness they can promote when they attach themselves to a profitable company.

    I imagine it was the same in Detroit with the automobile companies. You get people employed and attached to a union, they become increasingly greedy, and before you know it, a cheaply made car costs $35,000... oh wait... I guess it already does.

    What people fail to realize is that CEOs in general don't make as much as you would think, and even if they did, don't they deserve it for creating a niche, taking appropriate risk, creating jobs, and doing their part to stimulate the economy? With each new employee, a CEO shoulders a certain amount of weight for that employee's well-being. The company gets double-taxed (yes, they pay taxes on your wages before you do.. it's called payroll tax), benefits are increasing at an alarming rate, assets are taxed at depreciation. If you make $50,000 / year, the company is shouldering almost twice that amount in order to pay your wage. As with any group, there are some bad apples as CEOs, and they tend to gravitate toward huge companies, and their controversial methods and kickbacks are covered by the media, but for every bad CEO, there are thousands that act responsibly, who worry and fret over their employees; who go through deep personal and financial sacrifice to ensure the well-being of the people they are responsible for.

    Of course, the media isn't interested in the responsible CEOs, so the propaganda propagates, and all CEOs are painted black. Companies are evil. Unions are heroes. In other words, what is good is called evil, and what is evil is called good. Good old latter-day deceptions.

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  7. .

    I'm not interested in defending the bad that unions do, because there is plenty. But it's Labor Day, man! We'll defend CEOs on CEO day.