WI protests spotlighting importance of unions for workers AND employers

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

By now, most Americans are aware that state workers in Wisconsin and other states are protesting and striking to keep the right to collectively bargain with their public (state or localities) employers. Unions have taken a beating in the last three decades, and the rate of unionization of private sector workers is at its lowest point in decades: 6.9 percent. That’s actually lower than the 12 percent rate of unionization that existed in the United States before the Wagner Act of 1935 passed, giving workers the right to organize. The percent of public workers in unions is 36.2 percent, certainly far higher than their private counterparts.

The newly-elected Republican Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, has cleverly tried to shift the focus on state workers as the cause of his state’s budget deficits and wants state employees to give up their right to collective bargaining. The state workers in Wisconsin have already agreed to many of his demands for concessions on salary and health care. But Walker’s not satisfied. He wants them to give up collective bargaining too.

Here’s the problem: employers – even public employers like states and localities – need someone on the other side of the bargaining table representing the interests of workers. Worker issues include, of course, pay but they extend way beyond salaries to health care benefits, pensions, sick and vacation leave, and occupational health and safety. A union can bring together the interests of all the workers, talk to employers about what are their most pressing matters, and negotiate on their behalf. The striking workers in Wisconsin don’t want to give up that bargaining right, and they shouldn’t have to. Furthermore, public workers, it turns out, don’t do so much better than private sector workers and, in some cases, given their skill level, are actually undercompensated. These state workers are not getting rich; they are simply earning a decent, middle class income.

Shouldn’t we want a middle class that enjoys livable wages, decent benefits, and vacation and sick leave? A middle class that has money to spend on the basics, but also on leisure activities like taking the kids to Disneyland or to a National Park?

My favorite take on this current stand-off is in Monday’s Washington Post. Cartoonist Tom Toles has a plane in the air labeled “US Government” and a bubble from the cockpit that says “Until we solve the problem of people taking extra peanuts, we have no choice but to shut down the engines…”  That says it all: these government workers are asking for respect and fair treatment; they are not demanding huge benefit increases. Quite the contrary.

This is union busting, pure and simple. EJ Dionne, in a recent Washington Post column, says that Scott Walker’s agenda is more about power than budgets. Walker, it turns out, is pushing to end same-day registration for voting and trying to pass onerous voter ID laws that would especially burden those with lower incomes.

NCL supports the workers in states across the country who are standing up to the bullies in Governor’s offices trying to break the union. This is a turning point for unions that we’ll be watching carefully as the protests continue.

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One thought on “WI protests spotlighting importance of unions for workers AND employers

  1. Obviously we are witnessing the ultimate motives of the Republican and Democrat party. To say that their efforts to destroy any and all Govt. mandated economic regulations and guidlines is a understatement. The ellimination of the glass steagle act in recent years that enabled big banking and investment giants to pose the most destructive attack on America’s economy since the Great Depression is just one example of mad men acting badly.
    But in this time of greed, and the myth that only good comes from greed, Our strict adhearance to Adam Smith’s model of capitolism is in many ways destroying this country. Capitolism is a beautiful thing for obvious reasons and should be applied with the wisdom we deserve and not as a weopen used by the elite to gain ground at the expense of workers and the poor.
    But over the years i have noticed ever growing tendency to blame all wrongs unions and union members. Democrats claim to be supportive of unions and their rank and file yet support inept leaders who support global intentions. Republicans on the other hand see globalization as inevitable thus necessary to be the first to arrive at it’s logical conclusion.
    Anyway you look at it, Nationalism and it’s possitive effects fade into some abstract notion.
    Unless we are talking about war…then Nationalism ranks supreme when discussing our children’s partipation. But, other than that, the term is just a ill-fated concept.
    At the current time when food and fuel prices are skyrocketing and CEO’s earnings is an embarrasment. And that working people have watched their jobs leave the country while an inept govt. has failed at manning our borders and allowed a illegal work force invade. College tuition has skyrocked and as a result of our huge dependence on cheap goods from China and India, and also that as a result of this China,s military has grown to the point that it rivals the U.S. that maybe its time to think in ways of maintaining our stature in the world and tell Republican state governors to end their bid to destry organised labor. i support the workers and hope they prevail.

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