Union Battles

Originally when Governor Walker in Wisconsin started taking on the unions I remember a brief thread with Dan about why the governor didn’t include firefighters and police in his union collective bargaining reforms. The answer is that in hindsight it was a great way to divide the opposition to union reforms and remove the left of their most obvious rallying points, especially after 9/11.

In Ohio the reformers in the legislature didn’t try to take 1/2 the pie; they grabbed for the whole pie of reforms and took on everyone, including the firefighters, police and teachers. Their key reforms are very reasonable as summarized in this article:

The legislation affects more than 350,000 police, firefighters, teachers, nurses and other government workers. It sets mandatory health care and pension minimums for unionized government employees, bans public worker strikes, scraps binding arbitration and prohibits basing promotions solely on seniority.

What union government workers have found elsewhere is that there is little sympathy for the bureaucrats other than the high-profile police and firefighters. Does anyone care if the “worker” across from you at the department of motor vehicles doesn’t get a raise every year just for existing via seniority and has to pay a larger portion of his pension and insurance? No.

Even if the referendum loses in Ohio it is “taking the battle to the heart of the enemy”. The left has captured these government institutions and universities and turned them into reliable bastions of contributions, political workers, and party delegates. They also use these institutions to push their agenda at every turn. And it isn’t sustainable financially, which is becoming more and more obvious every day even in the popular press.

I remember walking by an art school in Chicago during some of the early protests against the Iraq war (which miraculously stopped as soon as Obama was elected, although of course the wars raged on) and the whole institution basically closed (they put a sign on the door) because everyone went to the rally. This was the icon of a captured institution, one of course primarily funded by taxpayer dollars.

In order for the Republicans to win long term they need to go after the left’s areas of power which reside in government and unions and battle them continuously. Even if they periodically lose (as is likely in Ohio) now the left’s machinery has to be turned inward to defend itself instead of outward expanding its reach.

The other key element is that the left’s narrative is losing its power. You don’t hear much anymore about how loyal and selfless the union government workers are, or hardly any arguments about their productivity or effectiveness. It now is more of a clear “class struggle” movement, which over the long term will reduce their ability to “sell” their story to those outside of their umbrella of lifetime benefits without corresponding marketable skills or productivity. Why would a poor worker barely getting by in the private sector be moved to care about their predicament of having to pay 10% more for a lifetime pension, when that poor private sector worker knows he is likely to get little but a busted social security system and even that is a long ways away? The answer is, they won’t. The unions can’t expand their base, they can only defend the fringes, and after time the public is going to get wary of their protesting.

It is similar to the nadir that the private sector union workers face, particularly in car manufacturing. They used to imply that “union made” was a symbol of quality; not so as the non-union south and west now dominates the foreign cars which are cleaning up the higher margin luxury business. With the “two-tier” wage system the “solidarity” of the union came crashing down in howling fashion; never more was it clearer that the union was solely looking to protect its own. How can you sell the narrative of the “two-tier” wage structure under the banner of solidarity – you can’t.

Even if the unions win in Ohio they will still be chipped away; perhaps tackling everything with one fell swoop was too much. Still it is better than Illinois, where we don’t even try to tackle the problems at all, and sink further behind our neighboring states which are putting out the sign that they are open for business.

6 thoughts on “Union Battles”

  1. I think the better strategy is the one in WI. While I haven’t seen the ads in OH I an imagine a scene where a firefighter is holding a small child in front of the backdrop of a burning building with the caption “They are trying to take away our only reward”. Never mind the fact that the firefighter might be taking home $200K / year in retirement.

    WI was hard enough.

    Out here (CA) the 3 most powerful political entities are the teacher’s union, prison guard union and trial lawyers.

    I am starting to think among the voting populace that things will have to be so bad (like Greece) as to be obvious before they will vote against these interests.

  2. The funny thing about the “protests” when they were raging was that there inevitably was a dozen or so firefighters and/or cops in full outfits, marching in sympathy for the government and teachers unions. I personally asked some of these guys if they really had any skin in this game and most of the time they sheepishly admitted that they do not but were marching because they knew they were next. And they probably are.

    I wrote about the firefighters some time ago and how they are lionized. Yes, their job is dangerous. But I cannot remember the last time an actual fire was fought, or brave firefighters acutally entered a burning structure to save people. Most of their tasks are now paramedic based. I still put out the theory that an electrician or HVAC mechanic have a FAR more dangerous job on a daily basis than a firefighter.

    As I also wrote in the comments in Lex’s previous post it is amazing that things like this are actually happening. There will be short tern defeats but long run it is great to keep the D’s and unions busy defending what they have (and it has cost them tens of millions of dollars here in Wisco and everything still sailed through) rather than expanding influence as you rightly noted.

    The rollback of mandatory union due confiscation of government employees, which is a defacto donation to the D party has to stop.

  3. Dan out here – before Arnold really tanked – by giving in to the interests – I admired what he tried to do – having 3-4 initiatives before the people that stuck the teacher’s union head on.

    The result – while all this was fermenting – was that the AFL-CIO and statewide unions spent over $100 million in an ad campaign demonizing him.

    You get that hitting you for a year and they could make Mother Teresa look questionable – daily TV ads – in all the major markets – for a year.

    I think what the WI governor did – was shrewd. The unions could see what they could become and sent activists in from around the country.

    I think – speaking as an outsider just watching the news in your state – is that they overplayed their hands getting public sympathy.

    Perhaps the analogy with OWS is good – overplaying their hand.

    I see the point of those saying “confront everything at once” but I adhere to Reagan’s belief that “it’s better to have half a loaf than to insist on the whole loaf and get none”.

    Let the public see some tangible results from this change and then confront the firefighters and police unions.

  4. Dan,

    You could google for something like “fatalities by occupation”. Last time I did this (at the time of some high-profile murder of police officers) I recall that, vaguely, commercial fisherman were about tops, followed by roofers, followed by ag workers, then others in teh building trade–police officer on-the-job fatalities were way down the list.

  5. @Bill – the ads used to be on here in enormous amounts and they are coming again with the recall election of Walker (that I think will fail). Things are relatively quiet right now.

    The signature gathering starts Nov. 15 and they have to get something like a half or 3/4 million of them which I am sure will be met with challenges but eventually there will be a recall election. I expect the money flowing in to be like nothing this state has ever seen.

    I agree that the unions overplayed their hand in a huge way. The trashing of the beautiful capitol building and the tacit approval of the loonies holding up Hitler, Nazi and “Koch Sucker” signs I think really turned a lot of normal thinking people off. If you were down there just to see what was going on and were faced with all the chanting, yelling, drumming and obscene signs, you would think that these people were deranged.

    @Kirk Parker – good point.

Comments are closed.