Updates for Monday, October 17th [2005]

Union Dues


Dear Friends,

I contact you revived, back to full & fit health. I have been spending a lot of time with Natalie, she is in preparation for this year's Halloween, and busy with her job at the local elementary school. However, there have been problems with that as of late.

Natalie: Thomas, I don't want to deal with this. A strike! If they close the schools down, that'll mess up my whole curriculum for this entire semester. How am I supposed to teach kids when we're doing nothing but bickering with the school board all the time?

Me: Well, what is the problem?

Natalie: I wish I knew. I am pretty happy there, just doing work as usual. My friend, Mr. Beck, who teaches history at the nearby middle school, agrees. However the president of the teacher's association, Mikey Cosper, who teaches math and is our school's PAT representative, says that the school board has been treating us all badly. He is trying to get the paperwork pushed through that will let us go on strike.

Me: Striking? What does violence have to do with this?

Natalie: No, silly. Our teachers association is a union of workers in the schools. He meant for all of us to stop working in coordination, a strike.

Me: Do not do that Natalie, surely you will be replaced!

Natalie: I don't want to do it, but I don't have much say. I can't fight the union, there are thousands of local area teachers in it. If you go to work during strike you're a scab, and no one likes a scab. Plus, it'd be illegal for the schools to fire us while on a legal strike.

Me: Illegal? I know the schools are run by the government, but how could it be possible for any business to be forbidden to fire an employee who refuses to work? That just doesn't make much sense to me. Is it like this for every occupation?

Natalie: Every one of them with a big union, yes. Unions are a pain in the ass. The union dues get spent on little better than bribery and expensive lawsuits... we get a few perks, like NEA liability insurance, but that's really it. Yet they're a good percentage of my base income. Oh, and let's not talk about the political contributions and lobbying. A lot of that is just wasted on trying to put out an agenda to benefit ourselves.

Me: Well, then do not pay it. To compel a man or woman to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.

Natalie: I wish it was that simple, Thomas, you always make so much sense. But paying the Portland Association of Teachers union dues is something that's required for me to keep my job. Nowadays, if there is any established union in your place of work, you can be assured of two things: that you have to be a member, and that to stay a member you have to pay dues.

Me: That most certainly is ridiculous. Why aren't you free to associate as you please?

Natalie: Well, the unions keep a constant stream of funds which let them buy off legislators to make compulsory union membership an establishment. Then they got the state laws protecting them. Of course, it just leads to more bickering and sniping over money and benefits. Take this potential strike, for example. The district is running low on cash, so they are being stricter on teaching requirements, layoffs, and cutbacks. I'm fine with that, I do want to be paid fairly but I don't want my students having their extracurriculars cut, and I don't want my classroom size exploding. But Mr. Cosper, he's insane about it. He's always whining about the "decline" of working conditions, and sure, I'd love to have our offices painted and get some better air conditioning... but it's nothing to go on strike over. Not that I think a strike will help the school refinance renovation projects. The real problem is that the contract between the union and the schools came up, and they just want to broker for more power. Like always.

Me: Where does that leave you?

Natalie: I don't know, there is talk that teachers might have to volunteer their time to keep the school running in the event of a closure, not that I think it'll go that far. This is just a test, really. Mr. Cosper goes on little speeches saying stuff like "Teachers basically give and give. They spend weekends. They spend out of their own pockets. Now they've been pushed to the point where they will stand up and say 'no more.'" Hopefully the end result is that I get to teach something before the winter break hits.

Me: Do they not pay you adequately?

Natalie: Well, I have huge student loans to pay back that are going to take years. I maybe get $40-K a year. Some of the people like me are the easiest ones to get riled up because we could be better off, I'm personally glad I finally got into an occupation that justified all those years in college spending every day working any one of the numbers of minimum wage jobs I had back in those days and every night studying. I don't get Mr. Cosper though, he makes nearly $70 thousand a year, and he's paid off his student loan years ago. Hell, he's almost done paying off his house. Another 10 years and he could be retired, living in a nice home on a decent pension. Yet he still goes around getting people riled up.

Me: Surely, education should be valued more than to haphazardly speak of shutting down entire schools.

Natalie: Between the school board wasting all the cash they get, the state budgeting it all away for other "more important" things, and the teachers unions siphoning as many dollars as they can, what will be left to spend on the kids? But hey, this is a union we're talking about. The Portland schools/teachers association conflict is nothing compared to what my cousin has to deal with over at the Post Office.

I assured Natalie that her concerns were well founded, and a week later the contract negotiations still persisted. The union seems like it could cause as much damage misused as it could actively prevent if used proper. I certainly hope workers work together to create a good workplace, but I also hope they do not conspire to bring it down for their own ends. Especially not when the public welfare is at stake.

I salute you with sincere frdshp & respect

- TH. Jefferson

Editor's Notes:

Good ol' Thomas Jefferson wouldn't be up much on labor unions because the concept as we know it today wasn't around until the industrial revolution. This sets TeeJ at a disadvantage, but not ourselves, dear readers. The labor union is a powerful force that can be used for any range of good or evil in society today. It really depends on how it is used.

The concept of the union was a powerful motivation for change during the considerably dirty and grungy days of the industrial revolution. Workers united under a common banner and forced large corporate complexes to maintain higher working standards, which included ending child labor and helping point health standards in the right direction. However, today we can get a sense that perhaps unions snatched up too much power: budgets of many businesses, public and private, are strained by union demands, while most workers are forced into a compulsory union system.

Unions are a detriment to the worker process in that they remove the bargaining powers of the individual and replace them with that of a collective. While this gives the group of workers more sway over their employer than perhaps on their own, it gives the individual little to no sway by himself. Perhaps one of the fundamental problems as I see it are that unions collectively bargain for their own interests which do not necessarily match the interests of the health of the trade or even the worker's own welfare. Collectively workers have different interests than individuals. This is contrary to their individual situations.

Workers do have a right to form unions but what we see today is that the union becomes as much a social structure as a political interest: lobbyists buy out politicians for union favors and rulings to give unions more power over their employers. In fact, it was the rise of these powers in the late 1800's and early 1900's that led to much of the fascism and socialism we saw in 19th/20th century governments. Governments and politicians exercise their powers over unions to help achieve their ends, which is just an indirect way to force the worker into doing things he/she may not necessarily believe in.

This attitude, whether on strict legal terms or not, is definitely against what it means to be a free, liberty-minded individual. More importantly it trains workers to be unthinking about their stations in life, and to demand little from their employer on their own terms. Collective bargaining is a creature that, in my mind, should be used rarely, and only in cases when individual bargaining is simply not possible.

In the end, if you don't like a job, quitting is always a good option too. Why work your life away doing something you don't enjoy if you see better options out there (and you will find them if you look, our job market is simply too diverse to suggest otherwise)? The group-think of unions defeats this basic common sense. I like to think that we'll come out good in the long run if we each remember that our own sense self-worth is our best bargaining chip against those who would exploit our need for honest work.

Bringing Old American Truth to confront the New American Myth

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