Pushing the Limits with “Taxpayer Funding”

Pushing the Limits with “Taxpayer Funding” February 11, 2011

I don’t usually pay any attention to Glenn Beck, but this little tirade lays the groundwork for some really interesting questions. Beck’s ire is directed against the right of TSA workers to unionize, if they so desire. I don’t expect any better from a person who attacks the core Catholic notion of social justice, but it’s worth pointing out that the Catholic church has always supported the right of workers to form unions and to bargain collectively. The right to collective bargaining does not disappear just because the worker is in the public sector.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Beck insinuates that public sector workers have no right to collective bargaining because their salaries come from tax revenue. “But now, they will have 50,00o potential new members and as much as $30 million a year of your money. You see, you pay the screener. They pay the union.” he says.  

During the health care debate, I often wondered where the line would be drawn on taxpayer funding. If a public servant procures an abortion, is that taxpayer funding of abortion? Maybe our friends over at the Catholic Vote short-pants magisterium could weigh in?



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  • smf

    I find public employee unions highly objectionable, something I learned from my father who started working a union building trade with his father as early as 12 years of age. My father not only worked in the trade, he ran a union closed shop for decades. His father (my grandfather) before him was a career long member of the same union. My great grand father was a founding member of that same union, having not a local card, but rather an international card with a very low number on it. In addition one of my uncles was also a union man, as was a grand-uncle. I also have and had family working in federal, state, and local government, so I know a small bit about the inside of these things. My opinions aren’t so much my own as theirs.

    Public employee unions do not primarily exist for collective bargaining, for you can not in any real sense bargain with the government over wages which are determined by law. Sure, there is some wiggle room at the margins, but it isn’t really a negotiation.

    Further, public employees, by unionazation, gain essentially a double say on matters of public policy. They can vote and collectively bargain, placing them in a position to both vote themselves more benefits and power, and then to further negotiate themselves more benefits and power.

    Further, the primary reason for these unions is political, not labor related. These unions will carry out a wealth transfer from the members of these unions to their selected political causes and to the union bosses. The employees of these unions will receive little in return, unlike the members of traditional trade unions.

    The government, as a matter of equal rights, must operate an “open shop”. We are supposed to have a merit based civil service. The union inevitably blurs the question of merit in civil service and creates a back-door for shadow patronage. Those who do not believe in unions should no more be forced to join one to work for the government than they should be forced to join a political party or a church.

    Inevitably over time support for the union and its causes will currupt the process of hiring and promotions. Even in places that have an “open shop” type attitude toward public employee unions, it is nearly inevitable that the upper ranks come to be dominated by the union people. This was the case in my local public schools where perhaps only a third of teachers are members of the union, but 100% of those promoted to administrative and supervisory positions are union members, and those administrators then use school system resources, employee time, and even student time to engage in on-the clock union activity during the school day.

    At one time unions were a very important source for good in the work place. Unions helped gain better pay, benefits, and working conditions. In exchange the unions took care of most of their own discpline, weeded out the no good, provided a consistent and very high quality work product, and generally improved the work experience for the worker and even the employer. Today the unions have allowed their internal discipline and standards to decline to the point that often even the work product of journeymen in skilled trades is no better than that of non union scabs, but it costs twice as much. Where union members once never no-showed just to go hunting or watch the big game, now they feel entitled to a day off with no notice whenever they feel like. Further, where the unions once took care of their own problem people, today they have shifted this burden back to the employer and will even give full backing to those whose errors are so egregious as to create work place safety issues.

    About the only ways the unions have improved any at all is that the mob influence has significantly declined. Also, the unions are more willing to take on members who don’t have the traditional family connections, though this has been more due to necessity than desire.

    Todays unions are not the unions our fathers grew up in and our grandfathers built.

    The public employee unions have never been those sorts of unions and make a mockery of what organized labor was once all about.

    • smf

      The real unionists, the ones who grew up learning a trade and working a life time in it, think that these new, modern unions for public employees who have no trade, and for managers, supervisors, and professions with credential and advanced degrees are not real unions at all.

  • Kurt

    smf,

    Your post has quite a few factual errors.

    My father not only worked in the trade, he ran a union closed shop for decades.

    Closed Shops were made illegal under the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. How old are you?

    Public employee unions do not primarily exist for collective bargaining, for you can not in any real sense bargain with the government over wages which are determined by law.

    Correct. TSA employees will not bargain over wages and benefits. Federal sector unions are generally limited to bargaining over working conditions.

    Further, public employees, by unionazation, gain essentially a double say on matters of public policy. They can vote and collectively bargain, placing them in a position to both vote themselves more benefits and power, and then to further negotiate themselves more benefits and power.

    You just said these workers can’t negotiate over wages and benefits. Then you contradict yourself.

    Further, the primary reason for these unions is political, not labor related.

    No, there exclusive purpose is labor. Federal employee unions act on workplace concerns as democratically determined by the membership.

    The government,… must operate an “open shop”.
    Yes, by law the federal government is an open shop.

    We are supposed to have a merit based civil service.

    Yes.

    Those who do not believe in unions should no more be forced to join one to work for the government than they should be forced to join a political party or a church.

    Again you contradict yourself. As you said, the federal government is an open shop.

    Inevitably over time support for the union and its causes will currupt the process of hiring and promotions.

    Unions have no rights regarding promotions outside the bargaining unit or any power to influence the selection of managers and supervisors.

    • smf

      Closed shops are alive and well. I don’t know what world you live in, but in this area there are union firms and there are non-union firms. You can live on the union side of the line or the non-union, you can’t be on both. If you are open shop, no union man will work for you, and if he does he will not work for the union again. If you are a closed shop, every time you need more men (and women these days) you call the agent at the union hall and tell them how many to send.

      For unions in fields that don’t use hiring halls and agents, the process is to create a training standard or certification that can only be met by the union program. So the company may hire you directly, but you will have to join the union to be trained. I had a friend a few years back who went through this, he knew an engineer at a plant that could get him hired on for the summer, but he had to pay his union dues to be able to work there. They classed him as an “apprentice” in the union training program so he could work on site, and all of his training was actually provided by the company, but there was no way to get he required credentials without joining the union. It is a regular part of the way unions protect themselves.

      There are a few states that have put in right to work type measures that have actually eliminated closed shops, but not many. Plus, if you are at a place that unionizes, or is already unionized, it is virtually impossible to opt out of collective bargaining even when that bargaining is directly agains the interests of an employee, which does sometimes happen.

      In theory unions don’t control hiring and promotions, but the reality is a bit different. Every union has people that it protects and assists. Companies and the government let this happen as an under the table quid pro quo for some other part of the negotiation. In the case of the public sector unions there is the added political element. School boards, for example, tend to hire and promote union members given that the union helped get them into their seat, and is key to keeping them there. Thus the reason that in the local schools in my home county only a fraction of all teachers sign up for the union, but 100% of all administrators pay their union dues.

      • Kurt

        smf,

        For the prohibition on closed shops, please see Pub.L. 80-101, 61 Stat. 136, enacted in 1947. I don’t what more I can do if you refuse to believe the plain text of the law.

        • smf

          The law is not the reality because it is not enforced.

          • Kurt

            Right. Big Business just ignores enforcement of such laws.

  • Paul DuBois

    SMF,
    I also learned about unions from my father. He was a postal worker. He mentioned one time that everything they get is guaranteed by an act of congress so he asked me why they needed a union. His answer was simple, even though every benefit and wage and most working conditions were a matter of law, the management still tried to screw them out of it. (his word, I couldn’t think of an adequate replacement)
    I believe there is still a place and a need for unions in this country in the private sector as well as for civil servants. Every company I have worked for is run by executives whose main concern is how to line their own pockets. I have just watched my current company default on our pensions and eliminate health care in retirement so they could give the management large bonuses. This is just one small example of how management sees labor. We are but an expense, one they wish they did not have.
    Our government is Michigan is currently run by a party that has published a discredited report supposedly showing that government employees are overpaid. The numbers do not take into account the difference in education level and include the benefits of retirees in the current employee’s wages. Actual one to one comparisons show that the state works make less then private sector workers of the same education and skill level. But this report is currently used as justification to reduce state employees’ wages and benefits. Maybe this is why public employees need unions.

    • smf

      Unions such as the skilled trades involved in construction and industry are very much a vital part of the private sector sytem, even if in need of some adjustments. These sort of unions are very much like the guilds in the old world and can be a very good thing.

      Pay of government workers is a tricky thing. They enjoy a level of job security unknown in the private sector, and that both has value for them and carries a price to them. There is also the question of the benefits packages being of a sort that have virtually become extinct in the private sector. My small town I live in has a benefits plan for city employees valued at roughly 10k for a single person and about 16k for an entire family making use of it. Thus they give up something in their pay check to counter that.

      I don’t know how public sector employees compare to private sector ones in a very easily determined way. So many of the jobs don’t really have an equal in both private and public sectors. Plus you have to factor in all those extra things like working conditions, productivity, etc.

      If there is one thing public employee unions should have been on the case about, and very much should be these days, it is the question of paying for all of the benefits. Most of them have negotiated great benefits packages, but then have done nothing about the fact that state and local government are seriously underfunding (and have been for years) the retirement and other programs. Just like social security, most of these plans will see a day where the reserve will be empty and will need to be made up for with general tax revenues being increased or with cuts in general fund expenses. That will be both a political and legal fight to watch.

      • Paul DuBois

        You seem to confuse modern day labor unions with workers guilds of the past. They serve very different purposes. The workers guild existed in a time of individual shops doing work for individuals and very small businesses. They served the purposes you point out in that they trained new craftsmen, protected consumers from the unskilled and by insuring the quality of work aided their members to claim top dollar.
        The modern union grew up in a modern age of large corporations that because of their size and finacial strength were able to keep a disproportionate amount of the fruits of the combined labor of the corporation. They grew up to defend worker rights and we owe a great deal to them beyond the increase in worker salary and benefits. They are also responsible for improved worker safety and ending corporate control of workers through frivolous firings and demotions. They are the only real power most workers have, and in “right to work” states, workers have little power.
        They serve the same purpose for public employees; they are the only way most public employees have to bring their grievances to the forefront and to support them against politicians who are constantly looking for scapegoats and easy ways to balance budgets.
        Since unions grew up to meet the need of providing workers some power to counteract the great power of the corporations and government employers, how would you propose government employees meet this need? What other way do they have?
        Since everyone is foreclosing their self interest in these com boxes, I am currently a salaried employee and have never in my career had the advantage of joining a union.

        • smf

          The union can have a real role in the private sector.

          In the public sector the union is a ruse. Public employee unions exist only at the leave of their master, the government. This would be like a union in the private sector that was owned by the corporate bosses, it simply doesn’t make any logical sense. This is why a public sector union is, either by choice or necessity, primarily a political entity. Its only means of survival is to maintaint political power in the hands of those sufficiently sympathetic to itself, otherwise it can just be legislated out of existence.

          • smf

            Since everyone is doing the full disclosure thing, I did work for the federal government for a time in a both full and part time hourly positions that were not eligible for collective bargaining. I have also worked in hourly positions in the private for-profit sector. I have also worked on sallary in a private non-profit field. No union membership for me, just long experience in a family of true blue unionists that were willing to look behind the curtain and see what was really making the great wizard tick.

      • smf these public unions you speak of have just been subjected to the winds of political change, change bought by corporate titans who have spent the last 40 years demonizing and dismantling the private unions all in the name of higher profits for a tiny few.

        This protection you speak of for Public unions has just been proven to not exist, and Wisconsin serves as the canary in the mineshaft.

        This country was built on the backs of the worker to became the giant it was at the end of the 1960s only to be raped, plundered and torn down into the crippled animal it is today by this tiny minority of super rich, all in the name of greed.

        As for public disclosure the only union I am a member of meets every Sunday and goes by the name of the Roman Catholic Church and we stand by the worker, not the politician, and not the billionaire corporate titan.

  • To support, in theory the right to be a member of a union is one thing, one could certainly object to the specfic laws governing unions in general, or in specific industries/professiions, or the operation of a spcecfic union without rejecting Catholic Teaching. I would think that the Church’s teaching would compel one to support opposing/changing laws that were poorly written, do not apply to modern circumstances, do not protect the legimate interests of third parties or protect misconduct by unions or their officers.

    To often it seems there is a knee jerk reaction that any mildly critical suggestion is full blown union busting, an attitude that writes a blank check to ineffective or currupt unions.

    The current laws governing unions were were written for blue collar trades and factories. They are not as relevant in the professions and even less so in the public sector

    NOTE: I am and have been a member of public sector bargining unit, and held positions that are not part of a bargining unit.

  • Kimberley

    For the most part, at least in California, you really don’t have much of a choice if you are in a job that is represented by a union. You are automatically put in the union upon hire and the union dues are deducted from your paycheck. During one of the CA ballot initiatives on parental notification for abortion, the union(or at least the umbrella organization) my friend was in supported the abortion initiative and the union leadership was pro-abortion. She resigned because she could not in good conscience stay in a union and have her money pay to support abortion inititatives. However the agency fees she had to still pay to the union was still about 85% of the original union dues. She applied for conscientous objector status which would have allowed her dues to go to a pro-life charity, but was told that the conscientous objector status was only for religions that don’t support unionization and she was denied.

    A dark side of many unions (at least in California, not sure about other states) such as the NEA and CNA use money to fund pro-abortion initiatives. And Christians in those unions are thus paying to support abortion. I’d like to hear Kurt and others thoughts on how to remain a faithful Christian and remain part of one of these unions that take such terrible stands on abortion.

  • Kurt

    [Too] often it seems there is a knee jerk reaction that any mildly critical suggestion is full blown union busting, an attitude that writes a blank check to ineffective or [corrupt] unions.

    For example? I would welcome a discussion on how to improve trade unions and unionism. I find I hear little from the right-wing other than an attack on mere existance of unions. #1 in their statement was a claim of NLRB laxness in prohibiting secondary boycotts. Any one here ready to defend the Chamber of Commerce on this?

    • smf

      I may come off as anti-union is this thread, but that is because what unions actually are and do falls not only so far from the Catholic ideal but even from the ideal of a generation ago.

      Just as a practical matter the building trades in this area have made a terrible mess of their training programs and thus their work quality is not at all what it once was. At one time the unions could truthfully claim to provide a good value because of better workmanship. Now in several of the trades this is still true, but in several it is not.

  • As for Beck and the far right, it always comes back to what is in “their” wallet. Frankly one could bring his point to purchasing Jello pudding. I mean my goodness, if those Jello guys are allowed to unionize that will jack up the cost of pudding which will come from right out of YOUR wallet.

    There is this metaphor about camels passing through an eyes of needles but it escapes them.

  • Kurt

    During one of the CA ballot initiatives on parental notification for abortion, the union(or at least the umbrella organization) my friend was in supported the abortion initiative and the union leadership was pro-abortion. She resigned because she could not in good conscience stay in a union and have her money pay to support abortion inititatives. However the agency fees she had to still pay to the union was still about 85% of the original union dues.

    Kimberley,

    I wish your friend was less passive about her pro-life principles. Maybe she should actually go to a union meeting and give her views.

    Unions are democratic organizations. At the referendum you mention, there were some union members with pro-choice beliefs who put forward a resolution at the California AFL-CIO Convention. The leadership (who did not want it passed) sent it to a committee where it died. However, a group a members broguth it up on the floor of the Convention. Pro-Life union members decided it was best not to highlight the matter in a floor fight they feared they would lose, given that the union leaders intendned to spend no money implementing the resolution.

    Actually, is the one and only time I have know him to apologize, Fr. Pavone actually backed down from his original and damning statement.

    Not only were none of your friend’s dues used on this particular referedum, but as a Beck objecter, none of what she pays to the union is used for politics of any sort.

    I am not suggesting she was not acting in good faith. The Right Wing propaganda machine has put out a lot of false imformation about unions and union dues. She might have unintentially fallen for their lies. That is sad. And when RTL groups spread false information about unions, it simply puts them forward as anti-union organizations.

    • smf

      The union dues of objectors does not contribute directly to political action, but indirect support is impossible to stop. If you look at many of the union trade publications they will spend most of the presidential election cycle on politics rather than trade matters, and you can bet some of the publishing overhead gets passed along even to objectors. Like wise when the unions invite their endorsed candidate’s representative to come speak at the regular meetings of the union, how exactly do they seperate the cost of the meeting from the part with the candidate’s representative? There are a hundred more such examples one could make. It is like trying to firewall abortion vs. non-abortion funding for Planned Parenthood. Due to the fact money is fungible, it really can’t be done. Efforts to do so are appreciated, but are of limited value.

      • Kurt

        So when the Chamber of Commerce collects dues from foreign corporations and the Chamber of Commerce spends money on American elections, foreign corporations are financing American elections?

        • smf

          Indirectly, yes.

          Of coarse most “American” corporations are only American in name. After all we are all egalitarian, open-minded, non-discriminatory, internationalist, PC, free-traders and specific national loyalty is just so pre-modern. Plus most of them are partially foreign owned and financed, but then again so are most of our non-profits and even our government itself. Hardly any American institution at all is willing to refuse alien monies just to keep alien influences out.

          On the other hand there are plenty of foreign companies that still see themselves as having something like the duties of a citizen (and not the post-modern watered down to meaningless ideas of citizenship so many have) toward their home countries. This puts we, the American people, at rather a disadvantage.