Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Mass Of Ignorance

The last two days here have seen no school. It's not unusual to see a few days of school missed here during the winter months. Snow days are common and I'm betting the snow storm predicted for Sunday, into Monday, will be part of the reason there will be no school on Monday.

Why only part of the reason?

It's Wisconsin and teachers, along with other unions of government workers, are protesting the Labor Bill newly elected Gov. Scott Walker is trying to ram through stripping government workers of the majority of their collective bargaining rights.

Welcome to mini Cairo, Egypt in the Upper Midwest.

I'm not a fan of unions in general. I've been a member of a union in the steel industry in the past. I've also worked in supervision in the steel industry and have had to deal with unions from the "other side of the fence." There are pros and cons that I've weighed when thinking about unions.

Thousands of people have descended on Cairo Madison to protest this Bill. State democratic legislator's have fled the capital to avoid a vote and table this issue as the Republican controlled government apparently has the votes necessary to pass this Bill. (They just don't have enough control to vote on it as it takes twenty senators to do anything and they only have nineteen. The fourteen democratic senators who've fled have managed to stall voting on this Bill.)

It's a mess.

An unnecessary one.

Do unions have too much power? A better question to consider is why have employers surrendered so much power to unions over the years?

This event has gone national as far as the media coverage goes. As I've read through comments to various reports most of the people commenting, who oppose unions, are basing their opposition due to the fact that their own wages and benefits are less than unionized workers. That's not a logical argument to me quite frankly.

While I'm not a fan of unions I do believe they have the right to exist. This Bill isn't just about the wages and benefits aspect of unionization. This piece of legislation would end collective bargaining rights. Fundamentally that is wrong. It's also fundamentally wrong that Wisconsin isn't a "right to work" state. People should have the choice to opt out of belonging to a union as well.

What isn't being reported, or is being under reported, is that the unions are willing to sit down and discuss cuts in their benefits. The Republican controlled government in Wisconsin doesn't seem to be interested in that though. Their goal is to eradicate unions.

Personally I think legislation needs passed to make Wisconsin a right to work state. No one should be forced to be a member of a union. Unions also have the right to exist as well. Compromise and common sense on the parts of all involved is sadly lacking. The arguments people are using to point out how lazy and worthless union workers are, are laughable to me. I've worked in a non-union environment for the past ten years and I've seen my fair share of worthless workers parade through here. Being a union member isn't exclusive for that issue. While it may be true that unions may protect a worthless employee more so than a non-unionized work place, ultimately it's the employers fault for allowing this to happen.

The biggest issue here is the cost of health care, not actual wages. (I don't think there are too many people who feel teachers are overpaid.) I've seen this coming for several years. Health care costs have sky rocketed over the past ten years. Employers have carried the brunt of these costs and a lot of people are clueless how much those costs have increased.  It's an expensive cost of doing business and many businesses, and state governments, cannot maintain the cost and expect to survive.

Tax payers are up in arms over this issue to some extent. They also have a valid argument since ultimately they're the employer in this case. They can't be ignored either. (That's part of the reason this is such a mess.) Tax payers can't pass the costs of this on to consumers like other businesses can. The tax payer in this case is the consumer as well. Now that I think of it, as a tax payer and consumer, we're getting "double whammied" by the cost of health care. As a consumer we're also paying more for goods and services provided by businesses due to health care costs. I can guarantee you businesses aren't absorbing the rising cost of health care without raising their prices to maintain profit levels.

It's a complicated issue and placing 100% of the blame on unions is wrong and naive. It's a mass of ignorance on both sides of the issue and a mess with compromise and common sense suffering. In other words, it's the American way of late.

UPDATE: Just as an update the two major unions in WI are willing to accept the wage/benefit concessions but the Gov is unwilling to talk or negotiate with them. It's all about busting the unions, nothing more.  


Bouncin' Barb said...

I think this is the first of many downfalls in the US. Watching Cairo, then seeing Wisconsin on the news, people are going to start protesting and it's going to get violent. I just feel it in my gut. The US is slowly slipping away from the once powerful national and is now run by favors.

darev2005 said...

What really sucks is that they are trying to draw the workers benefits package down to a level that this state is at already. Which is one of the worst in the country. When it all settles back down again, state workers here will be below poverty level (again) and be eligible for state assistance. I'll have to start eating the state food at the prison to save money. Yuck.

Gail said...

From the words of a famous music man, the times they are achangin'!

Bad times are getting worse, but I'll not climb onto my speech stump today...just hope we survive.

Smart Ass Sara said...

And I wish people in other states would get worried too because what also isn't being as reported is that there are other states such as Ohio who are going to unveil their new budget bills that are similar to WI's. So if it passes here I bet we're going to see a whole wave of protests across the country.

My father in law works in the DNR and he may have to retire in June if this actually goes. Why? Because if he doesn't, he loses over $100,000 in some kind of health benefit. Something about his sick/vacation time (which has been at the max for him for YEARS) gets converted into his health insurance, so he wouldn't have to pay premiums until that ran out. Which sounds nice. But he said he doesn't want to lose that, but he also isn't financially set up to retire early. So it makes me wonder how many other people are in a similar situation. Scary.

darev2005 said...

Hey, on a side note, check this out and send it to your son!

Francis Hunt said...

Like you, I've been on both sides of the union/employer divide and, again like you, see the pros and cons and complexity of the issue.

The cost of health care is a central issue and will remain so. Scientific advances means that medicine can do continually more for people but this costs more money, particularly in developed societies worldwide where the number of older people is steadily growing.

The one area of health-care where I see major savings opportunities is in the number of unproductive parasites living on it - insurance companies, lobbyists, administrators, those who administrate the administrators, etc. Obscene profits made by the manufacturers of drugs and medical products. One example I came across yesterday; 5 pairs of sterile plastic gloves, €5.99 (around $7.50) - end user price. The things can hardly cost more than two or three cents per pair (maybe 5 cents with the sterile packing) to produce - if even that!