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Sunday, February 20, 2011

FDR & AFL-CIO Opposed Public Unions Before I Did

Yesterday's blog post has been highly controversial given my position as a Union Officer.  Today's post may help support my take on the conflict over public unions in  Wisconsin.

In the 1930's, Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act laying a framework for federal regulation of private-sector labor-management relations.  As this was being debated, consideration was given on whether to include government workers, but it did not and for good reason.  Some of those reasons were stated in my post from yesterday.  Specifically, I wrote


The public sector unions...have a very different relationship with management...because the employers are elected officials who ultimately must answer to the voters, among which will be their workers.  As a collective, the union forms a voting bloc which creates the opportunity for illegitimate, though not illegal, quid pro quo activity.  The union can offer tangible benefits (campaign funds and votes) to elected officials  at little or no cost to the individual workers and the elected official can offer tangible benefits (compensation and work rules) to the workers at little or no cost to the official.

Because a profit motive is absent, worker productivity and job security now flow inversely. If worker productivity should lag, it has no perceived negative effect on the state’s vitality.  Far from adversely affecting the job security of the current workers, it has the added benefit of increasing their security as more workers are needed to maintain production levels.  As their numbers increase, this organized voting bloc will often supersede the rightful owners (taxpayers) at the bargaining table.
I concluded with,

The public sector workers, so far removed from the mechanisms of the market, have ceased to be a true labor union and are simply just one more aggrieved group seeking favors from our elected officials.  As a political action committee they are welcome to lobby their cause, but teachers on strike have forfeited the right to call their work a sacrifice.
For the benefit of my detractors, I wish to make it clear that I am not alone in my view regarding collective bargaining right for public-sector employees.  If, in spite of my position as an elected agent representing my union members at the collective bargaining table, you feel that I must be anti-union and opposed to worker rights in order to hold this view, let me enlighten you to what other labor supporters have said on this issue.

In 1937, Franklin Delano Roosevelt who had signed the NLRA into law, in a letter to the National Federation of Federal Employees, wrote

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service....The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. (emphasis mine)
In the next paragraph he makes the point that collective action against the state is wholly unacceptable.
Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount....Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable. It is, therefore, with a feeling of gratification that I have noted in the constitution of the National Federation of Federal Employees the provision that "under no circumstances shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government. (emphasis mine)
Wisconsin, appropriately enough was the first state to grant collective bargaining rights to public employees in 1959.  Understand what that date means - for over a quarter century following passage of the NLRA, public employees were still restricted from collective bargaining in all 50 states.  If, as many have tried to explain to me, this right is fundamental, not only for the private-sector, but also for the public workers, then what took so long?  Why did opposition from key Labor leaders and supporters linger, even after the right to bargain had been granted to government workers?

As Patrick McIlheran noted at Real Clear Politics, in the state of Wisconsin Frank Zeidler, former mayor of Milwaukee and noted labor supporter, wrote in 1969 that rise of unions in government work put a competing power in charge of public business next to elected officials and that Government unions, "mean considerable loss of control over the budget, and hence over tax rates".

In an article, The Case Against Public Sector Unionism and Collective Bargaining, David Denholm writes of Dr. Myron Lieberman, whose book Education as a Profession in 1956 was one of the first to advocate collective bargaining for teachers, later wrote in 1980
"It would be desirable to have a new organizational structure to replace public-sector unionism....The choice is not between public-sector bargaining and something better. Without in any way idealizing what preceded public-sector bargaining, it was better."
With regard to the supposed rights of the Wisconsin public workers, we have seen what their and our labor leaders have to say today.  It's been decried that in opposing the public unions and backing Governor Walker, I am seeking to deny the rights of those workers.  But my position sounds an awful lot like the President of the AFL-CIO, who said, "It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government."  Of course, those are not the words of current President Richard Trumka, but then President, George Meany in 1955.  Even as late as 1959, the AFL-CIO Executive Council was on record as believing that, "in terms of accepted collective bargaining procedures, government workers have no right beyond the authority to petition Congress – a right available to every citizen."

As I often speak of the rights that belong to us independent of the law, I am speaking of our natural and constitutional rights.  The right to collectively bargain on the other hand, is a statutory right.  Statutory rights are not inherant, and may be given or taken away by the state.  As Denholm pointed out,
There is no constitutional "right" to collective bargaining in either the private or public sector. The U.S. Supreme Court has been quite clear about this in several decisions. All such "rights" are statutory.
Despite the pro-worker progressive views of FDR, as stated earlier, the NLRA did not grant rights to government workers.  I have attempted to show that even among Labor leaders, the case against public unions has been made.  For many, this will still not be good enough.  So I have one more point to make.

Where the right to collectively bargain is given, the threat of a strike or work stoppage is present.  Denholm wrote,
"Rather than the lack of collective bargaining privileges for public-sector unions making public employees second class citizens, the existence of public-sector collective bargaining makes public employees "super citizens" and relegates the rest of the public to second class status." 
These government workers, doctors notes nothwithstanding, have caused a work stoppage in Wisconsin.  This strike has been undertaken in order to affect the legislative agenda in Madison.  This gives these workers an advantaged position to lobby for their preferred legislative actions. They have in fact assumed the position that Denholm refers to as "Super Citizens".  Professors Harry H. Wellington and Ralph D. Winter, in their Brookings Institution Study entitled, "The Unions and the Cities," focus on this problem concerning the strike weapon:
The trouble is that if unions are able to withhold labor – to strike – as well as to employ the usual methods of political pressure, they may possess a disproportionate share of effective power in the process of decisions. Collective bargaining would then be so effective a pressure as to skew the results of the 'normal' American political process.

... Since interest groups other than public employees, with conflicting claims on municipal government, do not, as a general proposition, have anything approaching the effectiveness of the strike – or at least cannot maintain that relative degree of power over the long run – they may be put at a significant competitive disadvantage in the political process.
One final question.  When one political party develops a cozy relationship with labor and grants favors to labor as reward for their support, what happens when that party loses power?  Wisconsin happens.

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