Sunday, June 14, 2015

#213 June 14, 2015- Unions Are. . .

Unions have gotten a bad name here in Wisconsin over these past few years. The Republican led drive to eradicate them from both public and private sector workplaces has reached a fever pitch. Legislation, rhetoric and policy have all been crafted to make unions out to be the villains in a struggle for political, social and economic supremacy at the local, state and national levels. They have been labeled as anti-American, thugs and the protectors of the incompetent. All part of a carefully designed strategy to eliminate the power of the employee in the workplace and to silence political opposition.

This strategy has been effectively employed in making it appear that a majority of citizens oppose unionization and organized labor. Listening to political dialog and following coverage of labor issues in the media it would appear that the support for anti-union policies is widespread. Anti-union forces cite data about the falling numbers of union members as evidence of the public's rejection of unions and organized labor. The language of "freedom" and "personal liberty" is thrown carelessly into the debate by those who would restrict our freedoms and liberty.

All of this rhetoric is designed to create an environment that is toxic to those who would advocate for the rights of workers. Anti-union advocates are crafting a message that appears benign on one hand. They claim to speak in support of workers who simply need the chance to advance their prospects. They also claim to be pro-worker and tread a thin line between criticizing unions while claiming to advocate for union members. They present unions as obstacles to personal achievement and as part of a system designed to keep people from accomplishing their full potential.

In Wisconsin, where the labor movement took root a century ago, a campaign by the governor has broken its power. His political allies hope he can take a similar campaign nationwide.|By Dan Kaufman

Yet, once you look beyond the rhetoric and carefully consider the issues involved in workplace organizing and unionizing a very different picture emerges. This claim that unions are anti-democratic and anti-American is discredited and with more investigation is revealed as part of an ongoing effort by the political and economic elite of America to retain and expand their power base. Union membership is down for a variety of reasons. Take the example of public sector unions in Wisconsin, the fact that membership is declining isn't because people don't want to unionize, in fact voting in recertification and polling clearly shows the opposite. Instead, membership declines because legislation and policy make it financially difficult to join, and anti-union policies force employees to choose between employment or career advancement and union membership.

How a Philadelphia charter operator can spend tens of thousands of public dollars to fight a union.

Another reason for declining membership is the cyclical nature of American society. Strong unions in the post WWII era built a strong middle class and a robust economy. As conditions for most people improved, the drive to organize and the engagement of members weakened. We see this type of cycle in many areas of our society, we tend to become complacent until faced with a crisis or significant challenges. Given that reality, it is clear that we will see a rebirth (if we aren't seeing it already) in the labor movement. The hope is that it will come sooner rather than later and thereby avoid the need for extreme or radical action like that seen at the end of the 19th Century.

When talking about unions and organized labor the truth is truly "out there" if one looks carefully and thoughtfully. We should recognize that unions are not perfect institutions. They are human creations that have all the flaws that are inherent in our nature. At the same time, we can't dwell on the failings of our unions, historical or modern. While imperfect, they are still a vast improvement from the alternative where employee voice is limited or ignored.

Here are some of the truths about unions from my perspective. . .

Anti-union = anti-worker and anti-democracy- "I support educators, but don't like their unions." We heard this one all the time here in Wisconsin during the conflict around Act 10. The refrain was that the educators were great, but the unions were the problem. However, if we are going to blame unions for the problems that exist in any public or private sector place of employment, then we really are blaming the employees. Unions are controlled by the employees who comprise the membership.

To claim to support workers, but not unions is like saying I believe in the power and freedom of the people, but don't like democracy. Sounds ridiculous? Not when you look at the efforts of the Republican leadership here in Wisconsin to restrict the ability of common citizens to impact their government. Those who parrot the party line against unions are simply voicing their support for greater centralized control of power in our society. The fact that those advocating for the elimination of unions are making the claim to stand for "liberty and justice for all" is bitterly ironic and a threat to the true foundations of our system of government.   

At their core, unions are democratic institutions that should be responsive to the needs of their members at a very personal level. Just like our democratic system of government unions rely on active members to guide and engage the leaders in representing the needs of the employees. When we eliminate unions we replace a democratic institution with an oligarchic hierarchy that puts the needs of the few over the needs of the majority.

Unions are pro equity and pro opportunity- Another argument against unions is that they stifle opportunity for individuals, and even promote inequities in social and economic opportunities. The reasoning behind this is the idea that a "free market" of employment will allow those most deserving to rise to the top of the ladder. In an ideal world where we truly judge employees by their merits, this might be a valid argument. But, our world isn't perfect and we know that opportunities are limited based on a wide variety of criteria. To assume that we have moved beyond our prejudices and into a society where everyone has an equal opportunity is unrealistic and ignores the reality of modern American society.

Unions have a legacy of providing equity and opportunity for those who have not had access to them in the non-unionized or private sector. When unions, especially public sector ones, are weakened or destroyed these windows of opportunity are restricted or closed.
s long as I can remember, there has been a perennial plea for black people to enter the teaching profession, and many of us enthusiastically headed this righteous call. However, as the nation's population and students have grown...
As public sector employment, once a dependable pathway to success for many blacks, was cut in the downturn, African-American communities suffered an outsize toll.|By PATRICIA COHEN
The benefits of unions extend to all of society. When unions are a potent force in the workplace wages, benefits and working conditions for all employees rise. The contracts that are created through collective bargaining set standards that protect workers physically, emotionally and provide job protections that allow for creativity and ingenuity to flourish.

Unions are about community and interdependence- The attacks on unions have focused on trying to divide and conquer the general population. This message of individual rights over the responsibility that we have to the larger collective whole may resonate in advertising and propaganda, but when put to the test people generally recognize their responsibilities to each other. Being part of a community is vital to our success as individuals and unions provide a venue where cooperation and collective action are the norm. Those who advance their own personal gain over the needs of society harm all of us. When humans first began to join in groups for survival we entered into a "social compact" that cemented our need to care for all members of a society. The union mantra of "An injury to one is an injury to all," cements that legacy.

Working people are fighting for one another

Unions  provide a balance to the power of the wealthy and influential- We know that those who already have wealth and power will do their best to maintain their status. Without a collective voice each of us will be unable to counter the influence that this small number of people have in our society.

Your senators and representatives are bowing to special interests. Here's which ones.

Unions advocate for change and progress- Unions take the blame for a variety of societal ills, yet many of the attacks on unions are unfounded. This can be clearly seen in areas like public education where unjustified attacks take focus away from problems that truly merit our attention. There are many challenges that we need to address, but instead some choose to place blame instead of truly identifying the root causes of issues and working for change. Unions become a scapegoat for ills that are deeply rooted in our society.

Madison required its students to show up for school Thursday only to send them home 90 minutes later.|By Wisconsin State Journal editorial

What is ignored is the fact that the support and protection that a union offers gives educators a voice in improving the system that we currently have. Instead of silencing our educators and putting the power of educational reform in the hands of profiteers and those who would turn education into a business, unions allow educators to speak out and advocate for our students and our profession.

Hundreds turn out for a rally in Sun Prairie as legislators prepare to act on a broad education package.|By Pat Schneider

"Teaching is an art form rooted in the wise and careful use of educational research and assessment tools. When government policy makers continue to implement evaluation methods and...

Without public educator unions the narrative about education is controlled by people who don't understand or respect education, and who don't have direct connections with students in classrooms. 
Wisconsin expanded charter schools, choice

In a column for the Des Moines Register published on Wednesday, Gov. Scott Walker says education policies that have been enacted under his watch in Wisconsin should be pushed nationwide.

An award-winning Wisconsin high school teacher is...

We got a huge amount of reader response to my post yesterday about the impending demise of the University of Wisconsin. That's not terribly surprising. One of the things we've learned over the years from audience research is that...

An audit shows that feds failed to monitor charters; some took millions and never opened to students.

We can see the impact that the "reforms" offered by Conservatives in Wisconsin have had on our schools, students and educators.

School board members are considering raising taxes and using a budget surplus to avoid a $11.6 million deficit for 2016-17.|By Molly Beck | Wisconsin State Journal

The stressful conditions of poverty—“overcrowding, noise, substandard housing, separation from parent(s), exposure to violence, family turmoil”—can permanently diminish the ability to think clearly and...

The union that represents teachers and other employees reported 165 retirements, up 33 percent over 2014 and close to post-Act 10 levels.|By Todd D. Milewski | The Capital Times

Unions need to be involved in politics- I frequently hear people talk about how they could support unions if they would just stay in the workplace and out of politics. Yet, we know that our economics and employment are a central aspect to every person's life and happiness. These areas of our lives are directly impacted by politics and the decisions that our elected officials make on a regular basis.
Because unions are directly connected to individuals and represent a collective voice, their involvement in elections becomes vital. This is especially true in the current political environment where money has become equal to or even more important than ideas and votes.

The dark money web behind Walker's ascendance.

America is a nation of diversity and our democratic institutions have the potential to provide a sense of order and of community when all voices are heard. However, when one ideology, political party or demographic group has exclusive control of the decision making bodies we lose the power of the collective and become one dimensional. The sense of accountability that comes from an involved and active electorate isn't as strong as when we have a more ideologically balanced electorate. The party in power is able to control the messaging and this leads to far reaching consequences. The message that Governor Walker and his fellow Wisconsin Conservatives used to get elected was one that sought to discredit and eliminate dissenting voices, especially those of public sector unions. Now, in Walker's second term, we are seeing the negative results of this divisive messaging play out across the state. Those who voted for reform, or maybe even revenge, are now seeing their interests ignored by political leaders who are focused on their own political or economic gain. 

While cities like Madison, Waukesha and Green Bay thrive economically, northern Wisconsin counties have been left behind in the state's economic development...

The write-offs include 28 different loans removed from the balance sheets of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., with some companies receiving multiple loans. Most were awarded by the old Commerce Department.|By Mary Spicuzza

Robert Kraig is the Executive Director and Kevin Kane is the Lead Organizer for Citizen Action of Wisconsin, a statewide membership organization which advocates for guaranteed affordable health care and a fair economy that works for everyone (

Our current conflicts are part of a historical struggle in America- Over the past few years I've learned more about the history of the labor movement and have realized just how deep the roots of this fight run. It shouldn't be surprising that conflicts this long standing and intense are difficult to overcome. There is a constant tension between the many different groups that make up our political, social and economic landscape. We see ideas recycled and the balance of power shift between different ideologies. 

In 1980, David Koch ran for Vice President on the Libertarian Party ticket. Courtesy of Senator Bernie Sanders's press office, the 1980 Libertarian Party platform...

The wealthy in America will always find a way to influence public policy, and those with little individual power will find ways to unite and act collectively. Unions provide a voice that counters the message of austerity and individualism that stratifies our society and weakens our democracy

Manny Schewitz discusses the 5 main reasons why poor people vote for Republicans and how we can change that trend.|By Manny Schewitz

It may seem hard to believe, but not long ago I voted almost exclusively for Republicans. I was fooled a few times, but they mostly represented my vision of America|By Pat Nash Columnist

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has often said the biggest lesson he learned during his fight over stripping public employees of most collective bargaining powers is that he should have spent more time selling it to the Wisconsin public before...|By JR Ross

We should be proud of what our unions have accomplished and work to advance the causes that unions support.- Once again, unions aren't perfect institutions, but at the same time I hear too many union members seem almost apologetic or hesitant to identify as being part of a union. Unions have been at the forefront of social change and are a vital part of our ongoing movement towards a more socially just society. Now that we are facing our most difficult challenges in decades it is even more important that people recognize the importance of strong, active union membership. Our unions need to adapt and change to function in the current restrictive environment, but they shouldn't be silent or fearful. It is only through strong advocacy and progressive action that unions will be able to influence the political, social and economic future of America.

We've come a long way in this country, but certainly not always in the right direction when it comes to speaking openly and proudly about the value of unions.

Some Good News. . .
Always enjoy a humorous headline.|By Bill Hanstock

Oregon continues to lead in the efforts to change the testing landscape in our schools.

Today the Oregon Senate overwhelmingly passed HB 2655 (24-6) -- one of the strongest bills in the nation to support all students and parents on statewide standardized assessments. The bill...

It's great to see businesses look out for their employees.

Chipotle Mexican Grill is set to give all employees, including part-time workers, paid vacation time, sick leave pay and tuition reimbursement starting July 1,...

Now we need to see this play out in the next election here in Wisconsin.

A new analysis of Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll data finds a marked increase in the share of registered voters identifying themselves as liberals, and...|By Janet Hook

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