Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thoughts on collective bargaining

Mark Maynard has an interesting post looking at the impending assault on collective bargaining in the wake of victories by Tea Party-backed candidates. In Michigan, our own RySny has released somewhat dubious figures showing public sector employees are much more costly than private sector ones. It seems like a lot of state financial woes are being pinned on unions, their health care plans, and their pensions. As commenters on Mark's article point out, years of cutting taxes while maintaining services citizens depend on is more likely culpable. I've been part of two unions during my brief working life and have had generally positive experiences.

While I was teaching in Chicago, I was part of the Chicago Teachers Union. Like many institutions in Chicago, the CTU is well... a little corrupt. And while I didn't trust my union leadership any more than I trusted Arne Duncan (heck, I probably trusted Arne more), the horror stories I heard from teachers at a few non-union schools were enough to make me appreciate collective bargaining. Then again, the combination of mandatory position cuts in Chicago to make up for a budget shortfall and the Union's seniority policies meant that most of my friends from teaching are no longer employed at my old school.

Currently, I'm represented by the Graduate Employees Organization at U of M. Having talked to colleagues at schools with weaker unions, or none at all, I can say that I am very happy for this representation (especially because of the health care plan), even if they haven't given me a t-shirt yet.

Also vomit-train Atlas Shrugged is coming to theaters April 15th. Things are looking down:


  1. The Mark Maynard bit was interesting, thanks. A few things.

    First, How was the CTU corrupt? It'd be nice to see some examples.

    Is it the seniority policy that is at fault for the loss of your friends' jobs or the fact that there is a budget shortfall? Your 'Then again' makes it sound like you note this as a con of collective bargaining and union membership. It seems obvious, however, that the budget shortfall is the problem here, and it isn't clear how this is a counterpoint to collective bargaining or union membership. Also, you conflate 'union policies' with 'collective bargaining.' I can imagine a union that has strong collective bargaining powers without some of the policies you find undesirable.

    The reason I point this out -- as you seem to understand in the opening paragraph -- is because what's at stake in these attacks is 'collective bargaining.' Frivolous union policies (whatever we think those are) are one thing, but the right to organize and have rights in the workplace is another. The anti-union movement uses the same conflation to elicit sympathy from people otherwise supportive of collective bargaining, but fed up with draconian union policies (whatever those are) [e.g. Waiting for Superman].

    So, while I think we can make the case to reform unions, we can't throw the baby out with the bathwater so-to-speak. And I fear this is exactly the sentiment.

  2. @Adam There were instances of union leadership pocketing thousands of dollars and the union faction that was in power was hostile to schools where other factions had strong support.

    The issue with the layoffs is not a problem with collective bargaining--I was just sharing my (limited) experience. I would say it was a hybrid problem caused by both budget shortfalls and CTU policies that only looked at one dimension of teachers deciding who should get sacked. I realize teacher performance is a sticky subject, but it would have been nice if that had been taken into account as well.