April 13, 2012

Re: Labor Union Nostalgia

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Jacob’s post yesterday was thoughtfully written, but it was full of clichéd arguments that no longer have much basis in fact.

Jacob seems to decry the fact that public sector unions are funded by tax dollars. Yes, public sector workers are paid by our tax dollars. Yes, they give that money to their unions. Yes, those unions use that money to lobby on behalf of the workers. Unless the law says otherwise, it’s a public employee’s right to join a union and pay dues to it. I would prefer that my trash collector not donate her earnings to the NRA or other groups I disagree with, but I’m not going to whine about it. The money is hers to do with as she wants.

The fact of the matter is, public sector unions allow public employees to make a living wage, work in safer working environments, and in some cases prevent them from being wrongly fired.

Remember, it was during the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike that brought Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis. Dr. King walked side by side with public sector workers demanding union recognition and equating the right to unionize with to their very identity as a human being.

Jacob calls unions “another type of big-spending political interest group” and claims that over “12 of the top 20 political contributors from 1989-2012 are unions.”

His sourcing for this information is misleading. First of all, let’s just look at recent data. Political giving 20 years ago isn’t all that important right now.

If you look at total political spending, by sector you’ll see that labor is the 10th highest spending sector, behind (to name a few) Finance/Insurance/Real Estate, Miscellaneous business (manufacturing, restaurants, wholesalers, retailers, steel and chemical industries, etc), Communications, Energy, and Construction.

Labor has spent about $35 million on political giving since 2011. Pro-business advocates have given over $500 million dollars.

While there are plenty of valid criticisms for teachers unions, Jacob’s demonization of AFT President Randi Weingarten is misplaced. Weingarten has been lauded by Jay Matthews, the education columnist for The Washington Post, for her willingness to “take some bold steps… that were not popular with all of her members… so she is very credible,” and as someone who “does not deserve the anti-innovation label.”

Finally, Jacob says that he’s seen a lot of lazy union members. I’ve seen a lot of hard working union members in my time working in Supermarkets. I’ve also seen a lot of private sector workers who were lazy. The fact of the matter is, according to a paper by two professors here at Cornell, “Research on the relationship between unions and firm performance has generally found a positive relationship between unionization and productivity.” The idea of union members being lazy goons is a tired and played out rhetorical tactic utilized by opponents to the labor movement.

In conclusion, go check out Union Days for yourself and make up your own mind. There’s usually free food!

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Original Author: Noah Karr-Kaitin