Saturday, August 6, 2011

Union Troubles in Salem

Back in February, I shared a few words about unions in a post called Wisconsin Reflections.  I felt like the time was right to re-visit the issue a bit in light of some "thoughtful" feedback I received from local union organizers when I shared some thoughts critical of SEIU Local 503

The problem is, though...whenever I talk about labor unions I come away feeling like I need to take a shower when I'm finished.  It's kind of like a dog picking-up something dead on the beach.  It may bear some investigation, but you shouldn't forget to wash your hands (or paws) afterwards.  The comments back from my post in a union forum were insightful and articulate, however.  ...Oh, never mind; those were mine.

The gist of my concern was the union (after contract negotiations with the state which might have been better handled by trained cocker spaniel) was taking money from "fair share" state employees while there's no contract actually in effect.  While it may seem like a technicality and not a big deal, it's just another example of the union behaving in a way which would make Lady Gaga (or is it Goo-goo?) seem a downright respectable lady.  Let's face it, the union is all about the pursuit of money and power.

Since the matter seemed a little fishy, I asked around at the office, but never received a really satisfactory response from anyone on the matter.  (A union steward friend of mine is looking into it.)  Of course, the local labor organizers were quick to take my concerns (posted online) and attempt to turn them into a personal attack.  A sure sign that your opposition has no legitimate argument to counter you is when a substantive concern is addressed solely by a personal attack.  While that's not really anything new, it does remind me of insightful observations a friend of mine made concerning what the perceived anonymity of the internet has done to "debates" of this nature.

Bruce Smith of the local union wrote me back that I should "go work somewhere where there is no union if you don't like it." Not to be outdone by this sparkling little gem of wisdom, another labor organizer named Deborra Low passed along some awe-inspiring advice when she said "I hear Wal-Mart is hiring."  Thanks, Deborra!  I didn't realize that union people even spoke the name Wal-Mart these days.  

Yes, there were even more tidbits and strangely irrelevant quotes provided, too.  Deborra, in particular, repeatedly edited her comments in order to convey just the right union tone of contempt--not an easy thing to do, you know.  This resulted in me receiving repeated automated e-mails for each of her little edits.  For a moment, I almost felt like a community organizer with my inbox filling up with such prattle.  All in all, it was quite the experience.  Have this strange need to wash my hands now with bleach.

Seriously, though, I didn't used to be quite so anti-union as I am today.  When SEIU Local 503 recently invited a Socialist to give a presentation it was one loud wake up call for me.  (I tried to find online links concerning this speaker, but had no luck I did find Communist Party Member Jarvis Tyner as a regular speaker for SEIU.)  Another one was following the union members to the Oregon State Capitol for a protest.  I thought their behavior was boorish and adolescent to put it mildly.  I do have several good friends who are union stewards, and I wish them well. 

I agree that unions served a necessary purpose in the past, but I suspect that their usefulness may be starting to wane now.  The corruption, intimidation, and rude behavior of many union members as well as leadership makes me want to have as little to do with them as possible.  The latest comments only serve to confirm earlier suspicions.  

A friend made an interesting point concerning the differentiation of "a living wage against entitlement." Are unions a necessary evil in these economic times, or are they a relic of the past calling out for the trash heap?  Part of the challenge facing us is that this is the environment or dynamic we've all created here.  That is, the state bargaining team takes the positions it does because it has insights into the union demands.  This makes it difficult to inject meaningful change into the process without placing the interests of one or both sides at great risk.  

Still, I submit that the time has come to, at least, consider elimination of union representation for state government employees.  We need to realize we (as citizens and employees of the State of Oregon) are in this together.  We should all expect to make reasonable sacrifices in these times for the larger good of the state.  The state, on the other hand, has to be willing to do likewise.  If my co-workers' increasingly hostile attitudes towards the union mean anything, perhaps dissatisfaction is growing?

I would like to ask SEIU Local 503 members, is all that "hope and change" working for you these days?  

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