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29 June 2014

The Forgotten Man: Overlooked In The Public Sector Union Debate

One of the Few Loyal Policemen on Guard in Boston During the 'Reign of Terror', 1919

Today, the Supreme Court will issue a ruling in Harris v Quinn on the question of 'whether a state may, consistent with the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, compel personal care providers to accept and financially support a union as their exclusive representative in collective bargaining' with a government.  The ramifications will be manifest should the Court decide that an individual has no right to work unless she pays dues to a union that she may not even wish to  join.

The fear of unions that this case may be the final nail in their movement's coffin is demonstrated in the article Unions Fear This SCOTUS Case Could Bring Their 'Final Destruction' by Sahil Kapur of Talking Points Memo:

The particulars of the case concern Medicaid-based home health care workers in Illinois. The battle dates back to a 2003 executive order by Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) which paved the way for the Service Employees International Union to become the exclusive agent representing state home health workers. Then in 2009, Gov. Pat Quinn (D) issued another executive order classifying home care providers as state workers, and therefore eligible for exclusive union representation. In 2010, a group of home health workers, led by Pamela Harris, brought a class action lawsuit alleging that the collective bargaining agreement that required non-members to pay union fees violated their First Amendment rights.  

Unions fear the implications extend far beyond the home health worker profession in Illinois. Agency fees in principle are important to public employee unions because they're required by law to bargain for all workers in a unionized setting. If agency fees for non-members are ruled to be a violation of free speech, unions fear they would lose funding, become less effective at bargaining for benefits and, in turn, lose members.

A death spiral.

One labor official said such a result would bring about "the possible final destruction of the American labor movement." The official added, "It would cause the death not only of public sector unions and what's left of private sector unions, but also the Democratic Party," suggesting that the demise of unions would make Democrats more reliant on Wall Street money.

Joel Rogers, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin, wrote in The Nation magazine that the challengers' case in Harris goes for the "kill shot" against public employee unions.

Indeed, conservative and libertarian legal advocates see a golden opportunity for a victory against public sector unions. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, wrote in a friend-of-the-court brief arguing, "There can be no question but that Illinois's scheme to compel personal assistants' association with, and subsidization of, labor unions flunks traditional First Amendment scrutiny."

I understand labour's argument that non-unionised employees should not benefit from the fruits of the work of an organisation to which they refuse to pay dues or support.  That's fine with me.  People should be able to negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment on their own, if they so choose.  Unions, of course, want nothing to do with such a notion.  Not only do they want to force all employees of a union shop to pay dues, they also want private individuals, independent contractors, and non-union shops to be compelled to pay them as well.  In fact, as was done in Illinois, they would seek to turn these individuals and those that work for private companies into public employees.  This is forced collectivisation and a deprivation of citizens' First Amendment right of association.

Unions were created, supposedly, to protect employees from the big, bad meanies in management (and, there certainly were many at the beginning of the labour movement with the management of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory being a prime example).  They were not, however, created 'to protect employees' by emptying their pockets, especially if those workers wanted nothing whatsoever to do with unionisation, and compulsive association.  Just imagine, you and some of your friends, families, and neighbours informally form a baby-sitting network.  Sometimes, services are performed freely in exchange for future reciprocal courtesies.  Perhaps, at other times, compensation of some form is exchanged.  One afternoon, your local postal worker delivers a letter informing you that, henceforth, you are an employee of the state and you must commence paying Big Labour 'its due.'  So, if the Court rules in favour of labour in Harris, unions could then get sympathetic state governments to pass laws that would, in effect, transform you into a state employee, cede your negotiating rights exclusively to a union, and compel you to pay dues to the Richard Trumkas of the world just so that you can perform an activity that people have been doing from time immemorial.

It is interesting, at this point in time, to reflect upon the positions of past leaders on the subject of public employee unions.  In their own way, each of the following quotations explains exactly why public employee unions  are an anathema to our Republic in that they pit citizen against citizen often placing individual liberties, public safety, and the economy, at both the macro and micro levels, in the crosshairs.

‘As I am unable to accept your kind invitation to be present on the occasion of the Twentieth Jubilee Convention of the National Federation of Federal Employees, I am taking this method of sending greetings and a message.

Reading your letter of July 14, 1937, I was especially interested in the timeliness of your remark that the manner in which the activities of your organization have been carried on during the past two decades “has been in complete consonance with the best traditions of public employee relationships.” Organizations of Government employees have a logical place in Government affairs.

The desire of Government employees for fair and adequate pay, reasonable hours of work, safe and suitable working conditions, development of opportunities for advancement, facilities for fair and impartial consideration and review of grievances, and other objectives of a proper employee relations policy, is basically no different from that of employees in private industry. Organization on their part to present their views on such matters is both natural and logical, but meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government. 

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.

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. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. 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.”

I congratulate the National Federation of Federal Employees the twentieth anniversary of its founding and trust that the convention will, in every way, be successful.’ 

- President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Letter on the Resolution of Federation of Federal Employees Against Strikes in Federal Service, 16 August 1937

Federal law prohibits strikes by governmental employees, which is a smidgen of sanity in the arena of public labour law.  While the Left is still pissed off that President Ronald Reagan fired the air traffic controllers for illegally striking, can you imagine what would happen to our economy and public safety if government employees could hold the entire country hostage to their demands?  'Pay us each $2 million a year or watch us make the Great Depression look like a garden party.'  Can you imagine the possibilities if we were ever to allow the military to unionise and/or strike?

For the record on the PATCO issue, the dispute actually began during President Carter's administration, which is why the union endorsed Reagan in 1980.  Twelve months before the government’s contract with PATCO was setto expire, Carter formed a 'Management Strike Contingency Force' to prepare fora walkout–including the use of scabs.  Regardless of its origin, Reagan was absolutely correct in firing the striking air traffic controllers because the strike was illegal.  If Carter, who was no great friend of labour, e.g., the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, and the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, had proceeded just as Reagan did, he would have been acting entirely within his authority.

For those that naively believe that union power and membership declined as a result of the 'union busting' of Ronald Reagan, consider this: It was President James Earl Carter, who signed the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, which stripped Federal employees of their collective bargaining rights for everything save workplace environment issues.

‘The main function of American trade unions is collective bargaining. It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government. Unions, as well as employers, would vastly prefer to have even Government regulation of labor-management relations reduced to a minimum.’

- George Meany, President of the AFL-CIO, 1955-1979

'When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.'

- Albert Shanker, President of the AFT and the UFT

‘Despite what some among us would like to believe it is not because of our creative ideas. It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power.

And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year, because they believe that we are the unions that can most effectively represent them, the unions that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees. 

This is not to say that the concern of NEA and its affiliates with closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rates, improving teacher quality and the like are unimportant or inappropriate. To the contrary. These are the goals that guide the work we do. But they need not and must not be achieved at the expense of due process, employee rights and collective bargaining. That simply is too high a price to pay.'

– Bob Chanin, General Counsel of the National Education Association, in his farewell address, July 2009

Governor Calvin Coolidge inspects National Guardsmen during the Boston Police Strike, 1919

Dear Mr. Samuel Gompers (President American Federation of Labor):

Replying to your telegram, I have already refused to remove the Police Commissioner of Boston. I did not appoint him. He can assume no position which the courts would uphold except what the people have by the authority of their law vested in him. He speaks only with their voice.

The right of the police of Boston to affiliate has always been questioned, never granted, is now prohibited. The suggestion of President Wilson to Washington does not apply to Boston. There the police have remained on duty. Here the Policemen’s Union left their duty, an action which President Wilson characterized as a crime against civilization. Your assertion that the Commissioner was wrong cannot justify the wrong of leaving the city unguarded. That furnished the opportunity; the criminal element furnished the action. There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time. You ask that the public safety again be placed in the hands of these same policemen while they continue in disobedience to the laws of Massachusetts and in their refusal to obey the orders of the Police Department.

Nineteen men have been tried and removed. Others having abandoned their duty, their places have, under the law, been declared vacant on the opinion of the Attorney-General. I can suggest no authority outside the courts to take further action. I wish to join and assist in taking a broad view of every situation. A grave responsibility rests on all of us. You can depend on me to support you in every legal action and sound policy. I am equally determined to defend the sovereignty of Massachusetts and to maintain the authority and jurisdiction over her public officers where it has been placed by the Constitution and law of her people.

There appears to be a misapprehension as to the position of the police of Boston. In the deliberate intention to intimidate and coerce the government of this Commonwealth a large body of policemen, urging all others to join them, deserted their posts of duty, letting in the enemy. This act of theirs was voluntary, against the advice of their well-wishers, long discussed and premeditated, and with the purpose of obstructing the power of the government to protect its citizens or even to maintain its own existence. Its success meant anarchy. By this act, through the operation of the law they dispossessed themselves. They went out of office. They stand as though they had never been appointed.

Other police remained on duty. They are the real heroes of this crisis. The State Guard responded most efficiently. Thousands have volunteered for the Guard and the Militia. Money has been contributed from every walk of life by the hundreds of thousands for the encouragement and relief of these loyal men. These acts have been spontaneous, significant, and decisive. I propose to support all those who are supporting their own government with every power which the people have entrusted to me.

There is an obligation, inescapable, no less solemn, to resist all those who do not support the government. The authority of the Commonwealth cannot be intimidated or coerced. It cannot be compromised. To place the maintenance of the public security in the hands of a body of men who have attempted to destroy it would be to flout the sovereignty of the laws the people have made. It is my duty to resist any such proposal. Those who would counsel it join hands with those whose acts have threatened to destroy the government. There is no middle ground. Every attempt to prevent the formation of a new police force is a blow at the government. That way treason lies. No man has a right to place his own ease or convenience or the opportunity of making money above his duty to the State.

This is the cause of all the people. I call on every citizen to stand by me in executing the oath of my office by supporting the authority of the government and resisting all assaults upon it.’

- Calvin Coolidge, Governor of Massachusetts, in the matter of the Boston Police Strike of 1919, 14 September 1919

President Kennedy did the country a grave disservice by ushering in the ability of Federal government employees to unionise. The idea that public employees should have collective bargaining rights is insane and undermines the fabric of society. It pits public employees against taxpayers. In an ideal world where these unions have to exist, politicians, at the very least, would play the role of a neutral referee and temperate mediator. Unfortunately, they play neither in the real world.

The Forgotten Man getting his pockets picked by elected criminals.

‘The Forgotten Man’ was a term that FDR frequently used (misused) to describe the poor, oppressed, and disaffected – those forgotten by government, business, and the wealthy. The term, in actuality, was coined by William Graham Sumner to describe the hardworking and forgotten taxpayer, who had to pay for whatever the government, reformers, and special interest groups decided – often over the objections of the very people required to pay the freight.

And, if everyone joins the Free Shit Army?  Hmmm, I hadn't considered that.

With public sector unions, labour and politicians agree to unsustainable compensation and benefits packages without any concern about the taxpayers who will be required to pay for them. Unions give money to the politicians, who in turn give employees more and more. The Forgotten Man has a politician as a neighbour on one side and a public union employee on the other. Both continue to squeeze her and place impossible burdens on her as a citizen and a taxpayer.  In addition, many of those that will be compelled to pay for the pie-in-the-sky promises made by politicians, who will be long gone when the cheque comes due, are not yet born and, therefore, are being deprived of the basic right in our constitutional system of government:  Taxation with representation...despite claims to the contrary.

History does prove, however, that The Forgotten Man can win when he fights back. During the Boston Police Strike in 1919, Governor Calvin Coolidge was advised not to take any action against the strikers, who some believed had the people on their side. Even he believed that he would alienate labour, which would cost him reelection. Nevertheless, he didn’t care because he put the safety of the people above the demands of a few. He said, ‘It does not matter whether I am elected or not.’

President Calvin Coolidge delivering his inaugural address, 4 March 1925

He called out the National Guard and, when order was restored, Coolidge noted, ‘the people decided in favour of the integrity of their own government.’ 

And, boy, did they. Nearly 100,000 letters and telegrams – almost entirely in his favour – swamped the Governor's Office. He won reelection with 62% of the vote, received hardy congratulations from Progressive President Woodrow Wilson, who said, ‘I congratulate you upon your election as a victory for law and order. When that is the issue, all Americans must stand together,’ was elected as Warren Harding’s Vice-President, and, in 1924, won the Presidency in his own right in a landslide.  He and his running mate, former Brigadier General Charles G Dawes, who would win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925, won every state outside the South except for Wisconsin, the home state of Senator Robert M La Follette, Sr, who was a former Republican who ran as the nominee of his newly-created Progressive Party. President Calvin Coolidge won 2.5 million more votes than La Follette and the Democratic nominee, John W Davis, combined. 

Obviously, The Forgotten Man knew who was on his side and rewarded him for it. 

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