This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.
I’m not a resident of Wisconsin and am not incredibly familiar with the issues involved in the Scott Walker recall, but, based on what I do know, I’m very much rooting for him to survive tomorrow’s recall vote – precisely because of the union issue.
Now, there is a place and a role for labor unions, and there were times in the Industrial Revolution era when they were really the only practical means for workers to escape what was outright exploitation. But, while our economy has changed, too many unions have responded by essentially acting as little more than interest groups whose ultimate goal is self-enrichment (or, to be more precise in many cases, the enrichment of the union leadership and not necessarily the rank and file!). Private-sector unions (which, in some cases, have been allies of Governor Walker) have to keep their demands somewhat realistic and practical, knowing that their own welfare depends upon the financial solvency of their employer. But, it seems to me that the growth of public-sector unions has removed this check of “reasonableness”, for they don’t look at the financial solvency of government in the same way that a private-sector union must view the financial state of a company. It really does seem, here in CA as well as in WI and probably many other states as well, that the public-sector unions often do view government as an entity that is ALWAYS able to grant what they demand (and that if government doesn’t do this, then it is simply because anti-union people are in charge).
When I hear of teacher unions here threatening strikes against districts that simply and objectively don’t have the money to give them what they want, it makes more clear to me that these unions really do need to accept the fact that public resources are NOT unlimited and that no government can simply raise taxes, sell bonds, or divert funds from some other function in order to give them what they seek. I also have a HUGE problem with public-sector unions engaging in partisan political activity and donating large sums of money – collected largely from union dues – to political campaigns or causes, especially in states that don’t have right-to-work laws. If I am forced to join a union in order to have a particular job, then should my union leadership take my dues and donate them to, say, the Democratic Party without giving me any say in the mattter? Unfortunately, this is commonplace.
Personally, I would support requiring public-sector unions to abstain from partisan political activity, just as we have laws that regulate the political activity of individual civil servants, for such unions are comprised of people who work on behalf of the public as a whole and are paid from public tax revenues.
So, I am hoping that Walker survives, if only to send the message that public employee unions have a responsibility to protect and promote the public trust and cannot count on being able to manipulate the system to protect their own interests at the expense of those of the public who employs them.
I say all of this, of course, as a public employee myself.