Should public employees belong to unions?

Wisconsin politics are in an uproar over an effort to cut benefits and limit the right of public employees to bargain collectively. Today’s Question: Should public employees belong to unions?

  • Ron

    I thought it was up to them, not to me. I was pretty sure that’s how a democracy worked, but this year I guess all bets are off.

  • hiram

    They should have the right to belong to unions, and what’s happening in Wisconsin powerfully suggests that belonging to unions is a real good idea.

  • Alison

    Though I’m generally not a huge fan of unions, they do serve a useful purpose to protect workers from unjust pay, poor labor practices, and when the employer is openly hostile toward the employees. Many people in the employer group, the taxpayers, have become openly hostile and unfairly critical of the quality of work that most most public employees do. These feelings have been whipped up by Republicans criticism of public employees with the aim of laying them off under the guise of cutting taxes. This allows them to avoid more difficult, but more meaningful, budgetary reform. The Republicans nearly always avoid talking about specific employees or groups of employees. They know when talking about specific employees, most citizens would agree they are needed, do quality work, and deserve fair pay for their work.

    The fact that berating public employees is used to score political points proves the necessity of public employee unions.

  • Josh D.

    Everyone working in this country should have the right to unionize if they choose. Its one of the things that makes this country different from the rest, both historically and today. Certainly it means that a lot of manufactring has gone to China and similar countries, and there’s things that can/should be done about that issue, but we benifit overall from a better standard of living in the long run. You can’t argue against that (if you’d like to try go spend some time working in a Chinese factory first, I hear they’re just lovely jobs).

    If the state is paying out too much on pensions, than negotiate it down, just like the a private sector business WOULD DO if they had to. There’s so much reference to making public employees more like the private sector, but what private business that has unionized employees would choose to stop working with the union all together rather than negotiating?

  • RobR

    Everyone should belong to unions and support their fellow workers. Every workplace right we have today is because a union member fought bled and in somecases died for it. The rich and the powerful have no problem buying favorable legal environments and corrupting offcials to their will. Only together do we stand a chance. There is no such thing as negotiation without the threat of force to back it up.

  • Steve the Cynic

    As others elsewhere have noted, management gets the union it deserves. Want to get rid of public employee unions? Treat public employees fairly. Quit demonizing our civil servants.

    And quit electing politicians who who think “government” is a dirty word. How eager would you be to go to work in the morning if your boss were a political appointee who got the job by siding with the party that regularly speaks of your work in derogatory terms?

  • Garyf

    If I don’t want to hire a union plumber, I can go hire a non union plumber. There are valid reasons to have a plumbers union and to hire a union plumber. But I have a choice.

    If I want a building permit, drivers license, my potholes filled, etc, I have no choice in that I have to use union labor.

    If I want a non-union school teacher, I have to pay extra and get very little credit back from the state to do so.

    Sure, public employees can belong to unions, but they can’t bankrupt the government. In the private sector, unions with their large and unrealistic pensions have killed most major US corporations. That’s one reason why stuff isn’t made here anymore.

    My company doesn’t contribute to my 401 K anymore. I have to pay into it. I have to pay for my kids health care. I have to pay a $25 deductible for my doctor visits and prescriptions. I have to pay the first $3000 for non covered costs out of my pocket. Welcome to the real world public employees.

    I can’t retire at age 55 and get this great pension. I’m 46 and know I will have to work well into my 60’s, and then retire on the money I saved, not a pension.

    You can belong to your union, but you have to suck it up like the people in the real world during bad times.

    Look at what is happening in France and England, public unions are crippling them.

    Better wake up public unions, the people who pay you salary have far less benefits than you do.

  • Steve the Cynic

    You’ve got it backwards, Gary F. It’s the major US corporations that have killed the unions. And who are you alluding to that gets to retire at 55 with a fat pension?

  • Clark

    I believe in merit and unions don’t so that is my primary issue.

    There is a reason unions now represent 7% of private workforse, they add no value.

    IN NYC, the city pays millions of dollars every year to teachers, its called the rubber room, who are no longer competent to teach but yet are paid due to t&c in their union contract.

    Public employee unions are nothing but a ponzi scheme. Unions contribute to democrats, democrats increase their pay and benefits and then unions contribute more to democrats.

    At the very least, public employee unions should not be allowed by law to contribute any funds to any elected official anytime, anywhere. Its a huge conflict of interest and does not benefit the taxpyers.

    Too me, it appears the unions are not always willling to negotiate in good faith. In private business, they make excessive demands the business goes BK. Public employees don’t face that risk which is why they always demand increases in taxes on people like me who pay the bill.

    Sure would be nice to see all those public employees in Wisconsin fired for not showing up to work. This is what happens in the REAL WORLD.

  • Tony

    Yesterday one of my employers required me to work half a day for no pay.

    I have two full-time low-wage, yet professional-level, jobs. Together these jobs will gross about $23,000 per year. In order to keep the one, which I must, I had to sacrifice a day’s pay at the other.

    To be fair to the one employer, they did provide me with a slice of pizza for my work yesterday.

    I very much wish I had an opportunity to be in a union that would protect my basic right to a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s pay.

  • Bear

    Yes everyone should be allowed to belong to a union, BUT likewise everyone should be allowed to work in their desired profession and NOT be required to be a union member. I personally have an issue with professional unions, but that is another discussion.

    Steve the Cynic noted business get the union they deserve, I agree, but only to a point. While this was true in the 30’s, 40’s, it is fading in the current business environment. The power pendulum has swing too far to the union side. Some aggressive unions have become so powerful that businesses, both good and bad, are forced to be union shops. This is irrespective of how well they treat their employees. Employees are forced to be union member whether they want to or not. Onerous benefits, work rules, and pensions are a major contributing factor in GM’s bankruptcy. The union is only partly to blame; GM management should not have agreed to unsustainable and unprofitable union demands.

    Yes big business has reduced union representation. But not through union busting, through improving benefits, wages, working conditions etc. They thereby reduce the accrued benefit of union membership. Unfortunately many unions are corrupt, e.g. Teamsters. Union membership is on the decline because businesses are becoming better corporate citizens. Big business bashing might be a favorite pastime of the extreme left; but facts are for the majority US based mid and large business it is unfounded. Check out the corporate social reports of your favorite to bash big business. These CSR reports are transparent and tell the company’s good, bad, and ugly sides You will find most big businesses have a strong business strategy to consider the social, environmental, and economic impacts of their business operations. We are not there yet, but we are moving in the right direction. So, to the big business bashers, become part of the solution.

    The biggest threat to unions are the unions themselves. They operate under a decades old mindset, like the concept of tenure, which promotes meritocracy; why go the extra mile if I keep my job regardless?. If unions want to have a role, they need to take a less adversarial position, evolve their business model to reflect the present day labor situation, drive for innovation and productivity, become progressive and be a solutions partner with business while protecting employee’s health, safety, benefits and working conditions.

    MPR has a great article on the Wisconsin public employee’s situation compared to Minnesota (Link to article below). While Governor Walker’s proposal may be too drastic, the effective changes – health care and retirement benefits – which he is seeking are on par with what Minnesota teachers and public employees are now contributing. So, while stripping collective bargaining rights is drastic, having teachers and public employees pay more towards their retirement and healthcare is reasonable.

  • T

    Unions haven’t killed American business, CEO greed has. Public employess have the right to unionize, just like any other sector the work force.

    My father spent thirty years as an unionized worker in an environment that beat the H$LL out of his body. And my dad was not lazy, milking the system. He busted his…

    Now his pension mainly covers additional health related expenses secondary to his previous work environment. No cushy life, but he’s stll with us and enjoying grandkid time (along with still working two part-tme jobs). This pension support would not have happened without the union and they would be deeply into medical debt.

  • Rose

    It depends.

    If the employees serve either directly or indirectly at the discretion of the public; i.e., they are elected or appointed by someone who is elected then union membership is not appropriate.

    In real life as control and influence changes at the top echelons the chain of command is also subject to change, therefore any “protection” unions can provide is not relevant.

    In government with elections and appointments (at all control and influence levels) there may be too much “unionization”. By definition, doesn’t every government employee serve at the pleasure of the constituents?

    The real question is whether unions have outlived their usefulness

    The movement to unions held an important place in US history. Whether you agree or disagree with the mandate union had their place and their day. Once the threshold was crossed from protectionist to bully, unions lost my respect. Within my personal history, the bully and extortion aspects of unions showed its ugly side with the Kennedy years and all the years since.

    Another real question is how to dismantle obsolete unions and honor the individual contribution.

  • Jim G

    Yes. What is happening in Wisconsin this week is exactly why in 1959 they won the right to bargain collectively .In just one week, newbie Governor Walker and his GOP accomplices in the Assembly are stripping away worker rights earned over 70 years. Back in the 1930’s there was a word for those hired to break unions: Goons. Wake up workers. This is as serious as it gets. Do we have the guts to stand up to these goons? H$ll yes. Together we can beat these goons’ union busting tactics. Stand together brothers and sisters, because if we don’t stop them here, they’ll be coming after your rights next. As the Arlo Guthrey’s song intones,” I’m sticking with the the union.”

  • Brian

    Should public employees belong to unions? I think it is in the best interests of all employees to belong to unions, whether they are public-sector employees or private-sector employees. I don’t think it’s a mere coincidence that the middle class in the U.S. grew as the unions grew in number and power and that the middle class shrunk as union numbers decreased and power decreased.

    (The other principal reason for the decline of the middle class is the constant revision of tax laws at the federal and state levels which generally favored the wealthy and undermined the middle class.)

    Public employees still have strong unions, and that’s why Republicans throughout the U.S. are vilifying and demonizing public employees and their unions and trying to turn employees from the private sector against public-sector employees. Divide and conquer: Republicans are incredibly adept at this.

    Perhaps we should discuss the question: Do we think it’s in the U.S.’s best interests to have a large, strong middle class? And if so, how did we grow the middle class in the past and how can we grow the middle class today?

  • raygor

    Very interesting comments, Yes I believe public employees should have a right to

    unionize, but having said that I do believe that

    unions can sometimes get in the way of

    innovation and creating better working conditions. Obviously Gary is unaware of

    the average union worker. They pay toward

    their retirement, they pay toward family health

    coverage, some even have the opportunity

    to pay for parking in a state workplace lot. My

    wife is a public employee who is a voting

    member because she wants to have a say

    in what happens. She is by no means a

    firm supporter of unions but it does provide

    protection from arbitrary rule changes and the

    like. She is not planning on retiring until in

    her mid 60’s. She is no different than people

    working in the private sector. I worked as

    a mortician for 25 years. About six years ago

    there was a movement to organize funeral

    directors. The firm I worked at voted for union

    representation much to the chagrin of the

    owners. All of a sudden the owners started

    thinking of offering a retirement and health

    care plan that would still be mostly employee

    financed. It took a vote to get them to see the

    light. For that reason alone I believe in union

    -ization. If industry takes care of it employees

    there really is no need for a union.

  • Jim G

    The song “Union Maid “by Woody Guthrie sums up my thoughts.

    “Oh, you can’t scare me,

    I’m sticking to the union

    I’m sticking to the union

    I’m sticking to the union

    til the day I die.”

    My regrets for the previous incorrect attribution to Arlo.

  • Jesse Dahl

    ALL employes need to be Union.

  • JD

    Like any other employee or citizen, public sector employees have the right to assemble freely. So the answer to the question is yes.


    I’ve heard it argued on AM950 the last few days that unions are good because they reinforce “democracy in the workplace.” Ok, sure. But what about democracy in Wisconsin? The Governor and Legislature of Wisconsin were democratically elected last November by the citizens of Wisconsin, who by extension are the employers of these public sector employees.

    And let’s get real here, their collective bargaining rights are not being “stripped,” as the media/unions have been reporting. The collective bargaining rights in terms of wages are still in place, so their rights are being amended through this legislation, not stripped or abolished.

    Is anyone here wiling to argue, as the Wisc. unions are, that the union members should continue to get pensions they don’t have to contribute to? Or continue to get health coverage from the day of hire to death, for employee + family, at little or no cost? Anyone want to argue that point in the context of the financial plight of that state and the country as a whole right now?

  • Drew

    Look. The unions may still have “collective bargaining” rights, but with a MAXIMUM ceiling of the CPI rate. That essentially means they can only get a raise of a maximum of inflation. What a right.

  • JBlilie

    I don’t know, should public employees be allowed to marry? Should they be allowed to sign mortgages? Should they be able to vote?

    I hope these rhetorical questions point out the absurdity of the question to everyone.

    Public employees are citizens, in possession of the same rigths as every other citizen, including joining unions.

    Will Scott Walker request legislation to reneg on the contracts that WI has signed with other contracted entities such as building contractors or private prison operators, to balance the budget? That’s what we are talking about: abrogating contracts. And beyond that, curtailing the rights of citizens.

  • Greg Copeland

    Suggestion for Monday’s ASK A QUESTION:




  • Julie Daniels

    Yes, of course – and employees of private institutions should also belong to unions.

    Unions are an imperfect but necessary means of ensuring that imperfect but necessary market forces do not destroy the humanity of workers.

    Unions are the only force that has the potential to be equal to the unbridled, amoral power of commerce.

  • Chris

    Public emoloyees should not have collective bargaining rights. These rights serve to hold the taxpayer hostage.

    If one makes the decision to work in the public sector they must understand they are part of a budget and that their employment is subject to a legislature’s willingness to fund that budget.

    Taxpayers have a right, which superceeds the right of the public employee, to reconsider any budget item.

    We have made a terrible mistake growing the public sector the way we have done for several decades because we have tied too many families to the fate of public budgets.

    As a result we are conflicted about whether a public employee is “entitled” to the salary, benefits, pensions, and health care that are associated with each one of them.

    We are conflicted, but we should not be. Because it is the taxpayer who is entitled, not the employee, to the final word on the question of expenditures.

    Additionally, the voters of Wisconsin who elected this Governor and this Legislature are entitled to see their business done. No different than any other constituancy of any other party or persuasion.

  • CHS, St. Paul

    Unions occupied a special and vital part of our nation’s growth and helped to fuel our prosperity as we know it, just as some government agencies such as the FDA. They protected welfare and safety and promoted fairness in ways that were sorely needed as our nation grew. However, Unions just like government have been too slow to react and are mired in policies and attitudes that are no longer relevant. There is a place for unions, but in many industries and occupations they have outlived their usefulness. As a result some unions have fought even harder and pushed even further in an effort stay relevant and vital, and are choking the life out of the industries that sustained them for so long. Unrealistic expectations and demands coupled with corruption and high administrative “costs” are all that many current unions stand for.

    Now, as to whether government employees should be union, I have one thought that I’d like people to comment on. I always thought the purpose of a union was to defend workers against exploitation and unfair conditions perpetuated by companies or corporations who are unwilling to put a dent in profit margins to make things right. Am I off on that one?

    When it comes to government, whose profits are the unions demanding a fair share of? Who are the people that make the decisions on workplace conditions and salary? Seems to me that having a full legislative body representing the interests of the state and the government (including its workers) is representation enough.

    People here talk about the Republicans pitting people against each other. What about the Unions pitting their members against the needs of the State and its residents? Why should a state employee get to have their union demand better benefits, while simultaneously demanding that someone else pay for it? A union negotiating with a private company or corporation is valid and makes sense, there is one pie, and everyone gets a slice. Mess it up and they all fall together, that union doesn’t get to spend billions to elect people to office that will just vote to make the pie bigger for them.

  • J

    The constant attacks against general public employees and teachers prove that the Unions are needed, if for nothing else to counteract the falsehoods by the union-busters and even some of the comments here, such as the age 55 retirement thing. Yes it is true, but in all my years as a public employee I have yet to meet anyone (save a few people in labor type jobs) who actually retires at 55, especially now. I think many of the private sector people are just jealous of us low-pay, no overtime servants of you who don’t like us.

  • Roy

    I’m not sure the question is worded correctly, but what the teachers are doing in calling in sick shows a lack of dedication to the students and a lack of understanding of us, the people who put legislators in place to make decisions on managing the state and being fiscally responsible. The teachers can resign and go into the private sector and find out the reality of how a business works or they can buck up and let the voting process take place as it was meant too be and let the outcome be whatever it is. The Dems who fled the voting process are disgusting. Problems are never resolved by running and hiding, but only thru upfront talk and discussion.

  • Jason

    As an educator, I’ve always thought it was sad that we live in a country where professional sports players and rap or rock artists are more respected and more financially well-off than those with advanced degrees who invest their lives to promote life-long learning. Teachers need to have a strong union to protect themselves against those who wish to increase labor without proper financial compensation. Public employees like our nation’s teachers operate with less money and resources each year, it is time to give them the respect they deserve– this can’t be done by eliminating their bargaining rights.

  • Carrie

    Why not?

  • Troy

    Public employees should at least have the choice of not being in a union. That is a choice the DO NOT HAVE today in Minnesota.

  • JD

    @Jason: You’re an educator, read the bill. It does NOT “eliminate your collective bargaining rights.”

  • Patrick

    @ JBlilie Exactly. The question is ridiculous. There would be no need for unions if there were fair wages and safe working conditions.

    Smart mouth yuppies decry unions while reaping the benefits of decades of labor movements.

    Unions and regulation are attacked as job killing, etc. History has proven the capitalist employers favor slavery over collective bargaining, thus they now move overseas.

    Once again conservatives prove their priorities of wealth over morality.

  • Matthew

    Absolutely yes! This year and specifically this week, we’re seeing why government employees should belong to unions. Today’s GOP argument against Wisconsin’s unrest is that private sector employees have had pensions cut or eliminated, health care subsidies cut, etc…, so why shouldn’t govt workers be expected to suffer the same cuts? Yesterday, a MN GOP representative framed the issue this way in commenting about Wisconsin: “Private sector employees are the ‘have nots’ and the public employees are the ‘haves.'” The logical inference: neither group should “have.” Both should be “have nots.” Why is the private sector being afforded a presumption of correctness in regards to treatment of employees? Why should the state follow a standard set by a private sector comprising corporations that don’t do what they should do, but instead do what they can get away with doing? With regard to treatment of employees — hiring/firing, pay, benefits, etc., corporations (especially publicly traded ones whose sold stakeholder is the shareholder) abide by no ethical paradigm. They do whatever the “invisible hand” lets them. Look what they’ve done in the last two years: mass layoffs; elimination of benefits; cut salaries; revoked paid vacation and sick time… All in response to an economic downturn. And as we’ve seen, many companies who made huge profits do it, citing the downturn as an excuse. In reality, it’s been a pretext. So now the GOP opportunists want our state and federal government to follow THAT standard? Really? NO WAY! Especially at a time when our country enjoys the lowest aggregate or per-capita tax since 1950. But we also have to realize two more things. First, teachers are not over-paid. There is no comparable private sector job. It is a highly stressful vocation — a profession, requiring a four-year college degree. And if teachers like those in Wisconsin do receive a lot of benefits, most or all of them are deferred. It’s deferred compensation. Remove those benefits and teachers are left with very low pay, but very high student loans. In fact, the state SAVES money through the deferred compensation packages. Time value of money principles. And it’s the only way the state can continue to attract quality people to enter the profession and teach our kids. Good day.

  • Carrie


    Read the bill.

    MADISON, Wis. — A bill eliminating most collective bargaining rights from nearly all Wisconsin public employees passed the Legislature’s budget-writing committee late Wednesday night despite two days of mass public protests.

  • Brad

    Yes, in that they should be allowed to form unions, not that they are required to do so. I you think about it, the members of the Wisconsin legislature looking to effectively outlaw public worker unions are public workers themselves. This legislative force is also a union of people operating under the title of a political party, but it is still a union of people. At the end of the day, we have to recognize, independent from the specific issue under debate, that what we really have here are just two groups of people fighting over resources in resource-constrained times. In the interest of fairness, I think it is disingenuous for the GOP, again just a union of people, to seek the outlawing of another union of people. The GOP has always stood for less government regulation and the notion that any individual or group of individuals should be given a chance, just like anyone else, to compete in the marketplace, whether it be the economic marketplace or the marketplace of ideas. The current Wisconsin GOP legislative members “talk” deregulation, but “walk” regulation when it is in their interest, in this instance to remove a political foe.

  • RobR

    I would be very careful using first and last names on this subject. Your boss at work could retaliate against you and fire you.

  • Jerry

    By the way, I’d like to take a brief moment to call “B.S.” on the Star Tribune article that was published in last Sunday’s paper concerning a purported disparity between public sector pay and government worker pay. The article included a claim that “managers” in the public sector make $37 whereas “managers” in the public environment make almost $50. The “reporter” didn’t cite any source nor otherwise provide specifics as to whether her private sector “managers” were managers of Culvers or McDonald’s, or managers at JP Morgan or Goldman Sachs. However, $37 means a salary of around $75,000 per year. Therefore, the reporter limited that private sector group to low level retail managers, and certainly did not include Chief Operating Officers, Vice Presidents, so on and so forth. Yet she did include, say, division heads and agency directors in her public “manager” calculations. Therein lies the problem. People need to realize that agency heads are equivalent not to managers at Culvers, but CEOs, CFOs, and COOs of corporations. For a specific example, consider a finance director of a state administrative agency. That agency can oversee thousands of employees, much like a mid-sized corporation can. That “manager” is equivalent not to a manager at Culvers, but to a Chief Financial Officer of a mid-sized corporation. That director will in most if not all cases have an adavanced degree in finance or public policy. However, despite this, that director will be paid a very small fraction of what a chief financial officer would be paid at the mid-size corporation. Same qualifications, ability, education, etc…, but much less pay, all for the sake of being a public servant. And how is that person appreciated by the public and Star Tribune journalists? Not very good. So, I’m a little sick and tired of the ignorance that’s running rampant not just among the public, but perpetuated by the very people on whom we rely for the information necessary to make informed decisions and opinions on these matters.

  • Shelley Robshaw

    Loyal, committed public employees serve in positions that could easily be jeopardized by elected officials who are looking for short term solutions that make for good sound bites. Unions are needed to protect and support the public workforce so that the greater needs of society are served with long term goals and solutions. Do we really want public employees who need to play politics to keep their jobs? The union protection helps attract dedicated public servants who work, in many cases for, less than they would make in the private sector. Instead of attacking public employees and unions, we need to question the patriotism of those who support big corporations and the wealthy, if they do not choose to make any sacrifices to their bottom line in order to benefit the greater good of society. The politicians who are proposing cuts that will hurt the least among us should first remove the words, “Under God” from our pledge of allegiance, and perhaps substitute a reference to Capitalism!

  • al

    Haveing been a School Union officer I have seen up close how worker need to be repeesented by a union To protect them from the personal whims of a principal/manager who may only be in that members chain of comand for less then a year but for personal reasons could leave a scar on that persons career that would last forever.

  • CHS, St. Paul

    “Unions are needed to protect and support the public workforce so that the greater needs of society are served with long term goals and solutions.”

    What if the greater needs of society include a smaller public workforce in the long term? Seems to put the needs of the union and its members at odds with the needs of the State and society.

    Does a Union support it’s members or does it support the greater needs of society, because if we’re talking about government employees it’s not automatically both.

  • Kevin VC

    I think like any employee that they should be afforded the option to be in a Union.

    There are labor laws set at the Federal level that governs private labor has that right to collectively bargain, call it a union or how ever they want to do it.

    BUT it does not cover individual State Employees.

    What is happening in Wisconsin about the budget seems to be a lie about the short fall or rather a shortfall the Governor just made.

    Seems he gave away a lot of money suddenly to a lot of rich people… hmmm….

    And the removal of right to collectively bargain is exempt to the two or so groups who supported him.

    And those 35000 people at the capital (Give or take about 10,000) have voiced that removal is what is really what gets them upset. They understand if a need to cut occurs that has and is discussable.

    What the governor in Wisconsin is doing is NOT unplanned, prepared, and at the same MOMENT occurring on other states. They are all using the same exact play book, coordinated.

  • Kevin VC

    Also I think those trying to kill jobs by cutting them have got the wrong attitude about how to help the economy.

    When Boner was asked about what if this puts people on Unemployment, or worse without starving … Is reply was “So Be It”

    Its proof there is a MASSIVE disconnect to those who are hurt in the economic situation and those who are already benefiting.

    This just does not need to be a union busting move.

  • C

    To ask whether or not public employees should be able to join a union is pointless if the state is BROKE!

    If a family was deep in debt with too little income to maintain or even get out of debt, they would declare personal bankruptcy and have their house foreclosed, their car repossessed and would drop their health insurance . If a company had an extreme debt-to-wealth margin as does Wis., (or Minn. for that matter), the company would go out of business, lay off all it’s employees, (including the union ones), and abandon the building. (Think Circuit City and Builder’s Square, etc..)

    So maybe the state has to realize as well, we’re bankrupt. At this point unions don’t matter – by all accounts Wis. should be out of business! Send all the employees home like a lay off in any other business. Discontinue benefits like any other bankrupt company and see if the former employees can afford COBRA. When an airline goes out of business, it makes no difference if the pilots are in a union or not. They simply no longer have the money in their bank account to fly airplanes!

    Then re-organize under bankruptcy law in a manner same as an airline or a car manufacturer would do. Under re-organization determine is it is possible to form a new union realizing, like in the private sector, pay and benefits will be determined by what the consumer, (tax payer), is willing or able to pay for the services rendered by the re-organized company.

    And so if the union wants and gets more pay and benefits than what the consumer can or is willing to afford, the cycle starts all over again.

    I’m not saying unions or their members are greedy, all I’m saying is that this cash cow has been milked dry!

  • Brian McKinley

    Yes, public employees should be allowed to join unions. I’ve been a member Local 59 MFT/AFT for over 40 years. My professional life has been greatly enhanced by my union. But more importantly, my student’s lives have been enhanced by my union membership. A constant thread of Local 59 is, “Improving student achievement.” No one has ever proven that union membership has hampered student achievement. In fact, many studies have proven the opposite.

  • Jamie

    Of course they should, for all the reasons people have been stating here.

    “…their collective bargaining rights are not being “stripped,” as the media/unions have been reporting. The collective bargaining rights in terms of wages are still in place…”

    You’re wrong. The bargaining rights in terms of wages are SO NOT still in place in the bill. And that’s just one of several “stripping” provisions of the bill. Look it up.

    “Is anyone here wiling to argue, as the Wisc. unions are, that the union members should continue to get pensions they don’t have to contribute to? Or continue to get health coverage from the day of hire to death, for employee + family, at little or no cost?”

    Again you’re wrong. The Wisconsin unions and the protesters are saying they ARE willing to negotiate the pension issue as well as wages and other benefit issues in order to save the state money. And I haven’t heard that they get health care coverage until death. Given that you were wrong on other points of your post, I don’t trust this either.

    Walker and the Republican representatives have been trying to cram this bill through to passage in order NOT to negotiate or discuss it.

  • Jamie

    “Dems who fled the voting process are disgusting. Problems are never resolved by running and hiding, but only thru upfront talk and discussion.”

    Yeah, that’s part of the problem with how Republicqans have been jamming this through. They don’t WANT to talk about it. And the Democrats are doing what they have to do in order to try to force the Repubs to talk about it.

    “I have to pay for my kids health care. I have to pay a $25 deductible for my doctor visits and prescriptions. I have to pay the first $3000 for non covered costs out of my pocket. Welcome to the real world public employees.”

    Most public employees have to pay for all those things, too. Wisconsin’s public employees seem to have a much more generous benefits package than most. Perhaps that is because they are paid less than other public employees. I don’t know.

    Republicans are circulating a lot of misinformation. They’re very good at that, and a lot of people are inclined to swallow anything they put out there.

  • Scott

    Freedom of association, speech and assembly are core rights in a democracy. Those extend to the right of workers to organize themselves in the public or private sector. Being able to unionize and bargain collectively is a fundamental freedom and a basic right in a democratic society.

    To all the people who claim that workers should take what the market gives them I would challenge them to admit that labor markets aren’t free nor are they balanced in terms of power. Collective action and unions help to level the playing field. Workers banding together to ask for a fair share is just an act of balancing the power in that relationship. Without unions we would have few of the worker protections we do have. I like weekends, overtime pay, 40 hour weeks and less discrimination in hiring. Organized labor gets a lot of credit for these gains.

    Gov. Walkers rush to crush unionization rights under the guise of budget constraints is going to create a powerful disincentive for good people to enter and remain in the public sector. Governments are facing major problems and right now we need competent and smart people working in the public sector to help solve those problems. Not only is Walkers plan abusive, it’s short sighted. We need good, competent government and we won’t get that if there is a foolish rush to undermine the workers who provide for our public goods. I want good schools, roads, social services, public safety and the rest.

    Governments need to recognize when they negotiate union contracts that they can’t give away the farm on pensions and benefits in order to avoid giving people raises. I see this having happened because holding wages flat and raising pensions allowed governments to pass the buck down the road. That is the fault of the people who negotiate the contracts, not the unions whose job is to look out for their members. States need to not sucker themselves into the belief that their commitments will never come due and hence are free. States need to appropriately value the future costs of pension benefits otherwise we do risk major budgetary issues down the line. This isn’t the fault of unions, it is reflective of poor choices by the state negotiators.

  • Jim

    Yes, as a tax payer I am reassured that my tax dollars are protected by a contract. if all public employees and teachers were “at will” then what is to stop the person in the tightest t-shirt will get the job and/or the raise. do you want your school taxes going to unqualified but well endowed 22 year-olds who will sweet talk the principals? If the private sector wants to higher and fire based on size vs qualifications let them but protect my tax dollars with a readable contract.

    DO you want state workers negotiating their own pay. Sounds like the definition of waste fraud and abuse that the conservatives hate.

  • Sue de Nim

    What gets me is the blatant hypocrisy of pro-business libertarians, who think it’s a good idea to deregulate mega-corporations even further, but want to put limits on workers’ rights to organize. What the Wisconsin Republicans are trying to ram through is simply mean-spirited. And just think: that could have been us. Minnesota dodged a bullet when our coin-toss election went to Dayton instead of Emmer.

  • Rachel

    No. Unions at the state promote incompetence and waste.

    I’ve worked for three state agencies. Unions make it difficult for supervisors to work with to improve or, as a last resort, terminate employees who are low performers. Unions do nothing for high performers. Everyone gets the same raise regardless of performance. State employees today are largely educated knowledge workers. The idea of a union for these individuals is outdated.

    The state could absolutely do more with less if agencies were allowed to keep only the employees who were contributing 100% and shed employees with a history of low performance who are now protected by the unions.

  • Peter Dulak

    As a teacher, I strongly support teacher’s unions. I’m frustrated to hear a skewed take on teacher benefits in news reports. To the average person, it sounds reasonable to have public employees pay more of their health care and pension. Yes, we have lower cost benefits, but we gave up salary increases to make that happen. If I could take the cost of insurance increases and pension increases and apply that to my salary, I would gladly pay 16% of health care costs and half of pension contributions. Otherwise, Governor Walker is robbing my pay check to balance the state budget. That is NOT FAIR.

    Peter Dulak

    Ellsworth Community School District

    Ellsworth, WIsconsin.

  • Karin

    Of course public employees should be able to form unions.

    But I want to know how the State Police have been sent to search out State Senatore and compel them to return to Madison, force them on to the Senate floor & call that a valid quorum.

  • jesse bearheart

    Yes. Unions gave almost all workers the weekend, child labour laws, bathroom breaks, and paid vacation and sick leave time, safety in the workplace and several other human rights and benefits. Collective bargaining is essential to maintaining accountability for government as well as private employers for the above mentioned. I believe the real argument is not about the costs but for acknowledging the dignity and worth of workers. Citizens United are licking their chops. For those who oppose unions plan on this: your children will be denied public education, your garbage will not get picked up, your water and sewer will be cut off, you will not receive social and human services, your city gas will be cut off, your streets will have potholes, your house will burn down, and you will no longer be protected from people who behave badly. What would you do/how much are you willing to pay to get these essential services back? Awake up!

  • CHS, St. Paul

    jesse bearheart,

    You do realize that Police and Fire unions typically have a no strike clause, gas phone and electric utilities are private, and most of us have private garbage disposal, right? Also, a public education is a Constitutional right in this state, and cannot be denied regardless of a union strike. This doomsday reality you are espousing is an annoyance at best when it comes down to it.

    I don’t understand the whole concept of trying to make the connection that the State needs to be treated and guarded against like some 1930’s meat packing plant. This isn’t a debate of the worth of unions in a free market, it’s about unions in government.

    The benefits that labor unions have earned for us cannot be denied, and we owe them thanks for decades of hard and dangerous work in getting us to where we are, but get real people, the benefits most keep talking about needing unions for are now statutory.

  • Steve the Cynic

    If right-wingers were as concerned about the undue influence of big business on government as they are about public employee unions, I could take them more seriously on this issue.

  • LCResident

    I have mixed feelings about public employees. Their excessive benefits, sloth, and arrogance makes them unsympathetic characters. Police, in particular, have been instrumental in suppressing unions in other businesses and industries, so it’s obvious that they should not be unionized. The teachers’ union has been as much of an obstacle to modernizing public education as the Republican Party. Unions are critical to worker fairness, safety, and income. When every other working class person has union protections, it would be time to revisit public unions. Until then, I think they should be as abused as the rest of us.

  • T Day

    “GOP has always stood for less government regulation,” unless we’re talking about protecting banks and financial “services” from having to work for a living. Or making military-industrial businesses stand on their own two feet without supports from taxpayers. Or asking cotton or corn “producers” to compete without price supports. Pretty much every sort of corporate welfare is regulated by Republican “free marketeers” to the advantage of big business and to the detriment of the country and small business.

  • Eric Wright

    “A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to 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.”

    — Franklin D. Roosevelt (D), 1937

    I agree with FDR’s statement…having a union represent workers is foolhardy and unnecessary. Collective barganing should only apply to the jobs no one wants or are dangerous – there are enough laws in place to protect workers w/o having to resort to unions. Besides, government is a legal monopoly – there IS NO competition for government.

  • J F C

    Here’s a concept that ties in this question and others preceding in the past week.

    For instance, “If a teacher smokes cigarettes, should that teacher be allowed to teach?” Or, “How tough should teachers be with their students?”

    In recent news talk we’ve heard about a teacher who posted blog spots criticizing student behavior. Another teacher having pictures of her posted on Facebook depicting her holding alcoholic beverages. Two teachers in these situations, (the blogger and and the one on Facebook), are in peril of their jobs.

    WHERE is the teachers union????? I thought that unions were supposed to defend their members from discrimination and defamation. To defend their civil rights? Unions have become totally political for the union leaders benefit only – not the members. Teachers are only unwitting pawns in an elaborate chess game of politics and money.

    Governor of Wis., stand your ground. Wis. Democrats are like cockroaches, they scurry away when they see the light.

  • Laurie K

    In times like these, of great economic stress, it is especially important to have public employees collectively bargain. Once that right is stripped, we will see a stunning downward spiral in the quality of services that these workers provide to the public. And the costs of that make our current budget deficits look small.

  • JimA

    Absolutely, and so should all persons who work for someone else. It is the only protection against capricious actionj by an employer available in todays world.

  • Steve the Cynic

    As I understand it, Wisconsin’s Democrats offered a compromise that would have accepted all the benefit cuts proposed in the bill but kept the collective bargaining rights, and the Republicans rejected it. That tells me that this is not about solving a budget problem, but union-busting pure and simple–a power grab by the Gang Of Plutocrats.

  • Amy

    Absolutely. Collectively we work under the same title-govt employee- are paid under the same employer-it makes sense to negotiate salary and benefits collectively. It would be completely inefficient and ineffective if each of us individually had to arrange the conditions of our work. Talk about the slowly grinding wheels of bureaucracy then! And while one commenter stated “there are enough workers rights laws” out there to protect us, I would rather pay my fair share in union dues than have to save up to afford a lawyer should I have to use one of them!

  • kurt

    The labor unions used to protect workers from the abuses of management, now they protect bad actors among their ranks from the consequences of their own misbehavior.

    Workers that would be fired anywhere else maintain their positions because unions protect these bad actors. Private businesses cannot afford to employ such people because they operate under the constraints of having to make making a profit. in order to remain viable. Public entities are not so constrained.

    In addition, public unions present a huge conflict of interest. They wield enormous political clout and are often pitted against the best interests of the state or municipality a a whole. Public employees should not be unionized.

  • Bear

    @ Steve the Cynic says: “As I understand it, Wisconsin’s Democrats offered a compromise that would have accepted all the benefit cuts proposed in the bill but kept the collective bargaining rights, and the Republicans rejected it. That tells me that this is not about solving a budget problem, but union-busting pure and simple–a power grab by the Gang Of Plutocrats”

    What proposal have the TRUANT Wisconsin Democrats put on the table other than media sound bites? If they have a counter proposal then they need to get back to work. Their job is to represent all their constituents — rich, middle class and poor. They cannot do this by sitting in Rockford, Chicago or elsewhere pouting like 10 year olds.

    Unions are part of the Plutocracy.

  • Steve the Cynic

    “Unions are part of the Plutocracy.”

    Bovine feces! “Plutocracy” is not merely a slur you can throw at anyone whose opinion you dislike. It refers to the condition of society when we have govenrment by the golden rule– those with the gold make the rules, and everyone else gets the shaft. But then, confusing people by redefining terms has been a tactic of the right wing for years (e.g., GWB saying he was going to “strengthen” Social Security by privatizing it).

  • Ever since my first college courses in history where I learned about the populist revolts of the late 1800s I’ve believed in the power of the people to unite against their would-be oppressors. Unions are an important tool in allowing the middle class to retain some integrity in the face of the most intensive shift of wealth in the history of this country. Do not believe the rant of the Right which says we can’t afford Unions any more. It’s a ploy to distract us from the real issue: the extremely rich are getting extremely richer while the right tries to pit us against one another as a distractive ploy. Don’t be fooled! We cannot afford NOT to have Unions, no matter what sector of the economy they are in. Take away the power of the people to stand up for their rights as earners and you are slitting your own throat because you will be consumed by the money machine that continues its expansion on a global level. Hey buddy, you wanna be a serf?

  • Seems to me that Wisconsinites are getting EXACTLY what they voted for. The Governor is simply doing what he said he would do in the campaign.

    I personally would never ever consider turning back the clock to the good old days of old men in power, with no unions to represent the workers of the state, but , hello,

    the voters in Wisconsin allowed this to happen by not voting or carefully examining the issues at the time of the election. Now they want to whine because they found out elections have consequences.

    Not only is this happening, but Russ Feingold was voted out of office, one of the finest legislators this country has ever had. Too bad, but you asked for it.

  • Steve the Cynic

    It sounds like Gov. Walker is going to dig in his heels and fire public employees for demanding their rights. This bodes well for Minnesota schools, because it gives us a chance to syphon off some of their best teachers, as they look for more job security.

  • JD

    From today’s NYPost, sums it up beautifully:

    Let’s be clear about what’s at stake in Wisconsin, where the battle between Gov. Scott Walker and the public-employees’ unions is now well and truly joined. It’s not just about balancing the state budget, nor simply about collective bargaining. It’s not even about the future of the labor movement.

    It’s about the future of the country and who is to be master — the voters or the “public servants.”

    Wisconsin is a test battleground in the War of 2012, with both sides pouring in men and materiel in a proxy fight. It’s the Tea Party, as represented by Walker and the state Republicans, versus a labor-union/political racket as morally rancid as anything in “On the Waterfront,” fronted by the “sick” teachers and abetted by President Obama and his Organizing for America community agitators.

    Obama and the Democrats understand full well the importance of this fight: Without public-sector union support, they’re in big trouble. After all, such unions have only been generally legal since the ’60s, and — given the political will — can be rolled back.

    “For this generation of union members, the attack on Wisconsin’s public sector represents our Pearl Harbor,” said John Samuelsen, president of local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, who’s promised to lead a delegation from New York to Madison. “We in the labor movement cannot allow this to happen.”

    Nor can the Democrats. Unions such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the National Education Association and the Service Employees International Union give hundreds of millions of dollars to Democrats — some $171 million in 2010 alone. They give almost nothing to Republicans.

    Where does that money come from? From union members’ dues. In what is effectively a criminal enterprise were it not for the moment legal, public-union leaders negotiate ever-larger pay and benefits from the very politicians to whom they then kick back “campaign contributions.” All at taxpayer expense.

    What Walker is trying to do is break this vicious cycle. He’d limit collective bargaining for most public unions (exempting cops and firefighters) to wages only — excluding pensions, benefits and work rules. He’d also get the state out of the union-dues collection business and force the unions to be re-certified by a vote of their membership each year.

    For his effrontery in trying to close a $3.6 billion deficit, he has been rewarded with hordes of noisy protesters, schoolchildren used as human shields by their teachers and the spectacle of cowardly Democratic state senators fleeing the jurisdiction for the People’s Republic of Illinois.

    The unions have already capitulated on Walker’s demands to start contributing to their pension and health-care costs. But they’re digging in on the collective bargaining issues — which tells you exactly what’s really at stake in this dispute: their political muscle.

    The outcome in Madison will determine what happens around the country — not just in Ohio, the likely next battleground, or New York and California, but also in Washington, DC.

    It’s a fight the nation’s private sector can’t afford to lose.

    “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 . . . ”

    Walker? House Speaker John Boehner? No, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, back in 1937.

  • Steve the Cynic

    So, that NYPost commentator agrees that what the Gang Of Plutocrats in Wisconsin are up to really is about union-busting, not merely balancing the budget, and they think that’s a good thing?

    “…a labor-union/political racket as morally rancid as anything in ‘On the Waterfront,’ fronted by the ‘sick’ teachers and abetted by President Obama and his Organizing for America community agitators.”

    Hmm. When some folks on the left suggested that Bush and Cheney might be considered war criminals, right-wingers shouted that they were being unpatriotic. So this insinuation that Obama is an accessory to organized crime is acceptable rhetoric because,….?

  • Steve the Cynic

    Oh, and about that quote from FDR, things were different in 1937. In those days, the federal government was not, in effect, a wholly owned subsidiary of the US Chamber of Commerce.

  • Raoul

    Private unions have their place for work safety issues in the ’40’s. Today we have new laws to protect workers. The public unions exist only to use Dues to lobby the DFL to ensure their power.. Imagine getting a private company board to spend their own money for workers salaries, then the employees turn around to use that free money to bargain against their employer?

    Even FDR said there is no place for PUBLIC is a conflict of interest and abuse of tax payers.

    If the Union leaders are so honorable, then WHY did they partner up with the Communist party of America at the Fall rally in DC? Why are the SEIU and AFLCIO unions supporting the protests alongside the communists and national socialists in Egypt and Tunsia? Glenn Beck was once again accurate in his predictions.

  • Steve the Cynic

    More bovine feces!

    The protesters in Tunisia and Egypt and elsewhere are neither “communists” nor “national socialsts” (there’s a big difference between those two ideologies, btw). Heck, one of the leaders of the protests in Egypt was a Google exec– about as far from communist as one can get. Once again, Glenn Beck plays fast and loose with the truth.

    And, to say that unions had their place in the ’40s but their time has past because the unjust treatment of workers is not a problem any more is pure snake oil. By that logic we should stop giving kids measles shots, because measles isn’t a problem any more. The problem will come back if we abandon the practice that has been keeping it under control.

  • Patrick

    It’s fairly simple. Since all governments(federal and state) more and more follow a business template, this fight is a premonition of the future. It’s business against labor.

    Workers unite. Servitude is no option.

  • Raul

    How many poor people hire others? None_ who risks their own capital funds to start a business in hopes of making a decent return on their money? Employers.

    What do unions do? Union leaders use most of their dues to lobby for protecting their jobs at the expense of union workers. Today we have labor laws that were not in place when unions why do we need unions today?

  • Yuehan

    Imagine the US military was unionized. We would be screwed. Enough said.