The Union Difference

Once again–because public employee union leaders are doing their best to conflate the two–let’s re-emphasize that there’s a difference between private sector and public employee unions. Further, as Dan Yorke brought up this morning, despite proclamations made at rallies, most of the middle-class isn’t unionized (nor intends to be). Starting with the latter, while it’s true that public employee union members are in the middle-class (some are even in the upper middle class), that’s different than implying that most of the middle class are union members. They’re not

In 2010, the union membership rate–the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union–was 11.9 percent, down from 12.3 percent a year earlier, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today….In 2010, 7.6 million public sector employees belonged to a union, compared with 7.1 million union workers in the private sector. The union membership rate for public sector workers (36.2 percent) was substantially higher than the rate for private sector workers (6.9 percent). Within the public sector, local government workers had the highest union membership rate, 42.3 percent. This group includes workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as teachers, police officers, and fire fighters. Private sector industries with high unionization rates included transportation and utilities (21.8 percent), telecommunications (15.8 percent), and construction (13.1 percent).

Second, Jonah Goldberg summarizes the difference between public and private unions:

Traditional, private-sector unions were born out of an often-bloody adversarial relationship between labor and management. It’s been said that during World War I, U.S. soldiers had better odds of surviving on the front lines than miners did in West Virginia coal mines. Mine disasters were frequent; hazardous conditions were the norm. In 1907, the Monongah mine explosion claimed the lives of 362 West Virginia miners. Day-to-day life often resembled serfdom, with management controlling vast swaths of the miners’ lives. Before unionization and many New Deal-era reforms, Washington had little power to reform conditions by legislation.
Government unions have no such narrative on their side. Do you recall the Great DMV cave-in of 1959? How about the travails of second-grade teachers recounted in Upton Sinclair’s famous schoolhouse sequel to “The Jungle”? No? Don’t feel bad, because no such horror stories exist.

As Goldberg explains, President Kennedy saw political opportunity in allowing government workers to unionize so he proclaimed that they could via Executive Order. We know that even Franklin Roosevelt didn’t think public employee unionization was a good idea. Neither, as Goldberg writes, did George Meany (the first AFL-CIO leader), who said that it is “impossible to bargain collectively with the government.” Because there is a huge difference in what goes on at the bargaining table between a private union/employer and a public union/government bureaucrat. Goldberg again:

Private-sector unions fight with management over an equitable distribution of profits. Government unions negotiate with friendly politicians over taxpayer money, putting the public interest at odds with union interests, and, as we’ve seen in states such as California and Wisconsin, exploding the cost of government.

That’s the fundamental difference and that’s why–despite my personal experience–I do support private unions, but not public.
ADDENDUM: Yorke makes the cogent point that RI union members are actually doing themeselves a disservice by calling for solidarity with their Wisconsin “brothers and sisters.” For while the Wisconsin members have been dodging realistic contracts for some time now, RI unions have “come to the table” and made concessions and currently contribute to their own benefits at a level just now being approached by the Wisconsin members.

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Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

England learned a lesson about unions when it took over, and consolidated, much of the auto industry into British Motor Corporation (BMC).
The result was interminable union problems. Perhaps it was the temper of the times, but they found that the government could not face down the unions with political success. BMC is now history. Austins,Morrises and MGs have all disappeared. VW owns Bentley, BMW owns Rolls Royce. Ford has given up on Jaguar and I don’t know who owns it now. BMW bought Range Rover, that was such a disaster (Range Rover had always been subsidized and had never made a profit) that BMW’s CEO was run out of office. I think Arabs own Rover now.

bella
bella
10 years ago

Somebody on PRO actually said something nice about R.I. Unions?
Either I’m ducking flying pigs the rest of the day, or Dan is dealing his bosses some F-you over the jobbing he’s taking from them.

RIch
RIch
10 years ago

“Government unions have no such narrative on their side. Do you recall the Great DMV cave-in of 1959? How about the travails of second-grade teachers recounted in Upton Sinclair’s famous schoolhouse sequel to “The Jungle”? No? Don’t feel bad, because no such horror stories exist”
Maybe not at the DMV or Mrs. Jones second grade class but that argument doesnt hold water when it comes to cops and firefighters…
Before the IAFF firefighters were forced to work 6 days a week 24hrs a day with one day off. Firefighters died due to substandard, worn out gear which cities and towns were loathed to replace. Firefighters died due to smoke inhalation because cities deemed that SCBA’s were to expensive and a luxury they couldnt afford. Trucks and equipment were often times old and in disrepair and unreliable. Ladders failed, dropping firefighters to their deaths before unions fought for mandatory testing and the list goes on.
Oh, those were the old’n days. Not anymore…
Not so fast, watch this video of a city council trying to deny the replacement of old worn out, unsafe turnout gear.
flashovertv.firerescue1.com/Media/2815-FFs-Told-to-Buy-Own-Turnouts/

Mike Cappelli
Mike Cappelli
10 years ago

JOB POSTING:
City of Providence Firefighters
Salary: $55,000 for 4 twelve hour days/wk.
401k: 100% match up to 6%
Healthcare: employee pays 30% of prem. Family plan is $1400 per month ($420), individual is $500 per mo ($150).
Anybody want to bet if this was posted how many people would apply for the jobs?

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

I buy my own business clothes.
Athletes buy their own gear.
Hairdressers buy their own $500 shear sets.
Soldiers buy their own uniforms.
I probably would have voted to give them the gear, but it’s really not all that outrageous, RIch. They could deduct it from their taxes anyway. Stop being so sanctimonious about the profession. Michael – isn’t this the type of firefighter grandstanding you said you were against in another thread? All that’s missing is some hackneyed throwaway line about them running into buildings while everybody else is running out.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

RIch writes:
“Before the IAFF firefighters were forced to work 6 days a week 24hrs a day with one day off.”
And well before that, firefighters were street gangs that fought it out in the street over who would get to loot the house before putting out the fire.
Was it the unions who straightened that out? Or, were other forces at work?

michael
michael
10 years ago

The street gangs were hired by insurance companies.
Mike I could do a point counterpoint all night with different job descriptions and compensation, and who would apply, and who would be qualified, but I really don’t feel like it.

John
John
10 years ago

Please don’t forget or gloss over a critical point: What a union member contributes to his or her pension is, for purposes of comparing compensation with the private sector, immaterial. The true cost is what counts — the amount which, using a realistic long term portfolio return assumption, should be contributed each year to fund a worker’s defined pension and post retirement health care benefits over that person’s working life (otherwise you’re running a Ponzi scheme). When properly calculated in this manner, it becomes clear just how great is the disparity between total private sector and total public sector compensation (salary plus properly accounted for benefits).

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

“Maybe not at the DMV or Mrs. Jones second grade class but that argument doesnt hold water when it comes to cops and firefighters…”
Ahh, so much for that union solidarity. The brotherhood. Throw them teachers and state employees under the bus, but don’t touch them firemen.
Dan, to be fair, where do you draw the line on the gear that the employee should supply for themselves and which ones should the business/city purchase? Maybe soldiers buy their own uniforms, but they don’t buy their weapons and other protective gear. The firefighters do get a clothing allowance and maybe it’s excessive and/or unnecessary, I don’t know. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Rich to complain about a lack of proper breathing apparatus. If I was a firefighter and the town refused to supply breathing gear? Screw that, I’m not going into the burning building. I’ll just sit outside on the right side of the wind and aim a hose all day.

michael
michael
10 years ago

Soldiers do not buy their uniforms. And in Wisconsin, where police and firefighters are not part of the collective bargaining stripping, they showed up and supported the state workers.
Come to think of it, though, I didn’t see a whole lot of teachers or State workers when I was walking around in circles at the Mayors Convention a few years back.
Some people always seem to do the heavy lifting.
Progress, not perfection.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

“Come to think of it, though, I didn’t see a whole lot of teachers or State workers”
Oh there’s that solidarity thing again. So why in the world are they protesting in Rhode Island? For Wisconsin? For solidarity? They don’t even have that in *this* state!

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Michael – “Soldiers do not buy their uniforms.”
Well, we’re getting into semantics here. They get a fixed clothing allowance which may or may not cover the cost, depending on how they take care of their clothing. But they do technically buy and own their own uniforms.
Patrick – I don’t have a hard line that I draw, sorry if I was unclear. I would have voted to supply them with the gear just to keep up morale and because it doesn’t have much functionality outside of the job. I was just making the point that the city’s actions weren’t an attack on labor or workers rights or some such nonsense.
Andrew – We are actually giving the same advice here: “Make better arguments.” So in a way, I am actually encouraging the quality of public debate. I ask you not to throw around words like “public forum,” even though I know you meant it in a non-legal sense, because many of the progressives here confusedly believe it is legally possible for a non-government entity to infringe upon their free speech rights and have accused me of it in the past.

RJ
RJ
10 years ago

For more clarification:
The Army provides a set of uniforms and accessories to new enlisted soldiers. Soldiers are then paid annual allowances based on how long it takes each item to wear out, dividing the cost by how many years the item is expected to last
For men, the new basic annual replacement allowance is $370.80, up $3.60 from last fiscal year, while the standard annual replacement allowance is $531.80, up $6.20 from last year.
For women, the basic allowance is $410.40, down $10.80, and the standard allowance is $585.87, down $15.33.
Officers do not get an allowance; must by their uniforms and the expenses are not tax deductible.
Retired members do not get an allowance.
Common equipment is issued to the individual and must be returned when leaving (or paid for if lost/damaged).
For pension purposes, only base salary is used (and then an average of the last 3 years under the 1986 changes) — none of the allowances or other supplements to pay can be used to determine pension base amount. Members have the option of taking unused vacation at retirement or selling it back (at only the base salary minus 25%), but that is capped at no more than 60 days — and vacation is capped at 60 days unless deployed when you are allowed a carryover for a certain period (and you can not sell back unused vacation while you are still in the military – only at retirement – so you essentially must use it or lose it).
COLA is same as social security so there have been no COLA increases for military retirees last 2 years. Health care premium borne by the retiree (in addition to co-pays/deductibles) is around 5-10% while dental is 100% (no longer able to use military dental clinics).

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Thanks for the info, RJ!

Rich
Rich
10 years ago

I merely pointed out there is a “safety” factor at play with some public unions. Furthermore, I never said DMV an teachers shouldnt be unionized. My larger point is: Politicians will exploit workers just the same as CEO’s. About street gang fire depts. You raise an excellent point for me. They were paid by ins. companies. In a prime example of why the Fire Dept. ought not to be privatized, they would hide hydrants from eachother and literally fist fight in front of the fire. Not to put it out, but to be able to tell the Ins. co they were the ones who tried to put it out, so they get paid. What was the result? Citizens watched their houses burn. What fixed it? Municipal fire depts supported by the taxpayers. You will NEVER hear me say that I or any other firefighter is a hero. If I died in the line of duty (I probably wont, Im not being dramatic) Let no man call me a hero. I am a family man doing a job that I am fairly compensated for. Im not asking for more, infact, I made concessions. I love this job. Its stressful, its sad, its exciting, its honorable, its dangerous but its a JOB. You pay me for it and as a man with integtity, I try my best to do it well for you. You have a family to feed, so do I. I dont begrudge you for being concerned with your taxes that pay my salary. But we both have kids to feed so dont begrudge me for trying to provide the best livelihood for my children as well. We can negotiate wages with out tearing eachother down. I dont want to tear you down. I want to serve you well for… Read more »

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

I have heard from firefighters who were present that in several instances in RI, unionized firefighters engaged in similar fisticuffs, disconnected hoses, and other obstructive tactics in order to prevent volunteer firefighters from doing their job in the incident.
Let’s see how Michael rationalizes that.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

“About street gang fire depts. You raise an excellent point for me. They were paid by ins. companies. In a prime example of why the Fire Dept. ought not to be privatized, they would hide hydrants from eachother and literally fist fight in front of the fire. Not to put it out, but to be able to tell the Ins. co they were the ones who tried to put it out, so they get paid. What was the result? Citizens watched their houses burn. What fixed it? Municipal fire depts supported by the taxpayers.”
Whatever the accuracy of these incidents from the mid-1800’s, it is in no way an argument against privatization of fire services in 2011. There is no reason why a private fire department could not have exclusive jurisdiction over a city or county, and there is no reason why people couldn’t contract on an individual level with fire protection companies. There wouldn’t be “fisticuffs in the streets” if people simply treated it like insurance and contracted ahead of time. You don’t see car insurance companies fighting each other in the streets over who gets to handle an accident. This is a ridiculous caricature of the libertarian position on the issue.

EMT
EMT
10 years ago

There is no reason why a private fire department could not have exclusive jurisdiction over a city or county
Not too many people know it, but North Smithfield’s FD is a private company- and they’re unionized. So privatization doesn’t necessarily “prevent” that.
and there is no reason why people couldn’t contract on an individual level with fire protection companies.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39516346/ns/us_news-life/
Is that the kind of thing you want happening here? Do you think so little of anyone else in the world that you’re ok with this?

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

EMT, that’s actually a good illustration of the system I’m suggesting working in practice. Oh, but somebody lost their home because they didn’t pay the insurance, so the progressives will call it a market failure and demand socialization to make sure it never ever happens again, i.e. nanny-statism. I suppose you’re against any type of private insurance, since similar catastrophic effects could result from lacking ANY type of insurance at any time. Would you be campaigning for universal flood insurance if somebody’s house was flooded? Universal theft insurance for somebody’s missing television? How is fire any different? If you want to gamble by not insuring, you can lose your property. That’s the whole point of insurance.

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