When Unions started forming in this country, the pendulum of worker wages and benefits was way at the far end of its swing. Over the last 70 years that pendulum has been moving forward, and it has about reached the end of its arc.
From older workers, I have learned that the original need for unions was not so much about wages, but working conditions. It is true, unions got us the 40 hour work week, but maybe more importantly, a safe work place.
After unions fought for better working conditions, they continued trying to get more and more for the workers. Today, there are more salaried white-collar union workers than the more traditional blue collar hourly worker who started the union movement.
When unions started out it was "us against them." The workers against the corporations. Today there are more government union workers than there are union workers working for corporations, and that is the rub.
Union workers employed by for profit corporations bargain with those corporations in hopes to get a bigger portion of the corporation's profits for the labor they give them. That is the premise under which unions started.
Today however, things have changed, and the majority of union workers are bargaining with government, and that could be a city, county, or state. Federal law does not allow union bargaining. So, instead of trying to get a bigger piece of the profits, government unions are trying to get more of the tax money their particular segment of government takes from the people.
Many Americans, even many union workers are looking at just how far the unions have gotten in getting better pay and benefits for their government employed workers, and they are asking if they have gone too far.
There are no sweat shops in government work. Government workers are now paid almost twice as those working in the private sector. Here is a glaring example of what I am talking about. In the city of Madison, Wisconsin the highest paid government employee is John E. Nelson. The mayor, you are thinking? The city administrator maybe? Nope. He is a city bus driver, and in 2009 he took home $159,258.00 in wages, plus benefits.
Now unions might say that he is paid by the people who ride his bus, and that could be true if the Madison Bus Line is not subsidized by the city or state, but even if the union is right, it is predominantly lower income people who pay to ride the bus. That means that Nelson's high wage is coming from poor people.
There are thousands of government employed union workers making over $100,000.00 a year, and yes, that is plus benefits. Because of this wage disparity, people are being elected to office who want to cut back on the wages and benefits those union workers are costing the tax payer.
In the last election, the Republican Party had an overwhelming victory, and much of that victory can be attributed to the fact that many Americans want that pendulum of government worker wages and benefits to stop going up, and hope that it might swing back a ways. Most Americans don't like the idea that our government is running on borrowed money, which we or our children will have to pay back.
Most Americans believe a person should get a fair wage for a good day's work, but when one segment of the work force far outdistances itself from the rest of the country's workers, and those workers left in the dust are helping to pay those out in front of them, things are going to change.
This pendulum thing is not bad. In the beginning of the labor movement it was out of kilter, and that is why unions started up. Now it is out of kilter the other way, and the majority of America is saying we can't continue to have these tax-funded wages increase. So the pendulum will start to swing back.
I don't ever think we will be able to hold that pendulum at just the right place, and when it falls too far back, there will be a need and a desire to have it swing back again. I don't believe it will ever get even close to where it was when unions started out, but for a while, the union workers are going to have to wait for the rest of us to catch up.
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