A sad day for the union movement

Opinion: Columns

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By John Hubbuch

I read that if the Village of Oak Park management and employees represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 couldn't reach an agreement on a new contract by this past Saturday, 76 workers would walk off the job. It was just going to be for Saturday and Monday for non-essential workers. So there would be no need to hire scabs or get the Pinkertons to break some heads. But vehicle stickers would have to wait until Tuesday.

The parties are agreed on a 1 percent raise and another 1 percent for merit, but the union wants to be able to grieve the merit because it fears hardly anyone will get a merit increase. The other big issue concerns a loss of overtime pay if holiday, vacation or sick days are used the same week.

It's all kind of sad — the poor union forced to fight for table scraps. With no public support even in union-friendly Oak Park and a high area unemployment rate, the union bargaining power is pretty weak. Hence a two-day strike threat — actually one and a half days since village offices close at noon on Saturday. These are tough times for the union movement. But it wasn't always that way.

I remember the good times for the union movement. My high school history text books heaped glowing praise on the heroic efforts of unions who fought child sweatshops, 16-hour days and horribly unsafe working conditions that killed and maimed American workers. In the titanic struggle between American labor and rapacious capitalists, how could you not support the workers? Big Bill Heywood and the Wobblies. Samuel Gompers organizing the cigar workers and the AFL. Eugene Debs going to jail for his role in the Pullman Strike. John L. Lewis and United Mine Workers — he of the bushy eyebrows. Walter Reuther and the UAW. Cesar Chavez. The Wagner Act. Taft Hartley Act. The labor movement was essential to the creation of the American middle class. The promise of the American Dream was realized in the movement.

But somewhere along the path of history, the promise faded and the tide of public support began to run against the unions. There was no single cause — globalization, computers, greater efficiency, the decline of smokestack industries, an economy switching over from goods to services, and many other reasons. Today only 7 percent of the private sector is unionized.

The movement is making its last stand in public sector unions like the SEIU. But even these unions' days are numbered. The union movement has lost control of its own narrative. Unions are pilloried for their sweet pensions, featherbedding, high salaries and perceived sanctuary for lazy, incompetent workers. The unions have tried to fight back through political action, but the failure to impeach Wisconsin's governor evidences limitations on that strategy.

Besides, the Koch Brothers can write a single check that exceeds a whole union's yearly political action fund. Like Robert E. Lee's army wandering in Virginia in the spring of 1865, it's only a matter of time.

So today I come not to praise, but to bury the union movement. Let us mourn this sad day.

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Reader Comments

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continued from Oak Park  

Posted: July 13th, 2012 5:09 PM

...giant inflatable rats?

Rich and Rude from Oak Park  

Posted: July 13th, 2012 5:08 PM

Jason, you seem to look down on 401k's, yet they are portable and give a least a modicum of control over your retirement funds. And, mostly importantly, they are real money here and now (even if you can't touch it yet), not dependent on the financial viability of the sponsoring entity several decades down the road. Why are unions so scared of them? And besides, why on earth would you want to place your retirement security in the hands of people you publicly portray with a giant inflata

Luke ScottWalker from Oak Park  

Posted: July 13th, 2012 4:27 PM

Ned, thank you for very succinctly & correctly articulating the issue. The only area I'd find fault with is the fact there are substantially more public union entities slurping at the public trough than there are billionaires.

Ned Ryerson from River Forest  

Posted: July 13th, 2012 3:34 PM

I think its funny you equate the purple people eaters who live off coerced government employee dues with the progressive union movements. Being able to bargain against the taxpayer for unique services is a far cry from those who sacrificed against private business for such rights as weekends, child labor and work conditions. And remember, for every Koch brother, their is some teachers union wanting to be paid more and work less. Hardly the same as the glory days.


Posted: July 13th, 2012 12:04 PM

"[O]r a 401(k) for the Rich types"? Jason, your ignorance would be laughable if it were not so sad.


Posted: July 13th, 2012 11:33 AM

@Jason. Unions spend MUCH more than the Koch boys (R's) or George Soros (D's): http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/OTUS/hot-dogs-slick-ads-unions-spent-44-billion/story?id=16747206#.UABLRJHYBI4. Could you imagine what "unions" could do if they used that money to open new "union" businesses? Of course they never do. Why? Because they don't know how to manage a business without making it go BK in a couple of years. Are they simply parasites that just like to whine? Parasites always kill their hosts.


Posted: July 13th, 2012 11:19 AM

Moderators, thanks for letting us post here :) Author wrote: "Besides, the Koch Brothers can write a single check that exceeds a whole union's yearly political action fund". First he insults scores of union workers, then takes delight that one(or 2) rich person trumps the voice of millions of workers - sums it up pretty well. Signing off - sorry if I hogged the forum. Best wishes - Jason


Posted: July 13th, 2012 10:52 AM

Jason, you have no idea what I make. If you favor a union, you have to ask yourself why? Because true worth is rewarded. Unions are the antithesis of a performance-based culture, which most union jobs should be.


Posted: July 13th, 2012 10:24 AM

OPRFDad, you sound like a high output(performance)kinda person. How come union workers are making more than you then? By your logic, you are not that high of a performer after all or your boss would pay you more, much more, maybe even more than a union worker right? Oh, I know; you will say that you already make more. Most non-union workers don't, even the "high performance" workers. BTW most union workers are great workers who enjoy their jobs due to fair wages and benefits(happy/performance)


Posted: July 13th, 2012 10:09 AM

@Jason. You wrote at 8:20 on 7/12: "BTW, union workers are highly trained and in most trades, they must go through 4 years apprentice training..." Which SEIU job at VOP has this sort of "training"? Why are you comparing public and private union employees? BTW, insurance agents, beauticians, etc. have licensing and Cont'g Ed requirements with the state - more than 95% of the SEIU people with VOP.


Posted: July 13th, 2012 9:59 AM

Oh, poor union. Imagine that, pay linked to actual performance - the horror! And not being able to get special pay if you use vacation or sick leave in a week - terrible, these poor union folk are being treated like employees in every other non-union job. Time for the unions and their extortionist ways to go, particularly from the public sector where there is absolutely no need. Unios - representing the worst and dullest.


Posted: July 13th, 2012 9:19 AM

I guess it boils down to this. Some would abandon unions and thrown themselves at the feet of the corporate CEO's of this world and pray for benevolence. These CEO's are the same folks that make up to 380% more than an average worker in their own companies (http://www.aflcio.org/Corporate-Watch/CEO-Pay-and-the-99). Not me mister. Our country was founded with built-in checks and balances. The same applies in the workplace. Don't throw away your checks. GO UNION!!!


Posted: July 13th, 2012 8:42 AM

Unions dug their own grave protecting the incompetent, outlandish comp agreements for unskilled labor, and attempting to stifle productivity gains due to technological advancements. Unions certainly did some good back in the day in advancing better working conditions, but let's not kid ourselves that they serve much of any purpose today other than creating a huge rift between management, shareholders, and employees through blackmail.


Posted: July 13th, 2012 8:21 AM

Entitlement ??? When you agree to work for someone and you both agree that the compensation includes both an hourly wage as well as a pension (or a 401k for the Rich types) are you not entitled to both? These benefits were agreed to by both parties - a contract. I suppose Rude & Rich approves of employers reneging on their part of the deal. For me that is stealing. Rich, are you ok losing your pay and/or 401K for the current wave of Political Correctness and union worker witch hunts?

Rich and Rude from Oak Park  

Posted: July 12th, 2012 5:52 PM

Comments like Jason's typify the unblinking sense of entitlement by unions in the face of the financial reality that such sweetheart pension deals are not sustainable. Such deals pushed US steel, auto, and airline companies to the brink of bankruptcy and beyond, and now we are starting to see it with municipalities such as San Bernardino and Stockton, where police could retire at 50 with free health care for life. Now workers there are facing the prospect of losing those benefits completely


Posted: July 12th, 2012 8:20 AM

Putting aside the obvious sarcasm and cynicism of this piece, I don't see that the benefits and pay are getting better for non-union workers. They are getting worse in a lot of respects. How's that 401K employer match looking now? BTW, union workers are highly trained and in most trades, they must go through 4 years apprentice training- 8000 hours in-class and the rest on-the-job. They are good, knowledgeable workers who happen to have a say in workplace safety and compensation. Jealous?

Union and Proud  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 10:48 PM

How entertaining. If 3rd world countries get unions they will have to stop paying $1 a day to child workers and pay them real wages and benefits. How sad would that be if CEO's and shareholders couldn't pocket all that money anymore.

Ex Union Member from Oak Park  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 12:28 PM

Interesting piece, John, but I think you're looking at it wrong. It's not a sad day. It's a happy day because, braying from the left aside, today's worker (& that means everyone who works...line, mgr,director, executive) is much smarter & better equipped to act on their own. We've evolved past the need unions filled in the early 1900's, & we aren't going back. If private unions are to survive, it'll be overseas & in the 3rd world. Public unions, conversly, should never have been allowed at all.

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