Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Do Unions Have "Political Penis Envy"?

[...] Once effective, a powerful legislation ensuring worker's rights will totally nullify the existence of unions altogether. However, what union would want to lose power? In states where they have a commanding power in the legislature, they thrive on their newly found existence. To me, it merely amounts to nothing more than political penis envy on their part.

That was my good friend Ryan Gene Williams, of Orange Juice, talking about why unions supposedly REALLY DON'T want the state and federal governments regulating workers' rights. Wow, and who would have guessed that the unions suffer from "political penis envy"?

For more on why my good friend is wrong about unions and the political process, follow me down below...

(Cross-posted at Calitics)

So what else does Ryan Gene have to say about unions and the workers who join them? Here are his thoughts about pensions:

Well, pensions are fun little things aren't they? Let's put in 30 years at work and then get paid for sitting around watching CSI reruns on cable during retirement. The obvious argument for that is if you aren't working, you shouldn't get paid. Pension lovers will then, of course, scream that it's their right for getting paid while sitting on their ass doing nothing.

The big problem I have with that, especially in the public sector, is what about my generation? It was the baby-boomer "all about me" generation that brought in pensions in the first place, but my generation (their kids of the baby-boomers) will have to foot the bill for everything going on today. While our parents are living high and mighty in retirement, we're going to have to pay the inevitable higher taxes that come along with it, and help pull our cities out of bankruptcy for engaging in such asinine practices to begin with. We're not going to have the so-called luxury of pensions because down the road we won't be able to afford it. My generation, and those younger than us, won't have the luxury of Social Security either but, that's a discussion for another day.

Well, actually it was that "all about me" Greatest Generation that brought about pensions during World War II. And oh yes, this was originally brought about when wage freezes prohibited outright increases in employee pay. But anyways, what is so wrong about retired employees getting the just rewards of all their hard work? And what's all this talk of "higher taxes" and "bankruptcy"? These workers earned their retirement benefits, and it's their right to collect.

And oh yeah, perhaps if certain municipalities didn't underfund their pension funds for public employees, then there wouldn't be a crisis to whine about!

But anyways, back to the "penis envy" of the unions:

What's that old phrase that everyone loves to say but never do? Call your congressman, is it? If the federal (or state government) can make a law, ensuring that all of us pay taxes every year, or that no more than 2000 sheep shall be allowed on Hollywood Blvd., then how hard can it be for lawmakers to legislate worker's rights?

I doubt that'll ever happen. Once effective, a powerful legislation ensuring worker's rights will totally nullify the existence of unions altogether. However, what union would want to lose power? In states where they have a commanding power in the legislature, they thrive on their newly found existence. To me, it merely amounts to nothing more than political penis envy on their part.

I think we already have government laws protecting workers' rights. And after all, if it weren't for the unions advocating workers' rights legislation, I doubt that we'd have a 40 hour work week, a minimum wage, and collective bargaining in this nation. Nope, we need unions because unions allow for workers to organize and form a strong alliance to negotiate against the strong alliance that is the corporation.

OK, so Ryan Gene still doesn't want to believe me? Then read this from the Economic Policy Institute:

An extensive array of labor laws and regulations protects workers in the labor market and the workplace. From the National Labor Relations Act and Social Security Act of 1935 to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, labor unions have been instrumental in securing labor legislation and standards. However, beyond their role in initiating and advocating enactment of these laws and regulations, unions have also played an important role in enforcing workplace regulations. Unions have provided labor protections for their members in three important ways: 1) they have been a voice for workers in identifying where laws and regulations are needed, and have been influential in getting these laws enacted; 2) they have provided information to members about workers' rights and available programs; and 3) they have encouraged their members to exercise workplace rights and participate in programs by reducing fear of employer retribution, helping members navigate the necessary procedures, and facilitating the handling of workers' rights disputes (Weil 2003; Freeman and Medoff 1984; Freeman and Rogers 1999).

Unions have played a prominent role in the enactment of a broad range of labor laws and regulations covering areas as diverse as overtime pay, minimum wage, the treatment of immigrant workers, health and retirement coverage, civil rights, unemployment insurance and workers' compensation, and leave for care of newborns and sick family members. Common to all of these rules is a desire to provide protections for workers either by regulating the behavior of employers or by giving workers access to certain benefits in times of need (Weil 2003; Davis 1986; Amberg 1998). Over the years, these rules have become mainstays of the American workplace experience, constituting expressions of cherished public values (Gottesman 1991; Freeman and Medoff 1984).

Less well recognized perhaps, is the important role that unions play in ensuring that labor protections are not just "paper promises" at the workplace. Government agencies charged with the enforcement of regulations cannot monitor every workplace nor automate the issuance of insurance claims resulting from unemployment or injury. In practice, the effectiveness of the implementation of labor protections depends on the worker's decision to act. This is done either by reporting an abuse or filing a claim. Unions have been crucial in this aspect by giving workers the relevant information about their rights and the necessary procedures, but also by facilitating action by limiting employer reprisals, correcting disinformation, aggregating multiple claims, providing resources to make a claim, and negotiating solutions to disputes on behalf of workers (Freeman and Rogers 1999; Weil 2003; Hirsch, et al. 1997).

So can one still say that unions have "political penis envy"? No, in fact, unions EMPOWER workers by ensuring that their voices are heard. So basically, to answer Ryan Gene's initial question:

Is that something the Democrats could legislate both at the state and federal levels?

... I must answer that this has already been done, and that unions have so far been the best ENFORCEMENT MECHANISM to ensure that workers' rights are protected.

And oh yes, what if folks don't want to be in a union?

We can play the "what if" game until the cows come home, but let's say that I had to get a job at Ralphs and bag groceries? Or since I'm working towards my teaching credential right now, if I wanted to be a teacher and not join the union, would I not be able to work? I should be able to work in any profession with, or without, a union card. Shouldn't that be my right? What if we go on strike? How would I be able to work and make money? Of course in that case, I'd go to work anyway.

At least I'm holding up my end of the bargain as a respectful employee. The boss man might find it worth it and promote me... which would be an awesome benefit! Plus, think of all the cash I'd collect from the raise alone. That's collective bargaining... hehe. ;)

Ummm... Again, all those benefits WOULDN'T BE THERE if there weren't a union there. These workers like their jobs because of the high wages and good benefits, so why not ask the workers to be part of a collective bargaining group that ensures that these high wages and good benefits are protected? Maybe the "boss man" will temporarily reward the "scabs", but what happens to the "scabs" when they're suddenly demoted, or mistreated, or fired? Where can they turn for help? Oops, no union to help them collectively bargain for better.

So can we NOW see why unions help, and why they're not just suffering from "penis envy"?

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