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Connecticut Unions Feeling Blue

When Democratic governor Dannell P. Malloy told state workers to accept $1.6 billion in cuts and big changes in the pension plan, they balked.  They did more; they formally rejected the contract.

Fine, said the governor; I don’t have any money.  If you won’t cut costs, I’ll cut staff — and the state began sending out thousands of layoff notices.  Stunned unionists rushed back for a revote; this time they accepted the contract and the cutbacks.

Smart decision all around and good for the much put upon Connecticut taxpayers.  It’s unlikely to be the last time Connecticut state workers face cutbacks and layoffs.  But at some point, it’s likely that public workers in Connecticut will start asking themselves the kinds of questions private sector workers have been asking for years.  “If the union can’t really get me a raise or a better pension, why am I paying them dues?”

Organized labor likes to blame its catastrophic, annihilating decline (from 35 percent of the total labor force at the peak in the 1952 to 11.9 percent now) on evil union busting bosses who won’t let workers organize.  No doubt plenty of companies play hardball (as do unions) and that has its effects.  Nevertheless, the biggest problem unions face is the public perception that they don’t add much value.  If the union makes life too tough on the company, the factory goes to China — or the company shuts down, or a non-union competitor gets the bid.

What, then, is the point of paying dues?

Beyond that, labor unions are pretty much committed to the lifetime employment model.  These days, workers change careers and change companies — and social mobility comes more from changing your career than from getting a raise where you work.  What unions are good at is what fewer and fewer workers (and especially young workers) need.

The new era of austerity is going to be teaching that same lesson to state workers (36.2 percent of public sector workers belong to unions).  Civil service workers are going to lose job protection, see health care benefits erode and get less advantageous pension plans — with, as usual, the unions sacrificing the interests of the young to the old. More workers will job hop in order to advance rather than slowly climb up the lifetime seniority ladder. Unions won’t be able to deliver higher wages because there isn’t any money.

Labor’s enemy isn’t Scott Walker.  It isn’t John Kasich.  It isn’t red state philosophy.  It is arithmetic, and the failure of organized labor to figure out a way to add value.  These are problems that stacking the membership of the NLRB can’t solve.

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  • Soul

    For the private unions, we have a family friend that owns an electrical company that uses union workers. What your article mentions is pretty much what he says also. Bud feels todays unions need to specially market themselves as being better quality – maybe similar to a German type approach to engineered goods.

  • Kenny

    Personally I think the Wagner Act needs to be repealed and let unions stand or fall on their own without the tacit backing of government.

  • Daddy would be crying in his grave if he could see what has happened to the American labor movement. He was the Yankee in the family — moved to Chattanooga from Cincinnati to go to prep school when his father died and married my mother at the beginning of the Depression. They were both public school teachers, and when the city started firing teachers left and right and cutting their salaries unilaterally, he organized a local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the first in the South if not the first. He enjoyed the experience so much and was so good at it apparently that he quit his teaching post and went to work full-time for the International Lady Garment Workers Union, and after that as a political operative flying all over the South on DC-3.s. I can remember going to pick him up at Lovell Field as a little boy, him flying in from Little Rock or some such place and how excited my parents would be in the car on the way back home. They loved politics with a passion and whenever state and local elections came round out would come the file boxes filled with 3×5 cards. The house would fill up with people in a party atmosphere as they organized the election right down to the precinct level. What fun they had and how often they won! Estes Kefaufer was a family friend and once I can remember, I must have been ten or twelve, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. was at a party in our house, everyone drinking and laughing and talking nothing but politics.

    My point? Daddy was an educated man — had a “Harvard” accent, they used to joke, which was just another way of saying he came from up North and had a college degree. He was a hard working man, conscientious, dedicated, honest to a fault, and with a good sense of humor; the same could be said of most of his “brothers,” as they called each other.. Those kind of people have disappeared from the American labor movement. And it shows, just as Charles Murray predicted it would. Which is not to deny the labor movement always had its faults. There were thugs to be fought, sometimes quite literally, and communists who had to be identified and weeded out. There may have even been a fundamental flaw in the very concept of collective bargaining; our family used to argue about such things across the dinner table, where talking religion and politics was the main entertainment. Yet in an imperfect world that old labor movement, warts and all, helped lay the foundations for the New Deal and the prosperity working people enjoyed in the 1950’s and early 60’s.

    Looking forward, I see the need for a truly national political party that can effectively represent the interests of labor in the halls of Congress. Political organizine is the only kind of organizing that needs to be done. We need to reform trade and immigration law to protect our wges and rewrite the Fair Labor Standards Act to reflect fifty years of progress in labor-saving technology. Then, and only then, will the eighty-five percent of the people who make their livings with their hands and their feet share in the fruits of our amazing economy.

    The times are getting so bad that I might even consider voting for Sarah Palin if she decides to run. At least she knows first-hand the world of hard physical work most Americans live in. And if she is truly a rogue candidte who knows in which direction she may go? It couldn’t possibly be worse than the direction Obama is taking us, or that a Perry or Romney would choose.

  • A

    The name is Molloy.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @A: Noted. Correction being made; interns being flogged. Senior management scheduled for weekend retreat at glamorous country estate to reflect on the need for higher standards among the junior staff.

  • CT Citizen

    The name is correct in the article. Gov. Dannel MALLOY
    In addition to thousands of layoff notices sent out, the governor put public pressure upon the state employees by cutting vital services many of which will not be restored despite the new union agreement. The regulations on how unions vote and how the votes are counted had to be changed as well.
    CT is currently the wealthiest state in the country. It currently has the largest income gap between wealth and poverty as well as the biggest difference in education scores for wealthy towns vs poor ones. New Haven has the 4th highest murder rate in the nation. Prisons are being closed and corrections officers reduced. Prisoners escaping from halfway houses happen regularly. Brutal home invasions are happening even in upscale neighborhoods.
    CT has plenty of money. How it is allocated is the problem not union workers trying to make a living in a safe environment.

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