Saturday, February 19, 2011

The State of the Unions

With the budget battles in Wisconsin, America is taking a harder look at labor unions and collective bargaining. At the heart of the budget battle is the Governor's desire to have public servants, except for police and firefighters, to voluntarily give up collective bargaining as a means to try to address the budget shortfalls Wisconsin is facing. This has labor unions, especially teachers unions, up in arms.

In their defense of the Wisconsin teachers protesting the Governor's proposal, the Left paints a vivid picture of just how important labor unions have been. Have a 40 hour work week? Thank labor unions. Glad to know your children aren't slaving away at a job due to no child labor laws? Thank labor unions. Getting good wages for honest work? Thank labor unions. And I'd be hard-pressed to tell you labor unions haven't been essential to the evolution of the working environment. I wholeheartedly agree with the Left on that point.

But, as Janet Jackson once put it, what have you done for me lately?

The main problem with labor unions today is they're stuck in the past. It's like the high school student who is the star of the football team, but doesn't really do much beyond that. Then, when that football star graduates, there's really nothing waiting for him because he hadn't planned for tomorrow. Labor unions have a rich history, but it's still history. The workplace environment has evolved due in large part to the demands of the workers, union or not. If anything, the workplace has done more in recent years than labor unions could have ever dreamed to accommodate the needs of the employees . Sure, there are still areas where labor and management could be better, but when you compare today's working environment to the working environment of the early 20th Century, you have to admit great strides have been made.

However, not-so-great strides have been made in union circles. Over the past decade or two, union membership has been declining for various reasons. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons is workers don't think they need to be part of a union to defend their rights as workers. Most of the time, they're right. Instead of changing with the times, unions have clung to their pasts trying to make them seem relevant to people who are self-empowered. That's a losing proposition.

I think labor unions may have a vital role in the future of the working person, but not in their current state. Living in the past as a justification for existing in the present is no way to do it. Unions need to change with the times and really work for the people they claim to represent, not just be there to argue over pennies towards a dental plan. Until that happens, labor unions will continue their slow spiral towards irrelevance, becoming extinct not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Or a picket line. You know, whichever they feel more comfortable doing.

No comments: