It’s a hard knock life, for unions

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16 Responses

  1. Lev says:

    E.D. is wrong. The unions aren’t that interested in maintaining the status quo. In fact, Labor has wanted a switch to full-on single-payer for decades now–in fact, part of the reason Clintoncare failed was because all the various factions of the left went in different directions in terms of what sort of plan they wanted, and Labor was a big part of that, pushing for single-payer while Clinton went for something rather less revolutionary (though more revolutionary than what’s currently being debated, of course).

    Labor has supported healthcare reform from the beginning, has been a longtime supporter of the public option and wants to go a great deal further than what’s being proposed. They don’t like the Finance Committee’s excise tax idea because they are indeed worried it will erode the benefits that some of their members get, and those members are definitely going to stay in the employer-based system. But Labor would much prefer for the government to provide insurance much cheaper than private insurers can so that their workers can make more money in wages. That’s the reason they support single-payer. Ezra Klein has written about this frequently–a simple Google search could have found numerous entries on this particular wrinkle.

    Now, you can criticize Labor for opposing the excise tax (and I do–it seems like a better way of financing reform than a surcharge on the rich), but let’s get clear what they actually support and why.Report

  2. Jamie says:

    Sinister is not the word I’d use. It’s textbook interest group politics, favoring the interests of the organization over the interest of individual workers. Democrats often justify their fealty to unions by saying that unions represent the interests of workers. Of course, when the interests of the workers and the unions themselves diverge, we see who the unions really favor. Conservatives bring this up because we think that unions are a fundamentally negative influence on the economy at this point in our economic development, and we want progressives to keep this in mind the next time something like EFCA comes up.Report

  3. cfpete says:


    Ford executives have told UAW workers that they need the changes in order to remain competitive with General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC, which obtained better labor deals during their troubles earlier this year.

    For some, that’s a tough sell.

    “If you want to be competitive with GM and Chrysler, go through bankruptcy, and then we’ll understand,” Tammy Johnson of Redford Township said Sunday at UAW Local 600, which was holding an information meeting for UAW members.Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    The Prison Guard union in California does quite a bit to do such like support three-strikes laws as well as Drug Prohibition.

    They probably support health care reform though so they have that going for them.Report

  5. Freddie says:

    First, Lev is right: ED is just factually wrong on whether the large private sector unions oppose health care reform. A brief perusal of their websites would tell you that.

    private sector union density at a historically low 7.6 percent

    This is the incoherence of conservative messaging regarding unions at play, and their delicate dance. Conservatism as an entity as time has gone on, have reached a level of frankly absurd scapegoating of unions, principally because American conservatism is in thrall to corporate interest. But as conservatives have taken to ascribing more and more of the country’s problems to unions, union membership has gone down. It’s very strange. And this brings us to the dance: many on the right want to blame unions for our economic problems, but they don’t want unions to disappear entirely, because they are such an convenient hate object.Report

    • Kyle in reply to Freddie says:

      When I read conservative criticism of unions – admittedly sometimes broad – they tend to be focused on public employee unions and, recently, the UAW.

      So isn’t choosing the private sector, ignoring a sizeable slice of the American economy/workforce? Also, doesn’t looking at overall numbers mask the power that particular unions have within their specific industry?

      In which case, some consistent conservative complaints about unions aren’t quite as ridiculous as you make them out to be?Report

  6. Jamie says:

    Freddie-ED is referring to the union’s refusal to allow even a moderate reform of the employer tax deduction. They support health care reform in general of course-it’s free money for them! But they don’t support Wyden’s Free Choice Act either because it would help the workers, and the unions would no longer be needed to negotiate employee benefit backages because workers could just go purchase health care on the exchanges.
    In other words, they support health care reform, but not any method of cost control that could finance it.Report

  7. North says:

    Well it sucks they’ve come so low. Surely there is a place in the narrative for the misbehaviors of unions as well though? At least partially they’ve earned their reputations for inefficiency and parochialism yes?

    That said they were a fundamental force for a vast expansion of the public wellbeing in their early days and no conservative carping can take that history away from them. If it’s true that they have declined only because of hostile government and corporate unfairness that’s a terrible thing but I’d like to see the math behind that one as opposed to their obsolescence being part of the shift in the economy away from the labor intensive systems of the past.Report

  8. I am not opposed to unions, but I am also quite cognizant of their shortcomings. My own little story of union malfeasance–
    I served on the school board in my hometown years ago. This was during the early 90’s when states and localities were a bit pressed fiscally. Our teacher union was in the final year of a contract in which they’d received annual raises of 3/4 (split); 7; 7. We were in the position of cutting our budget from $10.3 million to about $8.6 million. We asked the union to reopen solely on the percentage, with the explicit provision that if we could not agree to a different number it would remain 7%, as in the original contract. Any savings we could have realized would have resulted in less teacher lay-offs. They flat out refused to even talk to us about it.
    Needless to say, this was not too endearing to us. So, when steps came up for a vote, we denied all of them. It had been past practice to grant them automatically. They grieved us, of course, and lost.Report

  9. Sam M says:

    “With that in mind, I don’t know why anyone is shocked and scandalized to see unions oppose policies which would cost their members health care benefits and thus reduce their bargaining power, even if those policies are ultimately good for unions and their members.”

    What’s the cause and what’s the effect here? You seem to assume that the union’s counterproductive stance resulted from Reagan’s anti-union policies. But maybe, just maybe, Reagan was anti-union because unions did things that hurt workers?

    And by the way, what’s “not sinister” about opposing policies that would help your members because opposing such increases your political power? I mean… hurting people in order to help yourself seems pretty sinister.Report

  10. Barry says:

    “…and for reasons I still don’t entirely understand, hating on unions is a conservative past-time. …”

    Because right-wingism serves the economics elites (with a thick layer of cultural frosting to fool people).

    It’s not at all surprising that right-wingers hate unions. Along with uppity broads, gays that don’t stay in the closet, and un(white)americans.

    “That said they were a fundamental force for a vast expansion of the public wellbeing in their early days and no conservative carping can take that history away from them.”

    Well, right-wingers sure do their best. Although it is hilarious to see people whose goal is winding back the calendar make an exception for a movement which was strong a half-century ago.Report

  11. E.D. Kain says:

    Unions oppose the fundamental changes necessary to actually reform health care. They don’t oppose the current watered-down, no-choice, no competition brand of health care because it doesn’t step on their toes. Ironically, Republican leadership also opposes this sort of reform – it’s something that Democrats (thanks to their union constituency) and Republicans (thanks to their stance of oppose-everything-Democrat) can agree on, paradoxically enough. That’s why Wyden-Bennett, despite 7 Dems and 7 Repubs backing the bill, nevertheless failed to gain traction. Every wonk agrees it was a superior bill – on the left and the right. But it got nowhere.

    You honestly think this had nothing to do with the unions?

    P.S. – I’m not very anti-union as far as conservatives go. Indeed, the only critiques I’ve ever leveled were this one; that there is a unnatural dynamic when the UAW is part-owner of Ford’s competitors; and that public unions have too much power especially in some states. I’m not against organized labor, only against abuse of power by organized labor. I hold them to the same standards I hold any other special interest group. I probably rag on big business more often.

    And yes – to be perfectly factual about this – the unions have opposed taxing employer benefits. They have. They’ve even gone on the attack against Wyden.Report

  12. E.D. Kain says:

    Here is a link about the unions attacking Wyden over his health reform ideas – you can find others:

  13. Scott says:


    Hating on unions is a conservative past time b/c conservatives want the free market system to be a free market. Unions distort the market. If companies collude to fix prices it is bad, while if people form a union to fix wages that is supposed to be good? Regan breaking PATCO was a great thing for this country as the unions finally got a wake call. PATCO knew striking was illegal but did so anyway and got what they deserved.Report

    • North in reply to Scott says:

      In fairness though Scott we should remember that Unions were integral to the rise of workers rights and the huge increase in general well being that went along with that. I’m all for holding unions to account for their excesses but it’s important to give them their due for the good things they’ve done or are doing. Balance in all things.Report

      • Scott in reply to North says:

        Yes I agree that unions did some good things in the past. However that was a long time ago but unions continue to act like this is the 1900’s. My wife in doing convention planning had enough of greedy lazy union workers to last her a lifetime.Report