What the Ohio vote means

By Gerald W. McEntee
November 11, 2011

By Gerald W. McEntee
The views expressed are his own.

The voters of Ohio sent a clear message on Tuesday.  They overwhelmingly defeated Gov. John Kasich’s radical attempt to end collective bargaining for public employees in Ohio and brought an end to one of the most flagrant “bait and switch” efforts seen in recent American history.

Last November, voters in states such as Florida, Ohio, Maine, Michigan and Wisconsin elected governors and legislators who campaigned on the issue of jobs.  Yet in state after state, and in the nation’s capitol as well, these newly elected politicians launched an unprecedented assault on the basic rights of working Americans.  Instead of creating jobs, they sought to eliminate public sector collective bargaining, restrict the rights of citizens to vote, provide unneeded tax cuts to the wealthy, privatize vital services and promote public employee layoffs.  All of these efforts were designed more to reward their Wall Street-backed campaign donors than to serve the public who had every reason to expect that the focus would be on jobs.

Ohio and Wisconsin were the breeding grounds of these anti-worker campaigns.  Newly elected governors Scott Walker and John Kasich both rejected federal high-speed rail funds that cost their states tens of thousands of new jobs.  Both put through unwise tax cuts for the wealthiest businesses and individuals in their states and then sought draconian cuts in services to make up the difference in lost revenue.  Both signed highly restrictive voting laws, designed to keep seniors, minorities and students from participating in the political process.  And both targeted public employees and the rights of workers to collectively bargain for wages, working conditions and safety on the job.  They claimed these changes were needed to promote economic growth, but voters rightly saw the proposals as small-minded efforts to silence workers and reward the Wall Street backers who bankroll political campaigns.

Rather than putting people to work and revitalizing their state economies, Kasich and Walker attempted to falsely paint a picture of police, teachers, nurses and firefighters bankrupting their states with high salaries and lavish benefits.  They sought to divide workers, suggesting that private sector workers were making all the sacrifices during the economic downturn.  “Public employees can’t be haves, while private sector employees are have-nots,” Scott Walker told reporters.  But this fiction proved hard to sell.  Public employees had not caused the economy to tank, and the public has come to sense that Walker and Kasich were less interested in creating real solutions to the problems facing their states than in targeting unions for political reasons.

Governor Kasich, a former member of Congress, Fox News personality, and managing director at Lehman Brothers, pushed through massive tax giveaways in his first days in office – including an end to the inheritance tax for millionaires – and then slashed $3.1 billion in aid to Ohio’s cities and public services to make up the difference in lost revenues.  In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker followed the same pattern, cutting taxes for the businesses and individuals at the top and then claiming cuts in public programs were necessary because of the need to balance the state’s budget.

In response, both governors inspired massive protests, the largest in the history of both states, with tens of thousands of citizens turning out to reject policies designed to reward the few at the expense of the public at large.  These public demonstrations were a precursor of the Occupy Wall Street movement, as Wisconsin and Ohio working men and women took decisive action to alert the nation to the attack being made on working families and their ability to achieve the American Dream.

The voters in both states wanted jobs, not attacks on workers.  Rather than improving things in their states, Walker and Kasich have been dragging down job creation in the Buckeye and Badger states.  In September alone, as the country was adding 160,000 jobs, Ohio lost nearly 22,000 jobs while Wisconsin lost more than 12,000.  Similar losses were seen in other states with governors who have attacked public employees, including Rick Snyder’s Michigan and Chris Christie’s New Jersey.  Those two states lost more than 11,000 jobs in September.

Now the voters in both Wisconsin and Ohio have spoken.  In August, Wisconsin voters defeated two of Scott Walker’s allies and eliminated his working majority in the state Senate.  Ohio voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected John Kasich’s cornerstone legislation to deny workers a voice on the job, cut essential programs and eliminate collective bargaining.  The message to politicians across the country should be clear:  Jobs need to be the priority, not attacks on workers and the programs citizens rely upon in good times and bad.  It’s a message that should not be lost on the members of the Congressional supercommittee, who appear to be considering deep cuts in Medicare, Social Security and other programs supported by the vast majority of Americans.  Voters will not tolerate unnecessary cuts in vital programs and attacks on working families while the very wealthy are rewarded with tax breaks they neither deserve nor need.

PHOTO: Firefighters Thomas Eickelberger (L) and Todd Schlenk work at a phone bank urging voters to vote against a bill that limits collective bargaining rights for public safety in Hamilton, Ohio, October 20, 2011. REUTERS/Mary Wisniewski


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>>”If I am the newest employee, but also the brightest and most useful of my peers, in a non-union shop I will be better paid and more quickly promoted. How much I can earn is limited solely by how much potential the boss, manager or owner sees in my services and wants to keep them in his/her company.”

Well, there’s lots to unpack there

For one thing, it’s hardly universally true that managers promote and reward the best and brightest. They may be just as likely to promote the loudest, tallest, or best suckups or golf partners. And of course it’s well documented that they tend to promote the whitest and male-est. It doesn’t help your case to overstate the degree of meritocracy *actually* (as opposed to “theoretically”) present in real workplaces. Unions — and seniority — are in part an effort to address exactly these sorts of concerns about fairness and actual merit.

You’re also forgetting about the other limit to how much you can earn: whether you have any individual bargaining power. Most people don’t have much, or don’t have any expertise in exercising what they do have. In many (probably the vast majority) of cases, it’s not even possible to get the basic information that might help you make your case (like how much your lazier co-workers might be making). That information is “confidential”: i.e., available to your boss, but not to you. That’s an institutionalized power disparity that keeps you from earning what you’re worth.

No, most people take whatever they’re offered, which is not necessarily anything close to what they’re actually producing for the organization. That (combined with the decline of unions) is why real wages have stagnated even as labor productivity has soared over the last couple of decades. If Americans were actually paid what they’re worth, everyone would be due about a 40-50% raise (that’s the amount wages have lagged productivity over the last couple decades).

>>”In a union shop, seniority trumps everything. People like me are warned, gently at first, to quit making others “look bad”. ”

This is neither the law, the ideal, or universal. Depending on the details of the contract, seniority may be owed certain considerations, but employers are

>>”Please. I acknowledged that you and I would never agree on this, but please at least acknowledge that my point of view is more than abstract speculation.”

I did acknowledge it: I acknowledge that your arbitrarily held view that one particular right (Boeing’s “right” to put factories anywhere they please) trumps all other rights and considerations (e.g., considerations of fair dealing and the other principles underlying labor law, the general well being of American workers, etc.) is *dystopian*.

I say that because idolizing and sanctifying corporate decisionmaking in that way over other social considerations would literally lead to dystopia. (Note that it’s not just labor law. There are a a wide variety of good reasons to restrict Boeing’s decisionmking on plant siting. Labor law, environmental law, zoning law, urban planning, etc.)

>>”…and so calls the hall for “George, that excellent and efficient fellow who did the work last year”.

Let me just stop your right there.

This is kind of ironic, since a paragraph before this you accuse me of being in denial of “that which I do not understand”, but I’m going to have to point this out: you appear to be the one in the dark about how things work here.

You do realize that American Airlines mechanics *are employees of American Airlines* right? That, in that case, there’s no union hall involved in hiring?

The whole “call down to the hall” model is only one model of unionization – and by the numbers, not the most common. By it’s nature, it only applies a fairly small segment of the unionized workforce: workers involved in habitual short-term employment – freelancers, basically. And mostly in a few construction related trades, or other areas where short term employment is common (e.g., the movie industry). The union is basically acting as a sort of employment agency, or a guild. We could maybe argue about a situation where that model actually applies, but note that it’s really a special case.

When permanent positions are involved – like mechanics working for an airline or an aircraft maintenence firm – the union is basically only involved during occasional contract negotiations or grievances. Day to day supervision and work assignment are entirely the employer’s responsibility. And this is what we’re discussing in the majority of cases.

Both AFSCME and, AFAICT, TWU (representing AA flight attendents, maintenance personnel, etc.) are staff unions. As are unions representing auto workers, pulp mill workers, grocery store workers, teachers, hotel workers, etc. They represent only those workers – and only those workers – who have in fact been hired by the organization in which a bargaining unit sits.

So if an AA manager wants George — *an AA employee* — to work on a particular project, all he has to do is call the AA maintenance hanger (or whatever) and ask George’s supervisor to make it happen.

And if Joe, another AA employee, is an idiot who can’t tie his shoelaces, then Joe’s supervisor can fire him, and AA will never have to have anything to do with him again. (Joe might try to file a grievance, but assuming Joe’s supervisor documented Joe’s failings even moderately well, it will be denied.)

So, who’s railing against something they don’t understand?

Posted by jacklecou | Report as abusive

>>”You then attempt to use haggling as evidencing your “surplus”. Doesn’t work..my point was that whenever the presence of a union raises a restaurant’s costs it is no different from increases in such costs if a restaurant “goes organic”.”

I think you may be missing the point. (As well as apparently continuing to fail in your grasp of the economics term “surplus”. Really, check wikipedia or an intro textbook. It’s basic stuff.)

The point is not that labor costs do not rise.

The point is that labor costs are just one input of many. And you do not seem to object when other inputs negotiate or set prices – e.g., if the cost of electricity goes up, and cuts into a companies profit margins or forces it out of business, I’m guessing you wouldn’t characterize that as an unconsionable assault on their freedomz.

And yet, if workers try to negotiate and level the playing field a bit, it suddenly is. It’s deeply weird. (I mean, at least the workers, unlike the power company or a big produce vendor, have a stake in the health of the company.)

If a company’s management strikes a lousy deal with one of their unions and ends up going out of business, that’s no different than striking a lousy deal with their landlord, or their steel or widget or whatever supplier and going out of business.

And if a company strikes a lousy deal with one of it’s suppliers – whether those be suppliers of labor, vegetables, machinery, parts, energy, consultants, whatever – and has to raise prices on customers, those customers are free to go elsewhere if they prefer.

In other words, “raising costs on consumers” is not somehow *inherently* objectionable. And yet this is the sum total of your argument.

(However, I will reiterate, yet again, that raising the wage paid to labor is special however. Consider that if you raise the price of steel, or energy, or microchips, you will increase the well being of makers of steel or energy or microchips. But if you raise the wage paid to *labor* you increase the well being of the entire population. And since labor is necessarily only a fraction of the cost of any given item, the increase in income will tend to be larger than any increases in prices that might be necessary as a result. A claim which the evidence bears out.)

(Which brings us to:)

>>”Again, we do not and will not agree as to whether the higher union wage is available to or significantly benefits the non-union workman”

Whether you agree or not, this is a contrary-to-evidence assertion. The numbers simply do not support your unfounded gut feeling.

Posted by jacklecou | Report as abusive

>>”When a company with union labor goes out of business, you attribute this as evidence of “management failure” or “luck”.
Hear this. It doesn’t MATTER! It’s history! Management is “on the stree” and the union hall has permanantly lost ALL associated jobs FOREVER! Lose-lose! Guess who winds up alone on the stage grinning like Charlie Sheen saying “Winning” when everyone is losing?”

This is utterly bizarre. I honestly don’t know the answer to this one. Who is it that you think ends up grinning?

And yes, it does matter: you are trying to make a case against unions by claiming that “greedy” unionized employees are somehow — and for some unknown reason — driving otherwise healthy and well-run firms out of business left and right. The fact is that firms actually fail because of either mistakes their managers make (including negotiating unsustainable deals with suppliers) or circumstances beyond their control (luck – e.g., changing market conditions making them obsolete or unable to compete). Or both. I’d be astonished if you had figures showing that unionized firms failed more frequently than non-union ones (controlling for similar size, industry, etc.).

>>”An educated well paid middle class is an excellent goal for a developing country, but your point is not clear because such people are not typically union members…they are management (with the exception of government unions, which hold a special place of outrage in my mind).”

Facts are not your friends, are they?

I mean, seriously? You think the middle class is made up of either managers or government workers? Bizarre.

Historically, the US middle class was made up of large numbers of blue collar — mostly unionized — workers. People in trades or with good factory jobs. That’s in decline, obviously, but in addition to managers, the middles class still has a lot of non-management white collar workers and professionals (writers, engineers, analysts, assistants, accountants, salesmen, etc.)

And that’s true of developing countries as well, as far as I know.

Note also that:

(1) Managers are not, and should not ever be, a large enough segment of the workforce to produce anything like a broad based middle class – I mean, if your country’s workforce is running 40%, 50%, 70% management, you have serious problems (I suppose it depends on how you define it, but if you’re defining practically everyone as a manager, the distinction is meaningless).

(2) As we’ve already covered, government workers, including union represented ones, typically make less than private sector workers in comparable jobs. So to whatever extent government workers are in the middle class, it is because those government functions require high-skill workers meriting middle-class wages. If you could somehow effectively privatize some or all of those functions, average wages would, if anything, *increase*. (Note also that the extent to which unionized government workers are in the middle class is quite limited. For example, the average worker represented by AFSCME makes only about $20k/yr.)

Posted by jacklecou | Report as abusive