Whitesburg KY

It’s about rights, not warfare

Connie Schultz

Connie Schultz

If you work for somebody else for a living and you resent unions, the solution for what ails you isn’t to derail the hard-earned gains of organized labor.

What you need to do is to join a union so that you, too, will be treated with the fairness and respect every hardworking human being deserves.

Full disclosure: I am the direct beneficiary of organized labor — as a child and now as a journalist.

My father was a member of Local 270 of the Utility Workers for nearly 50 years. His wages and benefits kept me breathing through chronic asthma and sent me to college. Now I’m a dues-paying member of The Newspaper Guild, Local 1, and the Communications Workers of America.

My union membership means I could lose my column over my opinions, but not my job. Mighty emboldening for a liberal woman spouting off in America’s heartland.

Public union employees are fighting for their working lives in Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana and New Jersey. The battle is over their right to collectively bargain with their employers for wages and benefits, which is why unions exist.

Conservative legislators in these states are trying to obliterate public employee unions, and they’re using the most cynical of strategies: Turn workers against workers — union vs. nonunion — and then maybe no one will notice the ever-widening abyss between the minute percent of the wealthiest Americans and everybody else.

So far, the biggest pro-union demonstrations have been in Madison, Wis. Even those unions exempted from proposed cuts — firefighters and policemen, who endorsed Gov. Scott Walker during his 2010 campaign — have shown up en masse to support other public workers.

Conservatives have their supporters, too.

“Wisconsin is ground zero,” said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, a tea party faction. “I think it is going to determine largely whether the pampered nature of these public employees is finally reined in.”

New York Times reporter Eric Lipton pointed out what Phillips forgot to say:

“What Mr. Phillips did not mention was that his Virginiabased nonprofit group, whose budget surged to $40 million in 2010 from $7 million three years ago, was created and financed in part by the secretive billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch.

“State records also show that Koch Industries, their energy and consumer products conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan., was one of the biggest contributors to the election campaign of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a Republican who has championed the proposed cuts.”

As for Phillips’ claim of “pampered” public employees, various studies, including one by University of Wisconsin economics professors Keith Bender and John Heywood, found that state and local employees’ wages and salaries are, on average, 6.8 percent lower than those for private-sector workers of equal education.

The professors also found that public employees’ earnings have been in relative decline for 20 years.

Still, no one, including union workers, is saying concessions should not be made. Unions have been making concessions for some time now, including where I work. Guild members are in our second year of voluntary pay cuts, and I’ve not heard a single colleague suggest we should stop sharing the burden.

That’s the thing about those so- called “pampered” union workers. They don’t exist. But the mythology comes in handy when you’re looking to redirect the blame for these tough economic times.

A wise man once said: “The working classes didn’t bring this on. It was the big boys that thought the financial drunk was going to last forever and overbought, over-merged and overcapitalized.”

That came from Will Rogers in 1931.

Today he’d be accused of engaging in class warfare.

I am reminded of the union mantra: They only call it class warfare when we fight back.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and an essayist for Parade magazine. ©2011 Creators ©2011 Creators

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