What’s up in Wisconsin?

by Harry on February 18, 2011

It’s a bit of a surprise to suddenly be in the midst of the biggest protests I’ve seen in my 25 years in the US. Wisconsin old-timers are saying they’ve never seen anything like it — not the Vietnam War protests, not even the earlier civil rights demonstrations in Wisconsin over housing. A sea of red surrounds the Capitol all day long, and the Capitol itself is chock full, tens of thousands of people chanting, joking, and occasionally bursting into loud applause which is entirely incomprehensible given that no-one can hear anything that speakers say.

The best news-gathering source I’ve found is at GlobalHigherEd where my colleague Kris Olds is regularly updating the links, and has a lot of background information. But the short story is this: last Friday our new Governor, Scott Walker, proposed a budget repair bill which includes considerable reductions in benefits for public sector workers, the removal of collective bargaining rights over anything but pay for public sector workers, and a provision disallowing payroll deduction union dues and a requirement that workers be allowed to be union members without paying dues. With majorities in both houses he assumed he could pass the bill within the week — the plan was that he would be signing it tomorrow (I’m writing on Thursday). Last weekend it was not at all clear that the opposition would be strong, and it wasn’t really until Tuesday night, when the local teacher’s union announced a sick out for Wednesday (widely thought to be a tactical error, including, I understand, by some of the leadership) that things really got moving. The Republicans have a large majority in the Assembly, but a majority of just 5 in the Senate, so all the action is in the Senate vote. Wednesday was when it all started to happen. The estimates of 15-30,000 demonstrators are probably on the low side — at any given time there may be 15,000 at any given point in the day hundreds are walking toward the Capitol, while hundreds are marching away. Although the teachers have been in the forefront of this (many more districts were closed today), other unions have been fully involved, including the police and firefighters unions which are exempted from the bill’s provisions [CORRECTED]

Thursday’s demonstrations were larger than Wednesday’s, and tomorrow’s (Friday’s) will be bigger still. Contrary to the impression given by the national reports I have seen, hardly any of the protest or rhetoric concerns the cuts in benefits; almost the entire movement is about protecting collective bargaining rights.

Today the Senate Democrats buggered off to Rockford, Illinois (which, it has to be said, displays heroic dedication, as anyone who’s been to Rockford will know) so that the Senate lacks a quorum. This gave a huge boost to the protesters, who had been anticipating a vote and defeat today. I’ve chatted with one Democratic legislator and my wife with another: both report that the Republicans are really rattled by the response, having simply not anticipated it (no-one, absolutely no-one, did — everyone I know has been stunned, and that includes leading union organisers). I have to say the Democrats in the legislature have been solid — like the union leaderships they seem to understand that, as one just told me “we’re in the fight of our lives”. And there is a sense among the demonstrators that this is the one to win. A student (first generation, neither parent with a 4 year degree) who attended the first large demonstration of her life just emailed me:

it was a completely humbling experience. My class today was canceled (thank goodness, I was really not looking forward to having to choose) so I had the opportunity to join my roommate, who is a student teacher for MMSD, and many of his coworkers…. Even if it does not end well, seeing that many individuals rally together in support of a common cause was not only moving, but I think it sends a strong message that absolutely must be sent. Not to mention, many of those people are going to face incredible loss if this bill passes, and they deserve to be seen and heard.

The prognosis? Tomorrow national union leaders from round the country will be arriving. The Senate Democrats say they’ll stay in Illinois till Walker negotiates. Private conversations with wavering Republican Senators have apparently been intense, but none can be expected to vote against without the assurance that they will be on the winning side. I’m hoping that one theme of tomorrow’s demonstrations will be showering love on Republicans willing to oppose the bill — there have been efforts to create space for them by talking about “Courageous Republicans” and they should reach wider among the demonstrators. I’m by nature an optimist about the long term but a pessimist about the short term, so that tells you where I expect this to go, but then a week ago I would not have predicted anything but the most anodyne response to the bill.

An aside: It’s been my first close look at organising through facebook – my 14 year old (who used to be 8) has been organising high schoolers to attend: information seems to flow very efficiently, and so do ideas — her imperious statement that, tempting as they are, comparisons between Walker and Hitler are entirely inappropriate, and people should keep this in mind when making their signs, attracted thumbs up by the second. She is, with the permission of her parents, sleeping over at the Capitol tonight (I confess, the fact that one of the Assembly Democrats is a close friend and will be there all night to check on her needs made parental permission easier).



JSE 02.18.11 at 4:41 am

Where are you getting the information about the firefighters being added to the bill? I can’t find it anywhere but here and on a couple of tweets.


Glen Tomkins 02.18.11 at 5:11 am

Does WI have a recall provision?

Demonstrations are all well and good. If they’re all you’ve got, of course you use them. But at the end of the day, they’re just PR. They can only serve to make actual practical steps possible.

The Senate Dems leaving the state to prevent a quorum is all well and good. But that only buys a delay.

The key move in a democracy is to win the next election. Of course you don’t want to wait for the next regular election, so the question is whether WI has a recall that would permit immediate elections to replace the governor and the R legislature. If it does, replacing these people is what you need to do, and every other move needs to be taken in furtherance of that end. The mere threat will make them abandon their plans to bust the unions. Not that even total capitulation should halt a recall movement.


Charles S 02.18.11 at 5:28 am


Wisconsin recall rules. Unfortunately, no recalls are allowed within the first year.


yoyo 02.18.11 at 5:35 am

You have to do more than win elections. You have to actually elect people who will use power once they have it, not just bide time till the next election


Glen Tomkins 02.18.11 at 5:43 am

Charles S,

Was the entire legislature also just re-elected at this same election the governor won? Even if you can’t take the king just yet, taking pawns and rooks and knights would do the trick just as well.

If they are all protected until next year, I would think that it might still be an effective tool against their Senators in potential swing districts to gather large numbers of signatures in their districts to “intent to recall” petitions. If you get to the 25% required for the real thing, that’s quite a shot across the bow. At the very least it will tend to change their behavior in ways designed to make sure the voters who signed the intent petition won’t still be in the mood to sign the real thing in 9 months. You can’t offer these people money, you can only threaten them with removal.


Doctor Science 02.18.11 at 5:52 am

How accurate is the report that Walker created the budget shortfall with tax cuts and increased spending?


Glen Tomkins 02.18.11 at 5:57 am


Well, the D Senators they have now did the hegira thing to Rockville, which shows they have some fight in them. You would think that the folks who would run to unseat R legislators in any recall election would probably have even more fight in them.

I certainly agree that we have a problem in the political culture of this country of excessive caution, especially among the sane party. But the events in WI, both the original bold move by the Rs, and now this D reaction, may change the underlying assumptions that produced that habit of caution, and the related habit of blurring ideological differences. Turning over the governorship and the legislature in a recall prompted by R/bagger extremism would tend to make all of our politicians rethink the value of caution, with the other side perhpas valuing it more, and our side valuing it less.


nick s 02.18.11 at 7:00 am

The statement from past and current Packers — Super Bowl winners, idiosyncratically mutually-owned, emblematic of Wisconsin blue-collardom — came at the right time:

The right to negotiate wages and benefits is a fundamental underpinning of our middle class. When workers join together it serves as a check on corporate power and helps ALL workers by raising community standards.

(The fact that the NFL players are heading into a potentially rough set of negotiations with the owners and league perhaps sharpened things a little, too. Top-flight sport remains one of the few areas in which union collective bargaining is not considered as something that can be stripped at will.)


TGGP 02.18.11 at 7:50 am

For some reason I thought collective bargaining rights for public employees had been guaranteed by federal law. Personally, I can’t see what the rationale for it is supposed to be. If they serve the general public, I would think normative democratic theory would suggest exploiting them to the maximum extent possible. There are large principal agent problems between the actual public and the employers of civil servants, but I’m not sure how that would change the end result.

It’s a shame that police were excluded, since their political clout let’s them get away with crimes and keep their pensions.


JSE 02.18.11 at 1:16 pm

For some reason I thought collective bargaining rights for public employees had been guaranteed by federal law.

It’s the opposite — non-public employees are guaranteed collective bargaining rights. Walker’s bill would take away from local and state workers the rights that every other worker in the state has.


Harry 02.18.11 at 1:29 pm

JSE – I’ll correct it — it was clearly a rumour floating around triggered (but not implied) by something the firefighter’s leader said.


chris 02.18.11 at 2:35 pm

If they serve the general public, I would think normative democratic theory would suggest exploiting them to the maximum extent possible.

Well, it’s complicated. They serve the general public, but also, they ARE the general public. And what quality of work do you get from workers that are exploited to the maximum extent possible? Especially if they know it? Government can’t just go bankrupt and let a competitor take over the industry, like a failed business; the stakes are higher. Public responsibilities have to be done, and done well, or your state/country ends up like Somalia. If that takes more money… so be it.

There are a lot worse things in the world than paying more taxes, as any Somali could tell you. (Including having lousy pretax income because you have no rights w.r.t. your employer, or you are unemployed, or your whole state’s economy has imploded due to dysfunctional infrastructure or a lack of rule of law. Even on a purely economic and self-interested basis, taxes can be a big win for the taxpayers.)


OneEyedMan 02.18.11 at 2:45 pm

Does the law recognize sickouts as distinct from strikes? I thought government employees were not allowed to strike, so is this a huge loop-hole or are they rising their jobs?


Danielle Wylie 02.18.11 at 3:04 pm

Glen – A recall petition is going out for 9 Republican State Senators, both online and on the street in front of the Capitol.


Dr. Science – A number of sources have been reporting that the state was originally going to have a surplus, until Walker passed tax-breaks for some businesses and private health savings accounts last month. This is largely being reported in blogs (for the New York Times and Washington Post) and on Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz’s shows on MSNBC, but they’re all pointing to a memo from our non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau to back up their claims.

The memo: http://legis.wisconsin.gov/lfb/Misc/2011_01_31Vos&Darling.pdf

Some of the articles:


mpowell 02.18.11 at 4:45 pm

I want to say something about the idiocy of saving public money by destroying public sector unions. Not that many people here are talking about it, but I want to bring it up so that it’s in people’s minds. Yes, you can strip these workers of their pensions and give the money to your rich friends. That will work. But suppose you are not actually a kleptocrat. Can you actually get the same quality public service at lower cost in the long run? I don’t think so. As is now being demonstrated, the union and the sense of worker solidarity it engenders serves as a bulwark against the government breaking their deal with these workers. And that deal is that the government will give them less benefits (in purely financial terms) than the private sector but will provide them with the security of a long term career at those benefit levels. This deal doesn’t work if pensions can be stripped at any time or other benefits cut dramatically. Suddenly, public work is no longer any better than the private sector alternative and it will cost the government more to attract the same quality individuals as they now employ. The likely impact will be a substantial reduction in the quality of service rendered.


Glen Tomkins 02.18.11 at 6:15 pm

Danielle Wylie,

Thanks for the link. I e-mailed the TAA that I would be willing to drive in to carry petitions in this effort, but they are perhaps not the best folks on the ground to contact about putting out-of-state volunteers to good use. Do you perhaps have a link to the folks who, hoepfully, are organizing a wider effort than just the TAA can be expected to manage?


Walds 02.18.11 at 6:47 pm


Here’s a general website about the protests that has links to various unions you might try:



Bill Gardner 02.18.11 at 6:53 pm

Taking a deep breath, hoping not to jinx it… are we seeing the tide turn?

Ohio Senate Bill 5 is a similar attempt to end state workers collective bargaining rights. With, again, a Republican governor and solid Republican majorities in both houses, it looked like a done deal. But if WI can stop this, who knows?


Frowner 02.18.11 at 7:06 pm

OneEyedMan–As a data point, I am a state employee and I have actually been on strike my own self, so I assume it’s legal. Perhaps a distinction between state and federal?

Also, I make about $5,000 less than I would in the private sector….this idea that we’re coining it in government jobs is sadly mistaken, and aimed at people in non-comparable jobs who are themselves underpaid and exploited and have little control over the conditions of their work.


Norwegian Guy 02.18.11 at 8:28 pm

“and a requirement that workers be allowed to be union members without paying dues.”

So to government wants to decide that you can be a member of an organization without paying the membership fees? This isn’t even libertarian, it’s just plain silly.


LizardBreath 02.18.11 at 9:09 pm

As a data point, I am a state employee and I have actually been on strike my own self, so I assume it’s legal.

It’s a state-by-state issue: in NY, public employees are legally barred from striking, although they do sometimes anyway. I don’t know the law in other states, particularly Wisconsin.


Salient 02.18.11 at 9:37 pm

I don’t know the law in other states, particularly Wisconsin.

It’s a “they do sometimes anyway” situation. My dad resigned. Lots of people have resigned (I hope somebody’s collecting that data.) It’s hectic. Lots of others are calling in sick, for semi-plausible deniability purposes.

Individuals who provide “essential services” (this is expansively defined, including teachers and correction officers and lots of others) cannot strike. In all other cases, unless a municipality specifically agreed to allow striking when they negotiated a dispute settlement procedure with the union (yea right), a strike’s only legal after a waiting period after arbitration through the WI Employment Relations Commission fails, i.e. there’s a well-defined bureaucratic procedure one must go through prior to striking, in order to strike legally. [Take all this with a dose of salt; IANAL and don’t have a cite handy. Would be happy to have this confirmed or refuted!]


OneEyedMan 02.19.11 at 2:53 am

It does appear that in Wisconsin they are not permitted to strike:


OneEyedMan 02.19.11 at 2:53 am

Sorry, link I made didn’t work.


TGGP 02.19.11 at 5:13 am

mpowell, if I have you right are you arguing that the government will lose its ability to credibly commit through contract (which oddly enough might make private sector unionization less necessary, unless the private sector employers exert control over the lawmakers)? A standard monopsonist would set wages/benefits at the profit-maximizing level, though (analogous to a monopoly) an inability to price-discriminate (which seems less applicable since jobs are not fungible) will result an inefficiently low level of trade. Since budget surpluses do not accrue to the employer (state government) in this case, it seems less likely they will behave in that profit-maximizing way. But I’m not sure of what the public choice theory of how the state government behaves would be, this incident is apparently atypical.


Myles 02.19.11 at 5:46 am

My only question is: how on earth did Wisconsin end up with a quorum requirement greater than a simple majority? High-fives for the Democrats and all that, but that’s one weird quorum.


TGGP 02.19.11 at 3:11 pm

The practice of quorum-busting predates this bill, so I don’t know if it’s that strange.


Norwegian Guy 02.19.11 at 4:31 pm

Does this quorum requirement only apply when they are outside of the state borders? There must be some reason why the Democratic senators have travelled out of the state.


Britta 02.19.11 at 5:59 pm

Norwegian Guy,
The quorum requirement still applies, but the Wisconsin state troopers are unable to pursue the senators across state lines.


mpowell 02.19.11 at 9:37 pm


Let’s keep it simple. Public sector workers get paid less than private sector ones. Many of their benefits come in the form of pension guarantees. The primary benefit you get as a public sector employee is the insurance that your job will still be here and pay reasonably well 20 years from now when you are 55 and don’t have the opportunity to reinvest in new job skills (and you will still have that same pension). The benefit of having a union is not the wages you bargain for today, but the wages that you can be confident that you will still be able to secure in 20 years. I’m not an economist, so I don’t know if there is a reference to this concept in their literature, but this form of job security is a huge part of why people take public sector jobs. If you make collective bargaining illegal, you substantially erode this security. Since I doubt that the government will actually pay much more (you are probably right that the government will not behave much like a firm when setting wages), they will probably just get much lower quality workers if this kind of law becomes common place.

I would also note that there are private sector companies that try to do this. National Instruments makes a big deal out of never having layoffs (though they do fire underperforming workers). People take less money to work at NI, ostensibly because of the job security and environment. It is harder for a private sector company to credibly make this commitment, however, since the firm could go out of business over the lifetime of an employee’s career.


TGGP 02.19.11 at 10:14 pm

I agree that’s a reason people take public sector jobs, and taking it away would be reason for many of those who currently have it to get upset. Your point about low-quality resulting would be a possible reason why the general public would not benefit from the reform. But how difficult is it to hire public employees now? Karl Smith suggests that lots more people want those jobs than are available. And what is the quality of our educators? The G.R.E scores of those who major in education or public administration are among the lowest. Teachers unions are also typically against merit pay (preferring merit pay and credentials studies show to be useless) and puts lots of barriers in the way of firing underperforming teachers. But all of this could easily apply to an argument about raising or lowering the pay of teachers. That’s an empirical matter, and I’m getting at an issue we can reason about in a bit more a priori (including ceteris paribus disclaimers) manner. The point of a union is to coordinate the actions of employees, so the employer does not deal with a single marginal “worker” but must choose between all or none. The point is not to save money on salary by ensuring security (unions more often are associated with higher unemployment induced by higher salaries compared to non-union counterparts), but to get more salary/benefits/security with less work than would otherwise be attainable. It is the general public which is paying them and receiving their services. So why is it in the interest of the general public to have a union on the other end of the table, rather than exploiting their virtual monopsony to the fullest?


yoyo 02.19.11 at 10:20 pm

pretty much everything in TGGP’s post is working from ideological goal->conclusion->facts, instead of the other way around. I wonder if you combined it with a time machine, it would be good.


TGGP 02.19.11 at 10:30 pm

Are you referring to my second comment? There are some empirical arguments there which you can claim I dredged up and cherry-picked, I declare them ancillary. My implicit model is a neoclassical labor market with a monopsony representing the general public which A: pays teachers and B: receives their services (and the implicit normative theory is the standard democracy-for-the-majority one, with the neoclassical framing perhaps lending a utilitarian tinge). In my first comment I acknowledge that economic model is a simplification and that public choice issues and principal agent problems complicate the issue. But I haven’t heard anybody respond on how those complications would change the conclusion. So yoyo: stupid and disingenuous as I may be, an argument in favor of these protesters should be able to provide a justification for public sector unions in a democracy. You are invited to provide one.


TGGP 02.19.11 at 10:45 pm

I just remembered an argument I believe I read in the nonunlikeresearch thread. It is that state employment will be used for cronyism and patronage if left to politicians. Unions will constrains the system toward acting in a somewhat more meritocratic basis. Oddly enough, I first remember hearing an argument along those lines from Steve Sailer had been making that argument in the context of Ricci vs New Haven. I think that argument has some logic to it and would have to be examined as an empirical matter.


Britta 02.19.11 at 10:50 pm

In Chinese there is a term “iron rice bowl” (tie fan wan) which refers to exactly that concept, i.e. the decent but not high paying job with security and good benefits.


Henri Vieuxtemps 02.19.11 at 11:04 pm

So why is it in the interest of the general public to have a union on the other end of the table, rather than exploiting their virtual monopsony to the fullest?

TGGP, but along the same line of argument: why shouldn’t the general public repeal, say, the child-labor laws, for the public sector? Can you provide justification for not doing it? Isn’t it that the general public just wants to be fair and civilized.


TGGP 02.20.11 at 7:04 am

“TGGP, but along the same line of argument: why shouldn’t the general public repeal, say, the child-labor laws, for the public sector?”
In recent years I’ve heard many advocate for “national service” programs which sound like something along those lines. But more realistically, I’d say there was simply support for a child labor law which did not distinguish between public and private sectors. In the early history of labor legislation though, there was a distinguishing of the two (F.D.R is now widely quoted by opponents of public sector unions).

If you want normative theory, a common justification for child-labor laws is that children do not freely consent but are subjected to the power and authority of those older than them (I know there are movements like Taking Children Seriously which aim to aim to treat such behavior as legally punishable, but the conventional wisdom is that such necessary authority just needs to be prevented from turning into abuse). For statutory rape laws, they are supposed to be forced by the adult offender, for child-labor it is usually the parents. A prohibition of the government employing child labor might then be analogous to a prohibition on the government purchasing stolen property, since there was no legitimate claim to what was purchased in the first place.

If the general public simply feels like being nice, it can express that through conventional redistribution which can easily be reduced in response to budget problems, rather than giving anyone a legally enforceable claim against the public as employer.


Henri Vieuxtemps 02.20.11 at 12:46 pm

Well, the right to unionize is in the universal declaration of human rights, so it’s not just a matter of being nice.


OneEyedMan 02.20.11 at 5:46 pm

@Henri Vieuxtemps
Need the right to be unionized be an obligation for management to engage in collective bargaining? Need it require management collect union dues on the unions behalf?
Unions don’t seem to require management recognition to work. You can still use them for self-insurance, training, credentialing, and striking even if management refuses to talk to you or collect your dues out of the pay checks management writes.


Henri Vieuxtemps 02.20.11 at 7:01 pm

I’m not saying that the typical model of a public employees union is what’s required by the udhr; I’m just saying that it’s one of the fundamental rights. Perhaps the general public in not willing to play games with it, you know, just to save a couple of bucks a year for the average taxpayer.


joel hanes 02.21.11 at 12:30 am

The small number of states in the United States in which teachers are prohibited from collective bargaining have the lowest educational outcomes in the United States. This is an empirical result, stable for decades.


Michael Drew 02.24.11 at 11:19 am

The justification for public employee unions is that private individuals in the state’s employ formed themselves into them pursuant to their right to associate. that is not auditable for further justification by the public. The public has cause to inquire into justifications for laws governing the way the state chooses to relate to such organizations. A justification for the granting of a stable collective bargaining regime to such unions is that it manages, controls, and makes predictable the course of relations between the state and the unions, which is desirable as compared to a pure power dynamic in which a well-organized union will likely have the ability to deny essential services at important junctures. So you grant bargaining in exchange for an agreement (codified in prohibitive law) that there will not be strikes so long as good faith negotiating is ongoing. Etc. This predictability and continuity of service is manifestly more in the interest of the public (and its elected representatives assuming a desire to continue to be elected representatives) than the alternative discontinuity and unreliability of service. That’s why you have the elder Reps and Sens around here (madison dude here) talking about “60 years of labor peace” in the public workforce being endangered by this. Now, if you want to say that public unions are so unjustified (despite the likelihood that uncertainty about service continuity would likely be present in a condition of complete lack of public worker organization and in an ungoverned power-on-power organized condition) as to be unilaterally denied by law basic rights that service providers in the private economy retain, such as striking, you can go that direction I suppose. Or if you want to say to the PEU, yes you have the right, but tsk tsk for going ahead and choosing to organize; I don’t consider it justified, you can do that too. But clearly individuals just as often initially associate into orgs out of a desire to effectively pursue collective interest interior to the new org, or even individual interest aided by membership, not always to pursue broad societal interest, so demanding public justification for that act is a rather novel request. When people form companies, do we demand a justification for the mere act of forming, before seeing whether there are negative externalities to their subsequent actions?


TGGP 02.25.11 at 4:20 am

Michael Drew, I don’t know much labor history. But my impression is that most of the troubles were in the private sector. Before the public sector was permitted to unionize, I hadn’t heard much about disruptions.

I recall Steve Pinker saying he ceased being a Bakuninite anarchist during a Montreal police strike, whereas I took the opposite lesson that the vulnerability of a police monopoly to such a strike was evidence against the merits of government police!


Michael Drew 02.25.11 at 12:33 pm

TGGP – it doesn;t matter what troubles there were or weren’t; when they were restricted from organizing, they were being denied a basic right that derives from a fundamental human proclivity – to associate. It is private people who make the choice whether or not to sell services to the state, or to continue to do so once one begins to. People do not surrender their status an private individuals when they agree to sell services to the state; as such they do not surrender the right to associate. If you are for denying them that right; then you are for it. But it is a basic right nevertheless. Once the right is recognized, and associations are formed, it is then up to the polity to decide how to deal with existing associations of people whose services to the state it would like to retain. I have offered the justification or assenting to bargaining with the associations collectively above.


Salient 02.25.11 at 12:54 pm


(Exaggerated sigh) This is why the Internet is the greatest and most hideous evil ever to visit itself upon trivia. :P Lots of folks investing attention into the legal side of this have come across 111.89; the possibly open question is whether that particular statute was challenged successfully in court as conflicting with due process / NLRA, like the Public Utility Anti-Strike Law was, for example. Or conversely, whether it was challenged but upheld. This is where google-fu fails me.

So I’ll reiterate my question (better stated): is anybody up on the relevant WI case law / familiar with whether or not statute 111.89 (or equivalent law) is still in effect & in full force, and/or whether it has faced a legal challenge?


joe koss 02.25.11 at 1:06 pm

I am starting to wonder if we even have a functioning democracy in Madison right now, or are we just to the point where “political will power” takes on a new meaning.


chris 02.25.11 at 2:00 pm

@34: Firefighters seem like a bit of an outlier in that regard, since their life routinely depends on the competence of their fellow firefighters. So they have an unusually strong incentive toward meritocracy. The same could be argued for police and the military, but in most civil service jobs, an incompetent colleague is merely annoying, not life-threatening, so strict meritocracy might be more likely to be traded off against other incentives (e.g. job security, benefits, not having to put up with whatever humiliation management sees fit to visit on you this week, whether or not it is disguised as a performance evaluation).

Of course, that’s just theory. It would be interesting to see some facts on that subject.


bianca steele 02.25.11 at 5:05 pm

My understanding is that US labor law, as applicable to industry and all other unions, permits a very narrow range of rights to the union: negotiating only for labor conditions related to pay and very few non-compensation and -hours related rights. In particular, unions are not permitted to have a say in how the workplace is to be run. Unions are required to recognize the sole right of management to decide how the organization is to carry out its tasks. Unions may be permitted to govern workers, but they are not permitted to govern the workplace. Unions are to prohibit certain labor actions.

In return for following these and other regulations, unions are granted government recognition, which in turn mandates management recognition, generally including deduction of dues and collective bargaining.

I don’t think there is any question that very little having to do with unions in the US has not been broken down for more than 30 years. There are of course more recent union movements that have had successes. But this law (a) breaks an existing contract, and (b) eliminates the only process for forming new contracts regarding hours and compensation that exists, just to break the unions, in a situation where (c) governments have been inclined to make working conditions worse arbitrarily just to punish either (i) the union or (ii) the group the union represents.


TGGP 02.26.11 at 4:51 am

Michael Drew, I had been arguing on the basis of consequentialism, so it very much matters what the history is. I presumed you were arguing on the same basis, or you wouldn’t have brought up the point about such disruptions in the first place! You said a certain set up is “in the interest of the public”, now you say what matters is “a basic right that derives from a fundamental human proclivity”. If we’re arguing on the basis of deontology, that’s another thing entirely. Before the conversation shifts in that direction, I would like to reiterate my call for any consequentialist argument for why the general public should favor or even accept unionization of its employees.


Michael Drew 02.27.11 at 2:30 am

Requesting a consequentialist argument for acceptance is itself unacceptable. That’s what a right is. As for favoring unionization, clearly many people do not. Unions organize around self interest. We don’t demand universal consequentialist defenses of other instances of people organizing for their benefit, so I hold that this is a case of special scrutiny and reject your request as unfair. If it is not, you will be able to direct me to where you have demanded consequentialist justifications for other types of organizations based on self-interest. Where a consequentialist request is appropriate is in a polity determining how it will deal with the fact of a union of people it would like to keep in its employ. I have offered a potential line of justification for granting collective bargaining to such unions that a polity might consider, but obviously all other manner of consideration is appropriate for a polity to take into account in making the decision as well.

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