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A Case for the Conscience Exemption

It seems likely that the Supreme Court will soon reconsider the constitutionality of compulsory agency fees for public employee unions.It also seems likely the Court will outlaw those fees. The issue is over whether a public employee may be required to pay agency fees (also called “fair share” fees) to the union that represents them, even if that employee doesn’t support the union. I propose a third way. I would allow a “conscience exemption” under which a member of the union’s bargaining unit may opt to pay either the fair share fee or an equivalent amount elsewhere.

 

The Terms of the Debate

For Fair Share

The argument for those who support fair share fees is that the members of a bargaining unit benefit from the union that represents them. If they decline to pay for the upkeep of the union, then they “ride free” on those who do pay. They enjoy the (usually) higher pay, job security, and on-the-job due process that union representation confers. Moreover, unions are legally barred from devoting those fee to extra-workplace activities like political lobbying.

Fair share fees are imposed only after the union in question has won a democratic contest. A union must demonstrate, either through a recognition election or a card-check arrangement, that it enjoys support from a majority of the members of the bargaining unit it claims to represent. The contract that actually implements the fair share fees must be approved by a majority of that bargaining unit. After contract approval, the union can theoretically lose its status, say, through a decertification vote or, in a card check system, if enough people end their membership in the union.

Against Fair Share

Those who oppose fair share fees dislike being compelled to pay for representation they do not want. They find that they may disagree with a union ideologically or that they may be peculiarly and individually disadvantaged by the union that represents them, even if the union benefits most other employees in the bargaining unit.

When it comes to public sector unions, opponents offer other objections. They believe that fair share fees in the public sector violate people’s freedom of association and freedom of speech. In this view, the government that imposes fair share fees compels people to pay for the upkeep of an organization they may disagree with. Opponents also claim that public sector unions are inherently political. They say that negotiations with the government over such measures as wages always implicate policymaking concerns. An increase in wages, for example, has to be paid for out of government revenues, which may require increasing taxes or de-funding some government services.

Background issues

I am aware that other issues lurk in the background. The campaign against fair share can plausibly be interpreted as one salvo in a campaign to weaken and destroy public-sector unions, and perhaps all unions. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on who you talk to. Into that mix are added other motivations. But if we hew closely to the stated terms of the debate, the conscience exemption can serve us well, and we can leave the rest of the “union yes!” vs. “union no!” debate for another day.

 

Enter the Conscience Exemption

Consider: the employee could opt not to pay fair share fees. Instead, that employee would have to pay the same amount to another organization. In either event, the employee would have to pay through an automatic paycheck deduction. Invoking this exemption should be an “opt out” process. The employee would have to go out of his or her way to obtain the exemption. The process mustn’t be onerous. It could just be an online form the employee has to submit. But it should be up to the employee to initiate it.

So far, I’ve only taken the religious exemption that some (all?) union-shop states permit and have expanded it to anyone who objects to paying for a union. But in my ideal system, I’d also like to see two additional features.

First, I would be very permissive about what organizations the self-exempting employee could contribute to. I understand that under religious exemptions (at least in Sangamon), there is a pre-set list of charities an exemptee can choose from. Maybe there could be a hybrid system, with a pre-set list of charities, but the employee could petition to direct the funds to another organization. At any rate, I would prefer very wide latitude, to the extent that an employee could contribute even to an anti-union organization. My main limitation would be that the exemptee couldn’t benefit financially from the contribution.

Second, I would remove the ban against unions using dues for explicitly political purposes. Because the members of the bargaining unit do not have to pay the union, they no longer have a claim on what the union does with the money it receives. I do presume that the union itself, however, would be more cautious about how it uses its money because it would want to keep dues-paying members. But even if I’m wrong, I wouldn’t oppose union dues being spent on politics.

I realize these tweaks are tough sells. I don’t insist on them and if I can’t win support for them, or if unexpected or unwanted wrinkles appear, I’ll happily leave them aside. I’d be even willing to swap the “opt out [of union fees]” system for an “opt in [to union fees]” system, although only as a last resort. There’s wiggle room all around.

 

(Mostly) a Win/Win Proposition

Both sides stand to gain. The objectors will no longer be compelled to pay for what they believe is political speech. They may still have other objections, of course. They are still compelled to “associate” with the union that has won the right to represent them, and they are still compelled to pay something, even if that money needn’t go to the union. But those who won’t be satisfied by a conscience exemption would now have to clarify further what it is about their union they oppose.

Public-sector unions stand to gain, too. A conscience exemption takes away one of the strongest legal objections to fair share fees, which is that they represent compelled support for an organization the payer disagrees with.

I predict the losses to unions would be few. I find it unlikely that a union would suffer much loss of revenue at all. If it does, that’s a clear–and in my opinion healthy–signal to the union that it’s losing support and needs to change something about its practices. When a union has the requisite number of cards (in a card-check system) or when it has a contract, it can grow complacent and disinclined to listen to objections it needs to hear. Money talks.

Also–and I admit this is speculative–offering a conscience exemption can help convert a person who otherwise sees himself or herself as a sworn enemy of their union into a mere dissenter, someone who’s not satisfied, but who isn’t going to go out of their way to destroy the union. Again, that’s speculative and probably doesn’t apply to all who object to fair share fees. But why create more enemies?

 

We Can Find Common Ground

I’m not ready to endorse anti-union-shop laws,1 but I am ambivalent about unions, especially public-sector unions. Many of my readers here disagree with me and support unions much more robustly. You could offer some very plausible reasons why I’m wrong. I realize I won’t convince you of the intrinsic merits of the conscience exemption.

I do, however, ask you to consider the practicalities. You might believe the argument about “compelled political speech” is wrongheaded and shouldn’t get a hearing. But it is getting a hearing whether it should or not. I’m not 100% confident that Mr. Gorsuch will be the fifth vote to outlaw public-sector fair share. I’m only 90% confident. A conscience exemption is potentially a way out if the Court outlaws fair share in the pending case. Of course, it’s not just a question of courts. We still have to deal with state legislatures that could invalidate fair share altogether. But the legal argument against fair share would be harder to make if there were a conscience exemption..

And let’s also consider private-sector unions. I understand that since 1947, when the Taft-Hartley Act permitted states to outlaw union-shop contracts, the general trend has been for more and more states to outlaw those contracts, not to re-authorize them. I can’t claim conscience exemptions will demolish the types of arguments brought in favor of anti-union-shop laws for the private sector. The terms of that debate are different, and the legal/constitutional issue of “compulsory free speech” is not as pressing as when the state is the employer. But the exemption can blunt at least a little bit the anti-union-shop argument.

Those of you who support unions can agree with me on conscience exemptions. You probably won’t sign on to all my reasons. You will probably balk at permitting employees to direct money to anti-union organizations (which, again, is a position I’m willing to forgo if it’s unworkable or too unpopular). You and I will probably also part company when it comes other features of union policy. But for good and bad reasons, the political situation now is unfavorable to unions generally and to public-sector unions in particular. Conscience exemptions are a workable compromise from which opponents of fair share get some of what they want and from which unions stand to lose little and maybe will gain.

*I’ve encountered some concern that calling right-to-work laws anti-union-shop laws is Orwellian. I agree! Orwell insisted we call things by what they are and not use language that obfuscates or misleadingly contradicts what we mean. I do admit that words are slippery and that with controversial issues like unions, there’s no such thing as a “simply” neutral or objective term.  Even so, calling a statute that outlaws union-shop contracts an “anti-union-shop law” is not comparable to saying “war is peace,” “freedom is slavery,” and “ignorance is strength.”

 

Photo credit: “Union: stuck in the sinking pattern of no return,” by ewe neon. Creative Commons License: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).Notes:

  1. also called “right to work” laws []

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Gabriel Conroy [pseudonym] is an ex-graduate student. He is happily married with no children and has about a million nieces and nephews. The views expressed by Gabriel are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of his spouse or employer. ...more →

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116 thoughts on “A Case for the Conscience Exemption

  1. The campaign against fair share can plausibly be interpreted as one salvo in a campaign to weaken and destroy public-sector unions, and perhaps all unions. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on who you talk to. Into that mix are added other motivations. But if we hew closely to the stated terms of the debate, the conscience exemption can serve us well, and we can leave the rest of the “union yes!” vs. “union no!” debate for another day.

    I don’t think this point can be waived away; it’s the crux of the biscuit. In a capitalist economy, unions are the only way workers as a class can exert any economic power, and economic power underlies political power.

    Suppose unions are like voluntary organizations, such as a university, and a company has a contract with a union to require its employees to join the union. A person who wants a job there has no more right to opt out of the union’s fees than I do to opt out of my student fees. If I object to the fees, my recourse is to attend a different university; similarly, a person who dislikes a union or unions in general is free to get a different job.

    One might object that a union is not really like a voluntary organization: A person is free to not attend any university at all, but they are not actually free to not work. And people often have a substantial investment in their particular job, so changing jobs comes at a substantial cost. I agree! (As a communist, I don’t have to worry about the implicit hypocrisy of hopping on the other foot when I invoke a worker’s freedom to change jobs when defending the rights of employers.)

    But then unions become like states, where again the notion of a conscience clause or any opt-out mechanism is incoherent. We don’t have any automatic or fundamental right to pick and choose which taxes we pay or which laws we follow.

    The fundamental principle here is whether the working class as a class should be empowered or should be disempowered; the rest is tactics. If you’re fundamental principle really is to disempower the working class, I don’t agree with your principles, but with apologies to Walter Sobchak, at least you have an ethos. But if you’re struggling to find “principles” to fulfill your underlying principle, there might be some inconsistency floating around.

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    • Thanks for reading my post, and while I have some disagreements, I appreciate your taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment.

      Regardless of our opinions about unions specifically, you and I probably have some fundamental disagreements. I’m less inclined than you seem to be to ascribe an easily identifiable set of interests to a “working class” that is itself also discretely identifiable. I don’t deny that there is such a thing as class interests, but I lean decidedly more strongly to an individual’s interest as an individual. Those disagreements are probably fundamental enough that you or I won’t move each other on it.

      I do interpret what I’m advocating for a little differently from how you do, however. And here, while you still may end up disagreeing, I think it’s partially a question of clarifying my view. First, I don’t know what kind of communist you are, but the communists and marxist-inspired people I have known or read (I realize “communist” and “marxist-inspried” are not always the same thing) are very ambivalent about the post-Taft Hartley regime (since 1947)–are ambivalent about the Wagner Act regime that preceded it (1935-1947). Further, I realize that my thoughts about fair share are embedded in the rules of those regimes.

      Second, while I wobble a little on this point in the OP and while I support conscience exemptons for private-sector as well as public-sector unions, I’m trying to focus my post primarily on public-sector unions. I think when state is the employer, the rules should be different from when we’re talking about a private company or a private business. I say that on the premise that the state has certain obligations to fair play that I wouldn’t assign to a private employer. One of those, for example, is that I don’t believe the state should be allowed to discipline its employees for engaging in extracurricular political speech. I also believe that compelling public employees to pay for union dues is compelling them to engage in speech the employees might not agree with.

      To be clear, I’m not saying that if you believe the first–the state shouldn’t discipline for extracurricular speech–you must believe the second thing about fair share. I’m saying that my belief about fair share, as applied to state workers, is an issue of right on some level. And I locate that right in first amendment injunctions against compelled speech. I admit the 1st amendment doesn’t mention compelled speech, but I’m convinced by those interpretation that there’s an implied injunction against it. (This “rights” view differs from my view about the union-shop in private employment situations. I don’t believe workers have a “right” not to work in a union shop in the private sector. I still think a conscience exemption there is a good idea, but more out of prudence and not out of “right.”)

      But regardless of “rights,” it’s important to face some realities. For the public sector, fair share in general seems to be on the chopping block. It will probably be outlawed once the case gets to SCOTUS. If conscience exemptions can save fair share–and I believe they might–then it would be a good thing. As a communist, you may say it’s not as good as keeping public-sector fair share as it is. But a half a loaf is usually better than none at all. (I, however, believe that it’s more than a half a loaf, potentially 90 percent of a loaf, with an additional slab of butter that makes it less likely you’lln notice the missing 10%.)

      You raise a couple analogies that I hadn’t considered, about whether one might look at unions as voluntary associations or as like states in the respect that under a union-shop contract, people must follow the rules of that contract. These are arguments that you seem to be wanting to rebut, or at least demonstrate how if one makes them, one must also agree to the legitimacy of fair share. I haven’t thought about the idea in quite that way–like voluntary organizations or like a state. I suppose I’d say unions are like voluntary organizations to the extent that they aren’t somehow made compulsory by a first and second party onto a third party. [Edited to add: I’m not sure what to do with this. I’m not saying that unions are voluntary associations and therefore there should be no “involuntariness” about it. Perhaps I’m saying they should be more voluntary than not. Also, I realize I’m maybe equivocating on “voluntary.” One meaning of voluntary is “not established or enforced by the state” while another meaning is “that which is chosen freely and without compulsion.” Those aren’t necessarily the same thing.]

      Finally, I’d like to clarify and emphasize something. My conscience exemption idea isn’t a free ride. People would still have to pay.

      Thanks, again, for engaging my OP and writing your comment.

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      • Thanks for writing a post worth commenting on.

        I’m convinced we disagree on the location of interests in class vs. the individual. That’s pretty much the fundamental difference between Marxists and liberals. (I personally am a Marxist-Larryist.) But I suppose that’s a discussion for another day.

        Of course I’m ambivalent (at best!) about the Taft-Hartley/Wagner regime. I more or less feel the same way about modern American unions as I do about the PPACA: not very good, but better than nothing.

        I also believe that compelling public employees to pay for union dues is compelling them to engage in speech the employees might not agree with.

        Just from a bourgeois legal perspective, I’ll buy that the First Amendment implicitly forbids compelled speech, but I’m not buying the connection between union dues and compelled speech. I think you’re defining speech act too broadly. Unions as institutions act materially, and any implied speech is incidental. Under your definition, almost all of any state employees duties has political implications: should we permit conscience exemptions for, say, a state Medicaid employee whose job it is to process payments to refuse to cut the checks? The provision of Medicaid is definitely a political topic.

        From a Marxist perspective, and as a moral philosopher, I think we choose our principles to support our interests (class or personal). I’m going to give at least some workers having some market power to outweigh the bourgeoisie-captured government much more weight than what looks to me to be the trivial inconvenience of those who seem to value their own subordination and exploitation.

        Finally, I am generally against conscience exemptions in general, even on religious grounds. I say this as a former Quaker (now atheist) eligible who would have been eligible as a conscientious objector during the 1980s. As it happened, I just registered, but I sometimes believe it would have been cowardly to accept a CO status and courageous to refuse in civil disobedience.

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        • I think you’re defining speech act too broadly.
          Unions as institutions act materially, and any implied speech is incidental. Under your definition, almost all of any state employees duties has political implications: should we permit conscience exemptions for, say, a state Medicaid employee whose job it is to process payments to refuse to cut the checks? The provision of Medicaid is definitely a political topic.

          I haven’t thought about it in quite that way. I find I have a hard time parsing your reductio to the Medicaid check-cutter–because I wouldn’t define compulsory political speech to offer him/her a conscience exemption–and the union dissenter for whom I would. I do think cutting checks is more a essential aspect of the job in a way that being paying to support an organization that negotiates wages and working conditions is not.

          I realize my answer, such as it is, is unsatisfactory. But I’ll fall back on the claim that one needn’t agree with me to realize that it’s likely fair share will be invalidated and that it’s possible my conscience exemption might save it. One needn’t agree with me that conscience exemptions are the right thing to do in order to agree with me that they might be a necessary compromise. (One could, of course, argue my prediction is off, that fair share is doomed with or without conscience exemptions or that the massive de-funding of unions, which I predict won’t happen, really will happen.)

          From a Marxist perspective, and as a moral philosopher, I think we choose our principles to support our interests (class or personal).

          I agree with that, although I might do so for reasons that underscore our more substantial disagreement about where to locate an “interest” (in a class or in an individual, or elsewhere, for that matter). I’d say that we choose our principles and our actions in response to the incentives that our position (including class position) affords us. We might choose differently from what our incentives reward us for, but we are more likely to make some choices and less likely to make others.

          I’m going to give at least some workers having some market power to outweigh the bourgeoisie-captured government much more weight than what looks to me to be the trivial inconvenience of those who seem to value their own subordination and exploitation.

          I used to see it that way (I used to consider myself a kind of, sort of Marxist, although not a communist). I no longer think that now. But again, that might go to how we locate “interest” in different places.

          Finally, I am generally against conscience exemptions in general, even on religious grounds. I say this as a former Quaker (now atheist) eligible who would have been eligible as a conscientious objector during the 1980s. As it happened, I just registered, but I sometimes believe it would have been cowardly to accept a CO status and courageous to refuse in civil disobedience.

          That’s fair. But for others who are inclined to draw the analogy but who lack your consistency, I’d say I’m offering “CO but willing to serve” status (via having to pay something, even if not to the union) as opposed to “CO but not willing to serve.”

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          • I do think cutting checks is more a essential aspect of the job in a way that being paying to support an organization that negotiates wages and working conditions is not.

            The compelling interest argument has some merit, but we’d need some test for what constitutes a compelling interest, and whose compelling interests were relevant. I would argue that if we are going to permit unions at all, they have a compelling interest in collecting dues.

            I’d say that we choose our principles and our actions in response to the incentives that our position (including class position) affords us.

            I agree.

            I’d say I’m offering “CO but willing to serve” status (via having to pay something, even if not to the union) as opposed to “CO but not willing to serve.”

            I don’t totally agree (the “CO but willing to serve” is still serving the armed forces themselves, not someone else), but it’s close enough for rock & roll.

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            • I agree with you that “CO but willing to serve” is still serving the armed forces.

              The compelling interest argument has some merit, but we’d need some test for what constitutes a compelling interest, and whose compelling interests were relevant. I would argue that if we are going to permit unions at all, they have a compelling interest in collecting dues.

              I’m not exactly sure what my test would look like if we’re talking about analogies to job duties.

              If we’re talking about the “compelling interest” of a union as an organization that has earned the support of the workers in collecting fees….I see where you’re coming from (union representation implies the means to engage in that representation).

              “Compelling interest,” however, can be a muddled word though, as you might be aware. If I understand correctly (I am not a lawyer, etc., etc.), it’s one part of the strict scrutiny test by which the state’s incursion against free speech rights can be upheld. My understanding from reading the brief for Janus (the guy who’s petitioning to end fair share) is that his side is claiming the state, qua state, doesn’t have a “compelling interest” to mandate that a union is paid. According to Janus’s brief (petition for cert. to the SCOTUS).* The interest’s is the union’s, and not the state’s. (The brief also argues that the union still has other advantages. While I agree, I also believe that ending compulsory fees altogether would de-fund and weaken unions quite a bit.)

              I do realize that me quoting a jurisprudential test (to the extent I understand it correctly….which I might not) is buying into the bourgeois-inflected and -created legal superstructure…..so it might not be convincing to someone who rejects that superstructure :)

              *The briefs and petitions can be found at scotusblog: http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/janus-v-american-federation-state-county-municipal-employees-council-31/

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        • If they come close, then they have too much power. This is my issue with the idea of unions being state-like. It implies that unions should have a degree of power that, frankly, they should not. Perhaps Larry isn’t making that argument, but if he is, I’d need quite a lot of justification before I’d sign on to the idea.

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      • Fair enough. There are three cases:

        1: The union does not have any power over a worker; i.e. the relationship between the union and worker is purely transactional. Since the relationship is entirely voluntary, it can be whatever the two parties agree to. If a worker does not want to support a union, she is free to take a different job, ex hypothesi without coercion.

        2: The union does have legitimate power over a worker; i.e. the union can harm the worker if she does not agree to its terms. (This is what I meant earlier by state-like.) In other words, being denied employment constitutes coercion. However, since the union ex hypothesi has legitimate power, it is legitimate for the union to exercise its power. Any kind of opt-out mechanism undermines the unions legitimate power, which is a contradiction.

        3: The union has illegitimate power over a worker. It then becomes incumbent on the true state to prevent and prohibit this illegitimate power completely: the state should bite, not nibble. However, if denying employment constitutes coercion, then why is that coercion illegitimate when exercised by a union, but legitimate when exercised by an employer?

        This last point is complicated, I think, and I don’t want to explore it here. Contact me through by blog if you’d like to discuss it further.

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  2. I have a fundamental problem with public sector unions. Private, I don’t give a damn, but to have one group of my employees (the politicians/governors/etc) negotiate with another group is foolish. Neither party is looking about for my best interest, ie tax money. How many times have we seen administrations promise unsustainable pay/benefits/pensions (because the union is actively campaigning to re-elect said administration) that end up bankrupting the gov’t.

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    • That problem is one of my problems with public-sector unions. However, we don’t necessarily need to debate that aspect when it comes to fair share dues and conscience exemptions.

      I’m not chiding you for bringing it up, though. And of course, one function/purpose of a comments section is for people to expand on things covered only tangentially in the OP. So I’d welcome that discussion. I’m just suggesting the debate over fair share need not implicate the debate over public-sector unions, at least in the short term. (In the medium and longer term, of course, the issue of fair share and conscience exemptions (and compulsory bargaining in those states that have public-sector unions) are indeed intertwined.)

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    • … to have one group of my employees (the politicians/governors/etc) negotiate with another group is foolish.

      This metaphor breaks down very quickly. Public sector employees are no more your or my employees than the guy working the Genius Bar is my employee because I own a few shares of Apple stock. And that’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the particular political economy problems that public sector unions present. But if we are really concerned about fiscal sustainability, then we’re better off tackling the problem head-on than with these kinds of gimmicks.

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      • ” Public sector employees are no more your or my employees than the guy working the Genius Bar is my employee because I own a few shares of Apple stock.”

        Oh bullshit. The public’s taxes pays for the salaries of public employees. Full stop. If they aren’t the taxpayer’s employees, who are the employees of? The planet Mars? The “gov’t” The gov’t is just a group of people serving the taxpayers.

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        • Oh bullshit. The public’s taxes pays for the salaries of public employees. Full stop

          So? Apple pays its employees workers from money raised from its shareholders. Ostensibly, the whole company works for shareholders. And activist investors can sometimes get management changed. But there are a whole bunch of layers of effective control that exist between an Apple shareholder and an Apple employee. The same goes for public sector workers.

          Feel free to continue thinking of public sector workers as your employees, but that conception exists purely in your head. Go try to exercise any part of the traditional employer-employee relationship and see what happens. Give one of them a direct order and see if they comply. Try to fire one of them; then tell me if that works. You can ask the person behind the counter at the DMV to renew your license and they’ll likely do it. Or you can report a cop to the civilian review board and the cop may face some repercussions. But that’s not because those people work for you; it’s because their job is to provide you certain services. Maybe you ought to be an owner, but in reality you’re a customer.

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          • I’m not arguing that I can direct/task a public sector employee, simply that I pay his wage.

            “Apple….. The same goes for public sector workers.” I’m not disagreeing. You’ve made my point. They are “my employees” just as they are yours.

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            • Your position vis-à-vis public workers and governors/majors, etc. is the same: you pay both their wages

              Apple’s shareholder position vis-à-vis Tim Cook and the Genius Bar guy is the same: they are both company employees, and he pays both their wages.

              Tim Cook is and isn’t on the side of the shareholder the same way that the Governor is and isn’t on the side of the taxpayer. Both Tim Cook and the Governor have been chosen by the shareholders/voters through an agreed upon delegation system, as “agents” of the company/state. Their mandate is not to do “what you want them to”, but to do what it’s best, in their best judgement, for the interests of the company/community and the state/voters. If enough shareholders/voters disagree with Tim Cook’s/the Governor’s judgement, there are mechanisms in place to replace them.

              It seems to me that your beef is that the Governor gets to do things that (in your judgement) are against the interests of the state because he personally benefits from them, and that his concessions towards public employees are an example of those. Fair enough, the same criticism can be made about Tim Cook.

              But your solution doesn’t seem to be in the line of requiring more accountability from elected officers, “make the Governor justify his conduct before the voters” the way Tim Cook has to defend his to the Apple Board. Rather it is “make sure the things I don’t like become illegal”. I find that lazy solution. You no longer have to exert oversight over your elected officers, and you no longer have to make trade-offs between available options

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              • “t seems to me that your beef is that the Governor gets to do things that (in your judgement) are against the interests of the state because he personally benefits from them,”

                No, my assertion is that the governor, in this case, is doing things against the interest of the taxpayers, not the state. It may be in the best interest of the state to agree to every demand of the union, but it surely isn’t in the best interest of the taxpayers. That’s my point. And that’s my problem with public sector unions negotiating contracts with people /administrations that actively also fund raises/get out the vote for the same people who are agreeing to raising wages for the workers.

                “But your solution doesn’t seem to be in the line of requiring more accountability from elected officers…” I’m unaware of any solution I put forth, other than claiming that I felt that public sector unions were a good idea.

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                • No, my assertion is that the governor, in this case, is doing things against the interest of the taxpayers, not the state. It may be in the best interest of the state to agree to every demand of the union, but it surely isn’t in the best interest of the taxpayers.

                  I’m not sure what’s the difference between “taxpayers” and ‘the people of the state” (akin to shareholders), and why their interests diverge, unless the only interest of the taxpayers is “minimize taxes”

                  I can minimize taxes by not doing any maintenance to the state roads, none at all, by not building any more schools, none, and firing all teachers (and janitors), by closing all firefighting stations, all of them, and by not issuing any more drivers licenses, nor renewing the existing ones. All of that is probably in the interest of tax PAYERS. Very little is in the interest of the people of the state.

                  I’m unaware of any solution I put forth, other than claiming that I felt that public sector unions were a good idea.

                  If the problem is that the Governor is not acting in the interest of the people (or the taxpayers), perhaps voting for one that would would be a possible alternative solution

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                  • I can minimize taxes by not doing any maintenance to the state roads, none at all, by not building any more schools, none, and firing all teachers (and janitors), by closing all firefighting stations, all of them, and by not issuing any more drivers licenses, nor renewing the existing ones. All of that is probably in the interest of tax PAYERS. Very little is in the interest of the people of the state.

                    This is claiming our only alternatives are between gold plated union contracts and no maintenance at all.

                    When I go to a store, in terms of getting bang for buck (or not breaking the budget), I frequently decide against getting it’s most expensive offering(s).

                    But then I’m spending my own money there, and that’s the big difference between public and private unions. Public sector officials have access to my wallet at gunpoint, even if I’m not getting value.

                    If the problem is that the Governor is not acting in the interest of the people (or the taxpayers), perhaps voting for one that would would be a possible alternative solution

                    Why is it in any way ethical for a union to use my money to increase my taxes and convince my politicians to act against my interests?

                    When a union “negotiates” with a union purchased politician to make an “agreement” which will last decades, the taxpayer isn’t represented and yet he’s handed the bill.

                    Ethically, when we eventually throw the rascals out and elect responsible leadership, I don’t see why we should be honoring corrupt agreements of yesteryear.

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                    • I fear that resorting to language like “access to my wallet at gunpoint” and “union purchased politicians” creates more heat than light. While in a sense the gunpoint analogy is apt, in another sense it’s overwrought.

                      And while there are certainly politicians for whom public-sector unions (and other unions) form a core constituency, I believe it weakens your position to call them “union purchased.” I’d say that’s because the issue is not (or isn’t only) that politicians are bought and paid for. It’s also that whether they’re bought or not, they have a strong incentive to broker peace and a deal, and this incentive is much stronger than it is for managers in a private firm that has to worry about profits. At least, this incentive works until it doesn’t, especially when state budgets get so strapped and pensions and other obligations go unmet. But before that happens, there’s a strong reason to go along to get along.

                      I hope it’s clear that I’m not disagreeing with you so much as suggesting there’s a way to frame the argument that might get more people to agree with your position, which is to a large and increasing degree is becoming my position, too.

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                      • I fear that resorting to language like “access to my wallet at gunpoint” and “union purchased politicians” creates more heat than light.

                        @j_a
                        Fully agreed. Emotional flame-bait is not useful, desirable, or where I want to be. I apologize for that post to both of you.

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                    • This is claiming our only alternatives are between gold plated union contracts and no maintenance at all.

                      When I go to a store, in terms of getting bang for buck (or not breaking the budget), I frequently decide against getting it’s most expensive offering(s).

                      But then I’m spending my own money there, and that’s the big difference between public and private unions. Public sector officials have access to my wallet at gunpoint, even if I’m not getting value.

                      First, I was responding to , who claims that things that are in the best interest of the citizens of a state are not (always, I presume) in the best interest of taxpayers, but he omnitel to explain how “citizens of the state” and “taxpayers” are different (spare me things like “children go to schools they did not pay for”, please)

                      Second, you, like most people that vent against the working conditions of public employees, seem to ignore the other side of the equation: in exchange for better retirement, more free days, whatever, public employees, in average, earn less than equivalent workers in the public sector (except, perhaps, at the very low end of the pay scale). You want people to work in the criminal justice system, to be judges, to actually design and manage your sewer system, to (cough) collect your taxes, to monitor hurricanes, to teach your children? Then you have to pay these people a salary plus benefits that is equivalent to alternative private sector compensation.

                      Decades ago, to spare taxpayers like Damon the burden of paying proper salaries while letting state citizens like me enjoy adequate public services, government officials decided to defer compensation. Meanwhile, the private sector went the opposite way, pay now, and reduce future labor liabilities.

                      At the time, Damon like taxpayers were happy to get more services for their tax dollars. Now, apparently, the champions of individual rights and sanctity of contracts feel cheated. They were promised a free lunch, they claim.

                      You want sewer systems. Pay the sewer systems people the equivalent all-in compensation that the private sector pays. You’d be surprised how much your taxes will have to go up. And you will be here screaming “corruption” again.

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                      • You want sewer systems. Pay the sewer systems people the equivalent all-in compensation that the private sector pays.

                        Then what is the purpose of “prevailing wage” laws, and why do we estimate substantial savings for gov projects if they’re eliminated?

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        • Oh bullshit. The public’s taxes pays for the salaries of public employees. Full stop.

          Not always. Some public employees I have known in the university system are paid by “soft” money, much of which comes through privately funded grants. I’ll concede, however, that while soft money usually pay the bulk of a recipient’s salary costs, it doesn’t usually pay all of the costs associated with that salary. And even if it did, the recipient would likely not have the job if the institution weren’t somehow supported by taxpayer money. I’ll also point out that the university system in Sangamon has a pretty large influx of non-tax money from donors and from partnerships with corporations and other members of the private sector.

          Universities are probably exceptional. And your point is well-taken regardless. But I just wanted to point out it’s not always as clear cut as it might seem.

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        • Yes. The government is effectively coercing you to be a consumer of a number of its goods and services so long as you remain on soil under its control. Still doesn’t mean the guy delivering the mail is “your” employee.

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        • Really? Public sector unions have the ability to force you to apply for a job in a union shop, force management to issue an offer, force you to accept that offer, and force you not to quit and management not to lay you off?

          I thought the whole “put a gun to my head” business was generally applied only to taxes and other situations where there is no way of not opting in, but not to contracts that have force only as long as both parties actively and continuously consent to be party to them.

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    • I also have issues with public sector unions. Yet, I am a member of the teacher union in California and would not work in a teaching gig in the US without a union. I have seen the horror show that follows and so I am less likely to say they are not worth having in any public sector gig.

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  3. I’ve been in the negotiating table with unions (private sector) several times.

    First, I support, in general, the concept of unions. I think historically they have been key in bringing the peace and prosperity that we have enjoyed since WW2

    Second, notwithstanding my theoretical approval of unions as a concept -and my strong support for fair share- in real like, most unions are fishing bad, and most union leaders would improve by being shot. I’ve sat in awe many times watching them shun valuable things in the pursuit of shiny trinkets that would do them no good. Regretfully, most union leaders do come from the shop floor and, their less than optimal understanding of enonomics, technology, etc. puts them at a disadvantage that their inborn talent at politics cannot compensate.

    On the particular issue of the OP twice I’ve seen the issue of employees that didn’t want to be part of the union and refused to pay union dues. Both times our Salomonic solution was “OK, but you are also outside the collective bargain agreement, and you get whatever Labor Law says it’s due, plus whatever we agree to give you. ”

    I understand that this is a feasible solution in a 120 people shop with perhaps ten anti union guys, and cannot be scaled into the thousands. But it’s a real life (two, actually) case

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    • I’ve sat in awe many times watching them shun valuable things in the pursuit of shiny trinkets that would do them no good.

      See: 2008 IAM strike against Boeing

      I understand that this is a feasible solution in a 120 people shop with perhaps ten anti union guys, and cannot be scaled into the thousands.

      The simplest (and most scalable) way to do this is to tell people, if you aren’t paying Union dues, you don’t get Union protections, even if you do get to free ride somewhat on the compensation they bargain for. In short, you become an at-will employee.

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      • @j_a

        PS I agree with you about Unions. Yes they should exist, and be able to represent workers interests, and yes, American unions, almost across the board, are categorically just bad. I am pretty sure it’s the result of culture and regulation combining to make things suck.

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          • Not really, because there are Unions that appear to me, at least from the outside, to be functional. There are a lot of European Unions that have very cooperative relationships with management. They still experience strikes and all, but that us vs. them mentality seems, if not absent, then significantly toned down.

            I’ve seen some professional unions in the US act the same way.

            The relationship should be highly cooperative, instead of constantly contentious.

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            • Have you considered that part of the reason that European unions aren’t as bad and are actually cooperative is that European management isn’t dead set on destroying them.

              It’s weird you’re putting the blame on unions when it’s not like the AFL-CIO is spending billions to make it harder to form a corporation.

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              • First of all, , step back. I’m not putting it “on the unions”, the state of affairs of US unions has plenty of blame to go around, between unions, companies, and government.

                What I am wondering is why we can’t get to a place where the relationship is more effective, or if the why is known, how we can get there?

                lists one reasons the relationship is better in Germany. Of the employee unions I recall working well in the US, a common theme was some manner of employee ownership/stakeholding in the company besides just getting a paycheck.

                Ergo, there is probably something there that can be informative.

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    • In my previous job, the approach of management was to always fight tooth and nail against any improvements to the union contract, and then give the non-union folks a slightly better deal than the union fought long and hard for (e.g. – non-union got the same raise, but it would be retroactive to six months before the union got theirs).

      I always thought that was a pretty despicable and transparent attempt to make us play prisoners’ dilemma – each individually would profit by avoiding being in the union, but the more of us who do that, the less bargaining power the union would have, and the less they have to give to everyone, including those who are non-union. The worst of it was, it probably worked to some extent.

      At least there you couldn’t randomly opt in or out of the union – a given position was union, or it wasn’t. You could choose to consider whether an internal job posting was union or not when deciding whether to apply for it, but you couldn’t decide you wanted to keep exactly the same job but change whether you paid union dues or not.

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      • In my previous job, the approach of management was to always fight tooth and nail against any improvements to the union contract,

        I never understood the logic of this. I give a poorly paid guy the control levers of equipment worth tens of millions of dollars, and the ability to create enormous havoc to my company, but, before that, I make sure he’s really pissed off at me.

        And then I go home.

        My company has always believed that you are, regretfully, at the mercy of your employees, and therefore, you better make sure that, even if they aren’t your friends, at least they don’t hate you, and that they want to protect their job, and the company.

        Communication and showing that you are negotiating in good faith makes a lot of difference. Very rarely we ended conceding much more than our initial offer, because we always walked in with a reasonable offer to start with. And I don’t remember a situation in which the end result was beyond what we had in our pockets to give away since the beginning.

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        • Because unfortunately, a lot of management in the US seems to actually believe that workers are completely replaceable and are nothing but costs on the bottom line at the end of the day. I blame MBAism create a generation of managers that had no connection to their employees and America’s culture in general.

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    • On the particular issue of the OP twice I’ve seen the issue of employees that didn’t want to be part of the union and refused to pay union dues. Both times our Salomonic solution was “OK, but you are also outside the collective bargain agreement, and you get whatever Labor Law says it’s due, plus whatever we agree to give you. ”

      How does that happen? I had thought that if a union wins a representation election, its obligation is to represent everyone in its bargaining unit, whether the workers paid or didn’t. Or am I misreading your example (or misunderstanding how things work)?

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      • How does that happen? I had thought that if a union wins a representation election, its obligation is to represent everyone in its bargaining unit, whether the workers paid or didn’t.

        Remember we are talking about (two) shops (actually, power plants) with less than 150 employees. The Unions were locals of a larger federation. 89-90% of the labor was unionized.

        Unionized employees had union dues taken out of their salaries. Non-union employees didn’t.

        The union discussed the collective bargain agreement with us. Once negotiated, its provisions only covered unionized employees. Those that chose not be part of the union got basic labor law protections and terms that were similar, but not the same (and slightly worse) that unionized employees. Those non-union terms were not negotiated, and fully at the discretion of the company.

        We didn’t see ourselves as being in the business of union busting. We respected the decision of those that didn’t want to join the union, and would not withdraw union fees from them. But there had to be a cost associated with not being Union. Otherwise, it would be a death spiral for the union and a recipe for conflict , a conflict that had no advantages and many risks to the company.

        This people are handling millions of dollars of your equipment day in, day out. Always remember that

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          • Both cases are outside the USA, in two different countries. For comparison purposes the labor legislation in both places would be similar to right-to-work states. There are no closed shops, or an obligation to join the unions as a condition for employment

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            • Ah, now I get it. You’ve probably mentioned before that you’re outside the US, but I either forgot or didn’t notice it. Out of curiosity (and not directly relevant to the topic at hand), does your country’s law have “at will” employment, or must employers show cause before firing an employee? (Replacing “at will” with “for cause” employment is one of my other preferred labor policies.)

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              • I do live and work in Houston, but my company owns and manages utilities abroad exclusively (20 plus countries)

                The general rule is that you can fire at will and pay a compensation (in average, problably like six months salary once you add everything), but when dismissing with cause, you don’t have to pay the severance compensation.

                In practice, because 99% of for cause dismissals (and some of the at-will ones) end in labor courts for years, you normally pay the severance compensation even when you would have cause for dismissal. We would only trigger the “for cause” in cases so egregious we would want to send a message to the rest of the labor that such behavior would have consequences.

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                • Forgot to add that, in labor court, the employer pays the worker’s legal costs unless the court rules completely in favor of the employer (which is rare)

                  All of the above is a composite of different labor jurisdictions. But you’d be surprised how much the USA is an outlier in many matters, including labor, while the rest of the world is fairly similar from one place to the other.

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                  • Thanks for the (further) clarification. I imagine I’d be both surprised and unsurprised about the disimilarities between the US and the rest of the world.

                    At first blush, though, the “severance, but only if not fired for cause, but it usually won’t be for cause” sounds in some ways like unemployment here, at least superficially. If one is fired, but not for cause, one receives unemployment and the employer is penalized somehow (at least that’s what I understand, perhaps through higher taxes/fees/employment insurance premiums?).

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  4. I’m one of those wacky people that thinks that much of all but the worst police behavior is protected by police unions.

    Everybody remembers this particular oldie but a goodie:

    The unidentified officers and their union, the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, filed a temporary restraining order earlier this month to block the video from being used in an ongoing internal investigation of the officers’ conduct during the raid. The police argued their privacy was violated when surveillance cameras recorded them inside Sky High Holistic medical marijuana dispensary after they thought they had disabled all of them.

    My own personal problem with unions like this one is *NOT* the whole “collective bargaining” thing. If the union kept itself to merely arguing for more money and more vacation for its officers, that’d be great. Only the nuttiest of libertarian nutbars could argue against a police organization fighting for an additional two days of vacation and an additional two days of sick leave.

    It’s when the union sues to block video that catches police officers breaking the law because the police had a reasonable expectation of privacy because they thought that they turned off all of the cameras?

    At that point, I see the police union not as protecting the police from radical libertarian nutbars, but protecting the police from having to follow the rule of law.

    That’s *NOT* what unions are for and when police unions start doing that, it turns “the social contract” that we’ve all signed into something like “anarcho-tyranny”.

    With that in mind, the conscience exemption is probably a good slim end of the wedge.

    Of course, that’s if I believed that police who chose it wouldn’t face problems from the type of cops who would sue to suppress evidence that shows them breaking the law.

    So, when it comes to police, I don’t think that this will change anything.

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    • Indeed. In my view the fundamental issue with police unions stem from the “police” part more than the “union” part. After all, the lawsuit you refer to could have been brought by the officers in their capacity as individuals. The union just sort of made it like a class-action thing.

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      • This sort of ties into the hopes that having more POC cops would lead to better policing. I’m sure it has and POC communities should have cops that look more like them. But too many times POC cops are just cops. The cop training turns them into just the same kind of cop they didn’t like when it was white cops.

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      • There are other public sector Unions whose protective impulses extend far beyond simple workplace disputes (there are probably corporate unions like this as well, but we don’t hear about them as often), but no matter what, unions should not be permitted to actively engage in protective behavior for issues not related to employee/management relations.

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        • My point is just that you hear complaints about police unions from the left side because of the kind of thing Jaybird mentioned and complaints about teacher unions from the right because… idk exactly, filling our kids heads with liberal ideas like arithmetic and reading maybe? But when was the last time the firefighters union was a big political thing?

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          • If you want one of the examples of the right-wing nutjobs complaining about Teacher Unions, it’s here.

            My problem with Teacher Unions is that they protect bad teachers.

            My attitude is that the whole list of reasons behind “why should we have public schools?” thing should have “to provide middle class government jobs to middle class people” a lot lower down the list than it appears to be.

            If we started having a spate of house fires and there was a problem with short firepeople incapable of holding a firehose, using an axe on a door, or carrying a 50 pound child down a ladder and the firepeople union argued that these people should still be firepeople, it’s a training issue, the people who argue that firepeople should be able to carry children down a ladder aren’t familiar with the stresses of being a fireperson and so forth, I think we’d see a lot of stink about the firepeoples’ union.

            With the other side, of course, arguing that we need firepeople to protect us from fires and how we should have brave people like that willing to climb ladders and carry children down them.

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            • From what my GF has commented on (she’s a public school teacher in a city known for crappy public schools) it’s the damned administration that’s really the problem (not that there are shitty teachers). She has 3 administrators to report to. They all make over 100k each. They can’t and don’t even try to hold to a budget, yet they can’t seem to pay their employees their contractual increases. Every year, at the start of school, about 10-20% of the teachers don’t get the first couple of paychecks because the payroll dept is incompetent.

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            • Here’s my honest question – do you think the percentage of bad teachers is less or more than any other white collar job making the same amount of salary?

              Because I bet you at every office in the country, somebody can point you to Bob or Jan in the office who haven’t done anything useful in [x] years, but they still have a job for [y] reasons, and it’s usually not because of a union.

              Are there bad teachers? Absolutely. But, a giant chunk of teachers wash out in the first couple years and then the problem is, the metrics that “education reformers” want to use to measure teachers are opposed by basically every teacher.

              So, find me a metric that unionized teachers agree too and I’ll happily back it, but I’m not going to say peoples jobs should depend on a couple of standardized tests and a formula created by a bunch of MBA’s who have never taught.

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              • do you think the percentage of bad teachers is less or more than any other white collar job making the same amount of salary?

                I wouldn’t know how to measure this.

                I can say that the teachers in my part of town are really, really good.

                I’m not really down with the argument that we shouldn’t care about bad teachers because Bob, the assistant manager at Sweet Sleep Mattress Company, is a crappy assistant manager.

                But let’s look at the criteria I had here:

                My attitude is that the whole list of reasons behind “why should we have public schools?” thing should have “to provide middle class government jobs to middle class people” a lot lower down the list than it appears to be.

                How difficult would that be to tweak to make it be about Bob?

                My attitude is that the whole list of reasons behind “why should we have mattress companies?” thing should have “to provide middle class private sector jobs to middle class people” a lot lower down the list than it appears to be.

                I mean, if Bob is a horrible assistant manager (and I agree! He’s an *AWFUL* assistant manger!), then the Sweet Sleep Mattress Company is shooting itself in the foot every single freaking day.

                But, also, that’s not really any skin off of my nose because if he’s bad enough that it affects the mattresses, I can buy another mattress. A different one. A *BETTER* one.

                If one of the schools in another part of the world has crappy teachers (for example, the teachers put into rubber rooms in the story I linked to!), that’s no skin off my nose.

                And yet… it feels different, doesn’t it?

                “Of course we should have rubber rooms. Bob is still working at the mattress company!” seems like a truly horrible defense of a crappy teacher, doesn’t it?

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                • First of all, maybe if you have no idea how to measure teachers, you shouldn’t make massive proclomations about how there are so many bad teachers and how it’s just a horrible evil jobs program for middle class people.

                  I mean, my actual argument is that for the most part, the level of bad teachers is a lot lower than what many people, especially right-leaning people believe and that’s largely due to a combination of anecdotal memories from school (I didn’t like this teacher, so she must’ve been a bad teacher!) and the various racial and socioeconomic issues that are part of everything in America (How can teachers at crappy public school in a bad part of town be any good?)

                  Also, there’s the small matter that almost the only place with rubber rooms are NYC and they were created and pushed as a terrible thing by an anti-union administration in NYC as a way to lower public support of teachers. In the rest of the country, teachers going through the process of being fired either keep on teaching or are sent home while being paid, as what usually happens in all kinds of white collar jobs, both unionized and non-unionized.

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                  • Oh, I’m not saying that I have no idea how to measure teachers.

                    I have no idea how to measure whether there are *MORE* (or less, or an equal amount of) bad teachers than bad assistant managers.

                    In the rest of the country, teachers going through the process of being fired either keep on teaching or are sent home while being paid, as what usually happens in all kinds of white collar jobs, both unionized and non-unionized.

                    I need some more data on how people who are in the process of being fired get sent home while being paid because, seriously, the closest I have *EVER* seen to that is “we’ll pay you for the rest of the day but box up your stuff because we’re having the security guard walk you to your car right now”.

                    That’s pay that amounts to a handful of hours. Not a handful of days or weeks.

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                    • I have no idea how to measure whether there are *MORE* (or less, or an equal amount of) bad teachers than bad assistant managers.

                      Presumably there are people ill suited for their profession everywhere. What you need to do is look up the stats for the number of people fired. You’ll find there are areas where the number of teachers getting fired (per thousand) is less than the number of doctors, and these sorts of numbers come from the strong union states.

                      If New York could only get rid of 50 teachers over a multi-year(?) period of time, then there’s a problem.

                      Of 133 educators taken to trial since 2013, the city Department of Education has gotten just 50, or 37.6 percent, fired, it said. In 77 cases, hearing officers found the employees guilty of poor performance or wrongdoing, but imposed lesser penalties. Six cases were dismissed. Each termination case, including witness testimony, cross-examination and arguments, can drag on for months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. http://nypost.com/2014/06/14/tenured-teachers-they-cheat-they-loaf-they-cant-be-fired/

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    • Yup. If you ban police unions, you’ll still get police misconduct, because people like police misconduct, as long as it’s against people they don’t care about. After all, in the past two years, the only group where the perception of the police went up is…wait for it…white people! Especially older white males.

      The Police Benevolent Association or whatever will still put out PR against any limitation of officers ability to use force all while Mary who works at the front desk has crappier health insurance and her pension has been eliminated.

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    • It’s probably worth mentioning that the Police Union appears to have had a legal basis for part of that lawsuit, which is that under California’s Public Safety Officers Bill of Rights Act, the officers were entitled to look at previous interview tapes before being interviewed. Link

      Does it matter if the union is correct? Or is it more important that the Union probably used mandatory union dues to lobby for a law that is more protective of the rights of the police than the civilians?

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      • under California’s Public Safety Officers Bill of Rights Act, the officers were entitled to look at previous interview tapes before being interviewed

        This sounds like an awesome way to make sure that cops never get fired.

        “Sorry, we were *GOING* to fire these guys, but our office forgot to include all of the previous interview tapes. WHOOOOOOPS!”

        Does it matter if the union is correct?

        About what? The issue of the police being entitled to look at previous interview tapes or about the privacy of the officers being violated after the hidden camera caught them doing what they did?

        Because I could say that the union was correct about the former while being part of the problem when it comes to the latter.

        And then I’d say something about how the system seems to be set up so that the people in charge of going after bad cops seem to have a lot more balls to “accidentally” drop on the way to dealing with bad cops than they have dealing with civilians, and, on top of that, they certainly seem to “accidentally” drop these balls more often than when they’re dealing with civilians.

        Or is it more important that the Union probably used mandatory union dues to lobby for a law that is more protective of the rights of the police than the civilians?

        Laws that distinguish between when a civilian breaks a law and when a cop breaks the law are laws that are part of the problem.

        Jesus, I can’t even imagine the audacity required for a union to push for a law that would do such a thing.

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        • “Jesus, I can’t even imagine the audacity required for a union to push for a law that would do such a thing.”

          The audacity is most people like and support police officers and assume they’re always in the right.

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        • Sorry my questions were rhetorical. This law allows police unique access to investigation materials that would not be provided regular people in analogous situations. While I agree with Jesse that the police are generally popular and something called Public Safety Officers Bill of Rights Act probably polls well, the specifics of it almost certainly came from organized police lobbyists.

          This seems like a good example of a situation where the case for conscience exemption has merit. Not necessarily because it would stop the bill from passing, but it would allow individuals to not be a part of it. I don’t check the lobbying box on my membership dues form.

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    • I suspect police unions are part of the problem when it comes to protecting police misconduct. However, I also suspect that even without a police union, you’d still have quite a bit of protection for misconduct, with benevolent funds used for legal process (I presume it’s being able to get legal representation–and not the fact of a union itself–that helped the cops you’re describing. Suing to suppress evidence is what people with good lawyers do).

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  5. Honestly, in my view opposing fair share fees would be like me not wanting to pay taxes during the current Presidency because I oppose certain policies. If you want your union to not fund things you dislike, replace your union leaders in a democratic contest. Or don’t be part of the union and lose the benefits that gives you.

    After all, the union member gets higher wages, better benefits, etc. from a union even if they dislike it’s policies just like I continue to get a military that protects me and other benefits even if I hate what the current government is doing.

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    • As I said in the OP, you might not agree with my reasons, but I do ask you to consider the context. Fair share, at least for pubilc-sector unions, seems to be on the verge of being outlawed. Conscience exemptions might save fair share. They might not, too. But they are also not a free ride. People would have to still pay.

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    • “Or don’t be part of the union and lose the benefits that gives you.”

      Why not this? If you opt out of the union, you opt out of their benefits and protections. Now, you may get some residual benefits. Your employer may decide, “It’s not worth it to individually negotiate your contract so we’ll give you the same deal as the union people,” but that is still something they are doing by choice as opposed to something they do because of enforceable negotiations.

      I’ve previously written my lose manifesto on unions. I don’t remember exactly what was in it, but there are things I’m much more okay with within private sector that I’m not okay with within public sector unions. These mandatory fees are one of them.

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      • there are things I’m much more okay with within private sector that I’m not okay with within public sector unions. These mandatory fees are one of them.

        Same here. While I’m ambivalent about mandatory fees in either event, I’m much more bothered by them when it comes to the public sector.

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    • :

      I have an additional thought and an additional comment in response to your comment.

      If you want your union to not fund things you dislike, replace your union leaders in a democratic contest.

      In one sense, my conscience exemption idea works toward this end. It enables people to “vote” by reallocating the money that would have gone to dues. They won’t have to wait for the next union election. Also, one of my tweaks on the system would permit unions to spend money on more things than they are currently permitted to. With the greater accountability that conscience exemptions provide, I’m willing to grant unions more latitude for which to be accountable. So if a union chooses to endorse a candidate and enough members are on board at least enough not to invoke their conscience exemption, then the union should be able to do so.

      Or don’t be part of the union and lose the benefits that gives you.

      Are you advocating a dual shop, where some workers are covered by a union and others not, even though they do essentially the same job? That appears to be the situation at the workplaces J_A cites above (assuming I’m understanding him correctly….he’s clarified things but perhaps I’m still not getting it).

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    • Nominally, I’m all for telling someone that if they don’t like being in a union, go find another job, right up until we hit those places where that employer is the only game in town, and the local union has fortified itself such that it can not be effectively challenged in a democratic contest.

      Unions can blacklist a troublemaking employee pretty effectively, even if nothing official is ever said.

      AFAIK we don’t really have very effective enforcement mechanisms for dealing with such situations.

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  6. A few people here have analogized the state and taxation with compulsory union fees.

    This analogy is at its strongest when we look at the fact that most members in a union-shop probably benefit significantly from the union. Assuming that much, we can say that everyone ought to pay for the shared good in the same way that everyone ought to pay for taxes, because we benefit from taxation. In a sense, the analogy is even stronger, because a represented worker benefits more surely and more directly than a taxpayer benefits from whatever it is that gets funded by tax dollars.*

    That said, there are some things we should consider. Most of us are willing to grant special authority to the state that we wouldn’t to other entities. I’d like to see some limiting principle here, so that unions (or more precisely, fair share arrangements) are like the state in some ways and not like it in others.

    I’d also say that while we in practice grant states enormous and wide-ranging powers, we also (most of us) claim to want checks on that power. If union-shop arrangements are analogous to states, does the analogy extend to checking the unions’ power? If so, what kinds of checks are you going to offer (or what makes unions different that no checks should be offered). Jesse above already mentions one check: the ability to elect new officers. Is that check sufficient, or ought we introduce others?

    *At least I’m making that assumption. Not all represented workers benefit. Here are a few cases where they might not. 1. Sometimes the union must choose between protecting itself and protecting a member of its bargaining unit. I assume this happens rarely, but I don’t know. At any rate, I know of at least one instance where the union had to make a choice along these lines (although I don’t know what it ultimately decided to do). Sometimes, a union might negotiate wages and benefits that are so high that it makes more sense for management to close down, invest in labor-saving technology, or to do layoffs. If the latter, it’s particularly those newer employers with less seniority who stand to lose out, and they probably have fewer resources to get back on their feet.

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    • I think one of the stronger aspects of Conscience Exemption is creating competing unions. I didn’t see you cover the topic, but there is some mention of paying to a entity of your choice which I think could lead to competing unions.

      There may arise some unions that fight more for family time, and limited hours, there may be unions that fight for a individual to acquire more overtime and less vacation.

      I respect the idea even though I don’t think the usefulness of a union is anymore useful than addressing the problem the union was created to address/fix. If individual subjective value as it relates to means of production gains enough strength, industry will have to bend to it directly.(This follows a little with what J_A was getting at above, in that the employees will be running the company stuff, or at least running the industry)

      This is a very different concept than state, of which there is no ‘opt out’ or a competing state within the same nation. Taxes are fueling a monopoly by default.

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      • That would be hard to wrangle at smaller places, but at larger companies, it can work.

        My wife’s group was courted by the machinists union a while back and they got a very firm no, because the librarians and tech writers et. al. had very different wants than the average machinist.

        But honestly, I think competing unions would be great. It’ll never happen because it would be a headache for everyone (union and employer), but ideally….

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      • I’ll have to chew on that a while, especially in view of how it would work in practice. I do think Oscar is right that if it did work, it would work better in larger shops.

        My default, in the OP and in how I tend to think about these things, is to assume one union per bargaining unit, however the “bargaining unit” is defined.

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  7. I disagree with the basic premise of the OP:
    The SCOTUS is not considering the constitutionality of compulsory union payments, but rather delivering a well-deserved death to efforts to distinguish a case which is indistinguishable.
    My BarBri book cites Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Educ., 431 U.S. 209 (1977) and Keller v. State Bar of Calif., 496 U.S. 1 (1990) for the proposition that public employees cannot compel payment of non-members.
    This used to be an area of settled law, and this was merely a way for the 4th most corrupt state government in the nation (following Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee) to play to their corrupt base, and little more.

    Hopefully, public employee unions will be put to death forever.

    Will H.
    Journeyman (9 yrs.) Pipefitter, inspector, service fitter
    supporter of right-to-work

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  8. Having seen the public sector union negotiation process up close, I find most of the traditional frameworks for discussing public sector unions to be poor at expressing the problems.

    The idea that neither the elected official nor the union has any interest in the taxpayer is not borne out in my experience. First, because the elected official negotiating with the union – in almost every case – does not also have the ability to change revenue. There are severe constraints on spending outside your revenue (unless you are the feds), even in a legislative body controlled by one party, there are a number of other confounding factors that restrain your options. You really can’t just pay your unions whatever and smoke cigars in the back room. You don’t have the budget to do so.

    Similarly, the union in many cases recognizes that spending on their salaries comes at costs to their working conditions. You pay the teachers so much of your budget, and if you pay them more, you have less to give the guys who clean their classrooms or the folks who process their paychecks. Since people don’t like working in filth or not getting paid on time, these are real concerns.

    Most public sector governance domains operate under these sorts of constraints, when you look under the hood.

    That isn’t to say that these issues don’t occur, or that some union-politician relationships are too cozy, but typically the correct solution to this is vote the bum out. If people aren’t voting the bum out, maybe the problem is that the majority of them actually don’t mind overpaying the union. People gripe a lot about how much money the police make in my town, and they’re vocal about it… but pretty routinely the candidates who win the city council positions are pro-police and have made no bones about advocating for paying the police more. They win. Apparently the local voters actually are (in clear majority) either okay with that or they at least value the other things the candidates do greatly enough to make up the difference.

    Where *I* see problems is when unions and (typically not politicians but appointees) are going around the normal governance relationships and trading favors outside the bounds of the normal behavior of the system. The poster child for this are pension funds. An appointed pension fund board agrees to a stupidly high return projection and makes promises to the union based upon that projection that are unreasonable, and now we’re stuck with it… that is the current glaring problem in CA and it sounds like it’s common in other states.

    But neither the ground workers in the union nor the politicians that they directly negotiate with are happy about that in our case. Many CA teachers in the union are frankly (and legitimately) worried that the pension fund will go belly-up, and every single school board member I’ve met is going insane about how the pension contributions are going to triple (or quadruple, if they actually really tackle the pension problem) between 2014 and 2023.

    Like, I can’t give raises to the unions and I can’t hire enough people and I sure as heck can’t invest in innovative programs when 80% of my budget is labor cost and about 6% of that cost is going to triple in the next six years. That’s bonkers. But neither us nor our unions had anything to say in that; it was all decided by the PERS/STRS board(s) over a decade ago and we’re stuck dealing with it.

    Sad part is, the result is that we can’t offer a competitive wage to teachers in the first 14 years of their career. We’re not overpaying people, we’re *underpaying* them.

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    • The biggest problem I see with unions is the same problem I see with citizens: they don’t pay attention to the issues and they don’t vote.

      So the people in charge of the unions are very often pursuing the agenda of a subset of the union members.

      I can’t fix that. They have to fix it. I recognize that most folks who work in the public sector are like anybody else: they want their job and then they want to go home. They don’t want to spend extra hours going to meetings and contract negotiations and rubbing shoulders with local folks who are politically active. Only a small subset of union members want to do that (just like only a subset of citizens are bonkers enough to run for office).

      But I can only negotiate with the negotiation team they give me, and that team is selected by that subset of the leadership.

      It’s the same principle-agent problem you have in any organization. It only gets better when you pitch in and advocate.

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      • Patrick,

        Thanks for your perspective. I’ve sounded off a lot about the type of incentives that come into play with public sector unions, and you actually have experience. It does seem to me that the situation you describe is different from that of a private-sector enterprise, though perhaps not different in the way I and others have argued.

        If people aren’t voting the bum out, maybe the problem is that the majority of them actually don’t mind overpaying the union….Apparently the local voters actually are (in clear majority) either okay with that or they at least value the other things the candidates do greatly enough to make up the difference.

        I suspect it’s more the last sentence than the first, combined with a belief that the service being paid for is good to have, even if “too much” (a term of art) is being paid.

        The biggest problem I see with unions is the same problem I see with citizens: they don’t pay attention to the issues and they don’t vote.

        So the people in charge of the unions are very often pursuing the agenda of a subset of the union members.

        I think that’s a pretty big problem, too. Do you believe it to be particularly problematic* for public-sector unions moreso than for private-sector unions?

        I can’t fix that. They have to fix it. I recognize that most folks who work in the public sector are like anybody else: they want their job and then they want to go home. They don’t want to spend extra hours going to meetings and contract negotiations and rubbing shoulders with local folks who are politically active. Only a small subset of union members want to do that (just like only a subset of citizens are bonkers enough to run for office).

        Amen to that.

        I’m curious. What are your views of my conscience exemption idea? Bad? Good? Not particularly important in the grand scheme of things? Other? I’ll admit it probably won’t solve the problems you describe. Although I am hopeful it could make union leaders more responsive to their membership, it’s possible that renewed responsiveness would be minimal if it’s forthcoming at all.

        *I hate that word, but it’s the only one I can think of n ow.

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  9. I find it rather funny, reading all this comments, where people talk about situations where unions can become so powerful they are harmful to their members…

    …and almost every single one of those examples can apply to corporations, also, and we have basically no laws dealing with that. (Anti-trust laws exist, but they tend to focus on consumers, not employees.)

    I mean, suggested the idea of a corporation being the only game in town, and a union becoming so powerful that it could blacklist people from working there…wait, back up a second. Couldn’t the corporation blackball people too? In fact, doesn’t that effectively happen all the time? It’s called ‘firing’ them. Unions tend to actual have rules, if they are stopping someone specific from getting hired, they have to do it via secret and probably illegal means, whereas a corporation can just…not hire someone.

    Even if it’s not a corporation, but the government…yes, there are some specific rules, but hiring and firing is usually done by not-the-union. I’m not saying the firefighter union or whatever couldn’t keep someone unfairly from being a firefighter, but it would sure as hell be harder for them to do than the management of the firefighters keeping someone out.

    Somehow, this appear to not be a concern, because of the totally skewed way we view unions vs. employers, where we think corporations doing things is ‘fair’ but unions should be restricted because…imaginary reasons.

    —–

    I ask everyone to do a thought experiment: Imagine that unions did not exist.

    Imagine, instead, that a large amount of workers in a business, let’s call it Widget Inc, sat down, in secret, and form a new private corporation called Labor Inc, and then present a list of demands to Widget Inc: Instead of employing these people directly, you will hire all the people who have joined us (About half your workers) through Labor Inc, at higher wages, or we all will walk off our job next week. And also, we now publicly invite all other employees to join us by buying our stock.

    And, of course, no union dues…people are being hired through Labor Inc, who is taking a cut, so there’s no morons demanding the right to not pay dues. Likewise, non-Labor Inc workers at Widget Inc…will get treated by crap and paid nothing, so no debate there about the right to ‘opt out’. But I suspect that Labor Inc will slowly start reducing the amount of non-Labor Inc workers once they have enough of base, and eventually it will be a purely Labor Inc shop, with an exclusivity contract that Widget Makers was forced to sign.

    And, of course, as this is a corporation, I presume everyone is completely fine with it taking political positions and lobbying for things that increase its profits. It’s not like those nasty filthy unions spending their money on lobbying. (Of course, unions actually can’t spend mandatory dues on lobbying, but we’re in stupid land where no one knows that.) Being a corporation means it has free speech! It’s a private corporation and can hire all the lobbyists it wants! Wooooooooo! (Heck, it can possibly even have a religion!)

    And I will point out that almost every feature of this, under existing law, exists. There are temp agencies that supply workers and take a cut, in fact, there are all sorts of contract-base agencies like that. There are many different sorts of exclusivity deals that exist under that, where corporations sign an agreement to only use specific contract-worker suppliers, or to pay if they try to poach workers, or any sort of agreement you can imagine.

    The only thing that doesn’t generally happen is existing workers setting this up and presenting an ultimatum.

    I’d kinda like to see that happen, watch everyone basically panic as unions escape the constraints of the laws they have been put inside by turning into contractor supply companies.

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    • Somehow, this appear to not be a concern, because of the totally skewed way we view unions vs. employers, where we think corporations doing things is ‘fair’ but unions should be restricted because…imaginary reasons.

      Or it could because we are talking about Unions and not Corporations. It is entirely possible to have a conversation critical of X without being required to hold a parallel conversation about it’s opposite Y. So we can all talk about effed up the GOP is, and it’s OK if we don’t mention the various and sundry ways the DNC has it’s head planted firmly up it’s ass.

      Also, Unions catch flak because we expect them to be The Good Guys who are looking out for the powerless against Corporations (who are at best apathetic toward the needs of the workforce). So when they fall to corruption, or complacency, or avarice, they take it on the chin. This is the price you pay for being The Good Guys.

      This is why the US military can’t just casually bomb weddings to kill a couple terrorists and not catch hell for it. This is why when we have a conversation about the evils of civil asset forfeiture, no one is trying to defend the practice by pointing out that criminals steal as well,and at least the police probably won’t pistol whip or kill you when they do it.

      I suppose you could argue that Unions aren’t really The Good Guys, so it’s not fair to hold them to that standard, but that isn’t how they market themselves. They wrap themselves in the mantle, they have to own the weight.

      PS Just to clarify, I’m fine with Unions, I’m just not satisfied with the mechanisms we have in place to deal with Unions that have gone rotten.

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      • It is entirely possible to have a conversation critical of X without being required to hold a parallel conversation about it’s opposite Y. So we can all talk about effed up the GOP is, and it’s OK if we don’t mention the various and sundry ways the DNC has it’s head planted firmly up it’s ass.

        That’s not the correct analogy at all. The correct analogy would be claiming it’s okay to talk about how Republican political organizations are effed up, but not how Democratic ones are. Which, obviously, a bad premise.

        I am pointing out that a lot of stuff we take completely for granted in the behavior of corporations are basically, the entirety of the criticism of unions.

        They are sometimes political entities…like corporations. And can take hardworking people’s time and money and put it towards politics that those people might disagree with…like corporations. They also can get corrupt and exist solely to enrich their hired management…like corporations. They can, hypothetically blacklist workers…like corporations.

        Oh, and let me mention the most surreal complaint: A few union leaders get paid six figure salaries…which might be a more rational complaint if some corporate leaders didn’t get paid eight figure salaries.

        In fact, in every single thing I listed, the entire set of problems with unions, there are significant checks on unions behaving that way! As I’ve mentioned before, labor law is really really really restrictive WRT unions in this country. They can only use voluntary dues for political lobbying, they are democratically operated membership-based organizations so corrupt leadership can be voted out, they really don’t have much control over hiring and firing.

        Those things can happen, yes, I’ll admit that, misbehavior always exists, but there are counter balances. Whereas corporate power in all those areas is pretty much completely unregulated.

        And it’s worth reminding everyone that unions are basically direct democracies and could elect another leader, or could vote to fix mismanagement at any annual meeting, whereas corporations are, at best, indirectly and weirdly weighed democracies where people can buy how many votes they have (aka, stock), which allows them to merely vote for a board that then hires leadership.

        If someone in a union does not like the way the union is operated, he can stand up at an annual meeting and propose a new union rule and have the membership vote on it. Or he, himself, can run for office.

        If someone who owns part of a corporation does not like the way the corporation is run, he…cannot propose changes in that. For-profit corporations do not allow stockholders to dictate operations like that. Likewise, they have strict rules about who can be on the board and how much stock they have to own, so the guy usually cannot run for the board. At best, he can throw his weight behind a board candidate that represents his positions, and not only hope they win, but that they can pick a corporate executive (You know, the guy who actually runs the place) that represents his positions.

        Meanwhile, while that was going on, the union member just got elected as union president, or at least he raised his concerns during the election and thus forced the current and re-elected president to reduce his salary or stop blacklisting that guy or whatever the problem was.

        Also, Unions catch flak because we expect them to be The Good Guys who are looking out for the powerless against Corporations (who are at best apathetic toward the needs of the workforce). So when they fall to corruption, or complacency, or avarice, they take it on the chin. This is the price you pay for being The Good Guys.

        Weirdly, most people complaining about unions do not seem to think they are the good guys.

        I am not saying you do not, I am simply pointing out that a large section of the population are ‘raising concerns’ about unions because they literally do not think unions should exist….and the ‘bad behavior’ they bring up is, somehow, inexplicably, not only stuff corporations do all the time, but often stuff we literally have no problem with corporations doing, or only crazy radical leftists have a problem with.

        Hence my through experiment of ‘What if unions were normal corporations that supplied contractor labor and thus operated outside the constraints of union law?’

        PS Just to clarify, I’m fine with Unions, I’m just not satisfied with the mechanisms we have in place to deal with Unions that have gone rotten.

        Well, we could always let the free market decide.

        Oh, wait, it’s not legal to set up competing unions in a places with a union. You have to force another vote via card check, replacing the existing union, and considering both the corporation and the existing union will fight it…not a chance in hell.

        Wow, unions have a really tight hold on…wait a second. *goes and check all the right-to-work laws*

        It sure is weird how all these right-to-work laws, all the laws saying that unions cannot require people to join (Aka, sign an exclusivity contract with a company they have a contract with, like literally everyone else can.)…somehow don’t allow all those non-joining workers to make a different union.

        That is so super-weird! It’s almost as if union law is structured for the benefit of corporations, so they only have one entity they have to deal with, and can easily wine and dine and outright bribe the union’s management, or even that union can just be operated by incompetents who do not understand finances and does a bad job.

        It sure is weird how all the people chanting about the free market seem to think it suddenly shouldn’t apply to unions.

        Or, rather, of course they think that. They just want inefficient and corrupt unions, because well-represented labor impacts corporate profits.

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        • We’ve gone round this Maypole before, David. As I said, I am not satisfied with the mechanisms we have in place to deal with unions that have gone rotten, and honestly, I think we should have more options for Unions, and a bit more chaos in that sphere. The laws we have are busy killing off unions through poison rather than violence.

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        • I am pointing out that a lot of stuff we take completely for granted in the behavior of corporations are basically, the entirety of the criticism of unions.

          You left out:
          They may not provide value in an involuntary relationship. I’m not sure what happens if a union decides to strike against my will, how do unions force that on their membership? Is this the point where Union Violence becomes an issue?

          And maybe most importantly, how serious a competitive disadvantage are Unions for their host company? To what degree does that effect me as stock-owner-of-the-company and me as consumer-of-goods?

          I’m a consumer of goods FAR more often than I’m a producer.

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    • I agree with Oscar’s comment. However, I do agree with what appears to be your unstated point that most unions lack the power even to blackball someone, especially because the closed shop, where the union controls hiring to a much larger degree (as opposed to the union shop or agency shop, where the employee has to join or contribute only after being hired) is technically illegal.

      I don’t particularly mind people raising up different concerns in the thread than are discussed in the OP. (I’ve been known to do that myself.) But I’d like to hear your thoughts, if any, on the issue at hand, and especially my conscience exemption proposal, keeping mind that the exemptee would still have to pay….and perhaps also my (more tentative) proposal to permit unions to spend what they want on political campaigns.

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      • But I’d like to hear your thoughts, if any, on the issue at hand, and especially my conscience exemption proposal, keeping mind that the exemptee would still have to pay

        First, the complaints people have about the ‘fair share’ are obviously idiotic nonsense.

        If people do not wish to make ‘a forced political statement’ by being ‘forced’ to demand money from the government, they should probably not work for the government, because being employed by someone is ‘demanding money from them’.

        If people can claim that membership in a government union is inherently political, than by that logic, employment by the government is inherently political.

        Which, I mean, perhaps it is! Perhaps people should be able to argue that, I dunno, unemployment laws requiring them to look for jobs shouldn’t require them to take government jobs, as that is a forced political statement.

        But that’s off the point…if the government can offer jobs to people (And it’s an absurd conclusion that they cannot!) and thus ‘force’ that political speech from employees, they can also have employees join a union and ‘force’ that political speech from employees.

        As for your proposal to undercut this…you aren’t really in a position to negotiate this as a sort of preemptive thing, and you have, I think, rightly noticed that the people trying to do this are trying to destroy unions so will not accept it.

        However, it is an interesting concept as a way to decrease union defections if the courts decided to restrict unions even more, but, weirdly, I don’t think you’re going far enough.

        I think it might be an interesting proposal to extend this to non-mandatory dues, also. For all unions.

        Make all dues mandatory, period. If the courts say that a specific part cannot be made mandatory due to political speech, the union should turn around and say ‘Yes, you don’t have to give us the money, but you do have to give it to a charity of your choice’.

        Or, hell, how about making people pay their employer the union dues? That presents a nice little psychological hurdle that most people won’t like, with a line in their paycheck saying ‘We have kept $50 of your money because you decided to pay those dues to the union’. (Of course, we have to make sure corporations can’t reimburse that to workers, so perhaps not. Pretty funny idea, though.)

        But, really, I’m kinda liking this idea. For everything. Whenever the government makes a bullshit ruling that requiring workers to pay unions is forced political speech (Whereas, of course, their employers using the results and profits of their labor is somehow not forced political speech.), the unions should just turn around and say ‘We have signed a contract with our corporation saying that all employees have to pay union dues of $X or be fired. The courts may have said we cannot use that money if you object…but sadly for you, you still have to pay it, just not to us.’

        Actually, I’d like to see them collect it, but then have to turn it over to someone else. That would really be easiest.

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        • Incidentally, this union dues bullshit is why I’ve long argued that there should be no union dues.

          Union contracts should just demand that the other side, be them corporation or government, pay them a specific amount of money per worker. The corporation pays the union a set amount, and the worker isn’t involved at all. Then we’d have no dumbass argument about workers being ‘forced’ to pay for things.

          Hell, it would probably make more sense for the union to demand more money for each non-union worker than for each union one. In fact, they should probably slowly increase the amount per non-union worker until it’s cheaper to just make everyone union, locking in their hold.

          Of course, all this is completely illegal under labor law, because, as I keep saying ad nausuem and everyone is tired of, the entire point of labor law is to castrate labor unions and make them manageable, while still having them as a release value, or at least a threat of a release value, for the most extreme employer abuses.

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        • I think it might be an interesting proposal to extend this to non-mandatory dues, also. For all unions.

          Make all dues mandatory, period. If the courts say that a specific part cannot be made mandatory due to political speech, the union should turn around and say ‘Yes, you don’t have to give us the money, but you do have to give it to a charity of your choice’.

          I thought that was roughly what I was proposing, unless I’m misunderstanding you.

          Or, hell, how about making people pay their employer the union dues? That presents a nice little psychological hurdle that most people won’t like, with a line in their paycheck saying ‘We have kept $50 of your money because you decided to pay those dues to the union’. (Of course, we have to make sure corporations can’t reimburse that to workers, so perhaps not. Pretty funny idea, though.)

          As with your caveat, I’d fear that the employers would game that somehow. If it could be enforced, though, that’s an interesting idea.

          If people do not wish to make ‘a forced political statement’ by being ‘forced’ to demand money from the government, they should probably not work for the government, because being employed by someone is ‘demanding money from them’.

          If people can claim that membership in a government union is inherently political, than by that logic, employment by the government is inherently political.

          Larry above made a similar argument. I’m not sure where to draw the line, but to me the type of negotiations involved in what someone is paid is “political” in a way that agreeing to work for the state is not. Of course, if I carry that logic far enough, a lone government employee’s request for a wage is a form of “political” advocacy. I’m not sure I’d carry my analogy that far.

          At any rate, I do appreciate that you’re addressing my other rationale for supporting the conscience exemption. (I realize you’re not necessarily on board, but thanks for noting it.)

          Union contracts should just demand that the other side, be them corporation or government, pay them a specific amount of money per worker. The corporation pays the union a set amount, and the worker isn’t involved at all. Then we’d have no dumbass argument about workers being ‘forced’ to pay for things.

          For public-sector unions, that probably wouldn’t resolve the controversy. It would be the state paying for the upkeep of the union. For private-sector unions, maybe.

          Again, though, thanks for offering your thoughts on the matter.

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          • I thought that was roughly what I was proposing, unless I’m misunderstanding you.

            I thought that you were just proposing it as a way out of this lawsuit, whereas I was just saying ‘Hey, let’s do that in general.’.

            Of course, it wouldn’t actually work. The intent of the lawsuit is to destroy unions, as is the intent of every bullshit lawsuit about unions, and they will hardly accept any compromise.

            They would immediately turn around in court and claim that the government can’t take people’s money and either spend it on a political message they don’t like, or just throw it away.

            And they sorta have a point, that wouldn’t be allowed.

            Except for the fact it’s not the government taking their money so their entire premise is stupid.

            I’m not sure where to draw the line, but to me the type of negotiations involved in what someone is paid is “political” in a way that agreeing to work for the state is not.

            How is agreeing to work for someone not part of negotiating what you are paid?

            I mean, even if money isn’t specifically a topic, you’re still working for them because the wages are, to you, acceptable, and there are presumably people who are not trying to work for them because the wages are not.

            Those people are making statements about what they think the wages should be. Indirect, vague statements, but still statements.

            For public-sector unions, that probably wouldn’t resolve the controversy. It would be the state paying for the upkeep of the union.

            And once we cross the Rubicon and have the state paying money to unions for supplying workers, what’s next?

            They start purchasing office supplies from outside corporations?

            They sign a contract with a construction company and pay them to build roads?

            Where will the madness end?!?!

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            • I thought that you were just proposing it as a way out of this lawsuit, whereas I was just saying ‘Hey, let’s do that in general.’.

              I was doing both. I believe it’s the right thing to do. But for those who disagree, I also say it could be a way out of the lawsuit (or more accurately, a way to comply with an adverse ruling).

              Of course, it wouldn’t actually work. The intent of the lawsuit is to destroy unions, as is the intent of every bullshit lawsuit about unions, and they will hardly accept any compromise.

              They would immediately turn around in court and claim that the government can’t take people’s money and either spend it on a political message they don’t like, or just throw it away.

              And they sorta have a point, that wouldn’t be allowed.

              I agree that’s the intent of the lawsuit, or at least it probably is. I wouldn’t say it’s the intent of every lawsuit in which the union is a defendant. (You didn’t say that, but you seemed to imply that most lawsuits against unions are “bullshit lawsuit(s) about unions.) At any rate, I agree the movers and shakers behind the suit would contest it further. However, I’m not convinced the same majority that’s available to strike down fair share in public-sector unions would be so eager to strike down “fair share plus a conscience exemption.” I’m not sure they wouldn’t, but I’m not sure they would.

              How is agreeing to work for someone not part of negotiating what you are paid?

              You might have quoted me further, where I acknowledged as much. As I said, I’m not sure how far to push my own analogy.

              ….what’s next?

              They start purchasing office supplies from outside corporations?

              They sign a contract with a construction company and pay them to build roads?

              Where will the madness end?!?!

              I’m saying people would cry foul with the arrangement (where the state qua employer pays the union directly) and they’d probably succeed in getting such a policy reversed. I’m not saying I agree. You can take up the reductio with them.

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    • I’d kinda like to see that happen, watch everyone basically panic as unions escape the constraints of the laws they have been put inside by turning into contractor supply companies.

      The labor supply companies I’ve worked for are evaluated on the value they bring to the company, and thrown out if they abuse their position, their workers, or no longer add value.

      So I’m in favor too. If unions add value they should go this route. I’d suggest a worker owned co-op of some flavor so it’s clear excess profits of Labor Inc go to it’s owners (i.e. the work force) but whatever.

      Likewise, non-Labor Inc workers at Widget Inc…will get treated by crap and paid nothing…

      You’re assuming stunningly bad and oppressive management at Widget Inc which is the exception rather than the rule but that’s fine and where unions flourish.

      But I suspect that Labor Inc will slowly start reducing the amount of non-Labor Inc workers once they have enough of base, and eventually it will be a purely Labor Inc shop, with an exclusivity contract that Widget Makers was forced to sign.

      Labor Inc, having established itself as a monopoly, will abuse that monopoly? Granted there are companies which go that route (Intel is being taken to task for something close to this), but I question it’s legality.

      In practice labor supply companies have to compete against other labor supply companies, and if they abuse their workers there are trivial recourses (like workers fleeing Labor-Inc for Labor2-Inc); I’ve had good experiences with that sort of thing, being abused by my contracting company is phase one in getting a serious raise.

      My feeling is there are important issues we’ve missed somewhere in this thought experiment (Great Work btw) but I really don’t have a clue where. What is it that manpower type companies do that unions are unwilling to do?

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      • Labor Inc, having established itself as a monopoly, will abuse that monopoly? Granted there are companies which go that route (Intel is being taken to task for something close to this), but I question it’s legality.

        People misunderstand monopolies. There’s a difference between how people use the term monopoly, meaning ‘the only entity selling a certain thing’ and how the law uses it, which requires the supplier to have significant market power.

        Anti-trust law does not kick in when someone has the only suppler of something merely because no one else has bothered to entered the market. There are plenty of small towns where there is only one grocery store. That store is, possibly, a local monopoly in the colloquial sense, but it is not regulated in any manner. Other grocery stores could, presumably, come in and sell things.

        There are plenty of ‘monopolies’ that exist in locations merely because no one else has bothered to enter the market there (Although thanks to the internet, those have deceased rapidly.) and are completely unregulated. The regulation only shows up when competition is difficult.

        This difficulty can be a legal impossibility, like a local phone company, or a supply impossibility, where the monopoly owns all of whatever it is selling and it is impossible for other people to sell the same thing, and is presumably what we’re talking about.

        Aaaaand…it does not appear impossible for other, competing manpower corporations to supply whatever workers are needed. They might have to go get them from other places, and relocate them, or even have to train them, maybe pay their way though college, so those manpower companies will probably have to charge much more…or, rather, choose not to compete because they would not have competitive prices.

        But ‘buying up all the cheaper local supply first so you can sell lower than anyone else’ does not make a company a monopoly. It just makes them smart. Neither does quickly getting customers (aka, the corporation those workers were poached from) signed up to exclusivity deals before anyone else can get in gear.

        I mean, there’s a hypothetical situation where it might be possible to argue that workers are not replaceable, where replacements cannot be trained…like if the job can only be done by someone who is extremely extremely athletic or smart, and that the union literally has all these people who exist who are that thing. But obviously, those people hardly need unions, or manpower corporations or anything, and if they are literally irreplaceable, have probably named their own price already.

        My feeling is there are important issues we’ve missed somewhere in this thought experiment (Great Work btw) but I really don’t have a clue where. What is it that manpower type companies do that unions are unwilling to do?

        It is less ‘unwilling’ and more ‘no long barred from things’.

        For example, in certain industries, unions cannot call for a strike.

        And there would be no such thing as ‘right to work’ states. Fundamentally, a ‘right-to-work’ law merely forbids a certain type of contract (An exclusivity contract) between a corporation and its union. There are no such ban concerning agreements between corporations and manpower corporations, and it’s hard to see how a ban could even be workable and still allow all the other exclusivity contracts that corporate American relies on.

        Unions also have to be created, or subject themselves to if they already exist, a card check and vote, which corporations like to threaten people about and attempt to manipulate the outcome. Unions have to exist by majority of all workers (Minus management) in most circumstances. Whereas a group of people giving them two weeks notice en-mass and starting a manpower company and saying ‘You probably want to hire us before our two-week notice runs out.’ could be done by any amount of people. If, say, 20 positions in a 200 employee company have a highly trained job operating a specific machine, and 15 of them agree to walk out, resulting in the entire company grinding to a halt, those 15 could probably successfully demand negotiation…whereas unions can’t happen that way.

        But my point is less that unions ‘could do’ more if they existed this way…that is possibly true, but also there are some other laws that start to threaten them. I’m not sure if monopoly law is really one of them, but a case about tortuous interference could be possible. One company picketing another, for example, might be grounds for a lawsuit.

        My point is merely that: There are a lot of things that people absurdly bitch and moan about unions doing, complaints that seem to be their entirely of examples of how ‘unions are out of control’, which are things that corporations do literally all the time and almost no one says anything about it.

        I mean, for example, do you think Labor Inc and Widget Inc could sign a contract saying that Labor Inc supplies all the people for a certain position at Widget Inc? That Labor Inc goes out and hires the people, and supplies a specific amount to Widget Inc? That seems entirely reasonable, right….it’s how manpower corporations work already, and if they can force someone into an exclusivity contract, they should.

        Oops. You just agreed to, functionally, a ‘closed union shop’, a shop where the union does the hiring and firing, something apparently so ‘outrageous’ we literally do not allow it in this country. (As opposed a normal ‘union shop’, where you just have to join the union upon being hired, which we only allow in part of this country.)

        It’s a fun game: Pick any complaint about unions you hear, mentally transform that union into a manpower corporation, and then ask if that complaint makes the slightest bit of sense.

        OMG, employees who do not want to be part of the union have some level of mandatory dues! That is completely unacceptable, and we’re suing over it! (Aka, this article) Meanwhile, a manpower corporation has a corporation it supplies over a barrel, and has demanded they sign a contract where the corporation pays them money for every employees, not just the Labor Inc supplies. Man, that’s a sucky deal for Widget Inc, Labor Inc. really screwed them over, but whatever. …what do you mean that is almost exactly the same thing as mandatory dues?

        And now, that union is lobbying for political positions using voluntary union dues! Oh no! If only they were…Labor Inc…who…legally can lobby the government all they want, with any money they want. Hrm.

        And the best one, of course, is people yammering about the pay of union bosses. As I pointed out above, it is much much easier for the stakeholders in a union (The members) to change that…they can replace the boss with direct democracy, or they can restrict his pay. They can directly vote on both those at their meetings! Whereas corporate executive pay is, like, a hundred times more out of control, and it’s much harder for the stakeholders there (The stockholders) to reign that in.

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