|Verizon and Wisconsin: Big Losses for Big Labor, Victories for Everyone Else|
By Timothy H. Lee
Thursday, August 25 2011
Big Labor warned us it would roar into 2012, an awakening colossus punishing everyone who stood in the path of its political agenda.
Today, union leaders are instead whimpering following two symbolic and high-profile losses against Verizon and in Wisconsin. Those setbacks for Big Labor translate to victories for everyone else, but more on that later.
In Wisconsin, union leaders wasted tens of millions of dollars taken from members’ paychecks in a futile attempt to overturn last November’s election results. And further east, striking employees in Verizon’s traditional copper wire communications sector penitently returned to work, just days after declaring an ugly war against their own employer.
Those two union debacles stem from a common source, the refusal to adjust union demands to the simple realities of today’s economy. They also illustrate union bosses’ growing desperation, and the lows to which they’ll descend in risking their own members’ welfare in pursuit of political power.
In the Verizon strike, unions representing 45,000 employees in the company’s northeastern and mid-Atlantic wireline sector walked away from the bargaining table and terminated negotiations. The walkout followed union leaders’ refusal to negotiate on the issue of healthcare cost-sharing. Never mind that employees in Verizon’s wireless communications sector, which is the future of telecommunications and accounts for most of the company’s profits, already share a portion of their healthcare costs, as did 130,000 other Verizon employees. Moreover, Verizon already spends an astounding $4 billion annually on employee and retiree health benefits, so it’s hardly as though the company is miserly.
Ignoring those realities, the unions would not budge. Which was ironic, considering that traditional copper line communication constitutes a fading part of our lives, and a declining portion of Verizon’s business. A union representing employees within a declining sector of the company’s portfolio is hardly in a position to claim sacrosanct status.
Despicably, striking workers then commenced a campaign of harassment against other employees, and vandalism against company property. One unionized worker openly boasted of his malfeasance against Verizon employees who continued to work, saying, “We cannot stop them from doing their job, but we can harass them while they are on the job.”
Lovely. Nothing demonstrates professionalism and fair play like sabotaging your own employer.
Fortunately, the striking employees smelled the coffee this week and returned to their jobs. The union’s loss was a gain for the employees who wanted to get back to work, and for consumers generally.
Over in Wisconsin, meanwhile, Big Labor failed miserably in its attempt to recall six Republican legislators and return the state Senate to Democratic control. But that wasn’t their only failure. Weeks earlier, the same forces failed to recall conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, dashing their attempt to politicize the judicial branch in their favor.
The source of union leaders’ ire was fiscal reform enacted by Governor Scott Walker and a Republican legislature elected as part of the nationwide November 2010 revolution. That reform has already balanced Wisconsin’s budget without raising taxes, and brought greater sanity to public union employee benefits. It also granted employees the right to vote on continuing union representation, a freedom of choice that hardly came as music to union leaders’ ears.
All told, Big Labor wasted over $30 million on those recall efforts, which must thrill rank-and-file union members whose wages subsidized them.
Once again, though, union bosses’ loss was Wisconsin’s gain. Along with achieving a balanced budget without job-killing higher taxes, Governor Walker’s reforms helped elevate the state from 41st to 24th in the ranking of “Best States for Business” by Chief Executive Magazine. Additionally, school districts have already saved money due to those labor reforms, with the Milwaukee district announcing that it will save $25 million this year and an estimated $36 million next year, dollars that will help prevent employee layoffs.
In contrast, things aren’t so rosy over at union headquarters. The Wisconsin Education Association Council that dumped so many of its members’ dollars into the pointless recall campaigns announced that it will terminate approximately 40% of its staff. Perhaps they and other unions will finally internalize the lesson that dues are better spent improving members’ welfare than on political campaigning.
Of course, the recent Verizon and Wisconsin episodes are hardly isolated. Across America, Big Labor’s agenda stands at odds with the well-being of its members and the American population generally.
In Washington, D.C., for instance, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) continues its assault against Boeing, the nation’s largest exporter by value, simply because it located a manufacturing facility in South Carolina, a right-to-work state. According to a survey by the National Association of Manufacturers, almost 50% of respondents reported that the NLRB action has already impacted their capital expenditure plans, and 69% said it would impair job growth.
Perhaps Barack Obama can figure out how all of that helps create jobs while he’s on the golf course this week in Martha’s Vineyard.
Regardless, the facts remain: Big Labor’s interests increasingly stand at odds with the nation’s welfare, and bad news for union bosses means good news for everyone else.
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