A Less Perfect Union

posted at 5:37 pm on February 12, 2010 by Doctor Zero

John Stossel reports on the forced unionization of day-care centers in Flint, Michigan:

Michelle Berry runs a day-care business out of her home in Flint, MI. She thought that she owned her own business, but Berry’s been told she is now a government employee and union member. It’s not voluntary. Suddenly, Berry and 40,000 other Michigan private day-care providers have learned that union dues are being taken out of the child-care subsidies the state sends them. The “union” is a creation of AFSCME, the government workers union, and the United Auto Workers.

Stossel explains that AFSCME receives about $3.7 million from the Department of Human Services. It achieved its conquest of the Michigan day-care industry through a mail-in vote, which included votes from only 6,000 of the 40,000 day-care providers in the state. You can expect much more aggressive unionizing if some version of the Card Check bill ever manages to slither past Congress.

The current tribute unions demand from their Democrat servants is the “High Road Contracting Policy,” which would give preference for federal contracts to companies that pay a government-defined “living wage,” which would be suspiciously close to the wages unions already demand for their members. As with all subsidies, this living wage would be extracted from the pockets of taxpayers, who will be expected to go on living while their take-home wages shrink, and their jobs evaporate.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept of private-sector labor unions. Every worker is the vendor of his own time, and since individuals have the right of free association, there’s nothing immoral about a group of people with related skills banding together to engage in collective bargaining. Over the past century, however, unions have bathed in the radiation of centralized State power, and mutated from defensive alliances of exploited workers, into de facto arms of the government.

In order to prosper, a union requires two essential advantages: solidarity and exclusivity. Solidarity means the members of the union must remain loyal, provide a steady stream of funding through payment of dues, and obey the instructions of the union leadership. There’s not much power to be gained from calling a strike, if half the union membership decides to go into work anyway, and collective bargaining agreements must be honored with minimal debate.

Unions also require privileged access to labor markets, or else independent workers willing to hire on for lower wages will undercut them. A company paying for expensive union labor cannot compete with an open shop that doesn’t have to pay artificially high wages, or provide elaborate benefits. A union could gain exclusivity by providing a vastly superior work product, providing value equal to their high wages. Naturally, the public-relations arms of labor unions like to claim this is the way they operate… but in the real world of 2010, it’s rarely the case.

There is a much easier way for unions to gain exclusive control of labor markets: they can barter the money and voting power they gain from the solidarity of their membership, to politicians with a ravenous appetite for these delicacies. In exchange, the politicians can use the compulsive power of the State to create monopoly playgrounds for the unions. The teachers’ unions are a particularly grotesque example, pushing an obviously inferior work product onto a captive population of students, while politicians patrol the schoolyard fence with truncheons of rolled-up campaign donations.

The National Education Association is the largest union in America, and one of its most powerful political forces, donating millions to Democrat candidates and spending millions more in lobbying… including over a million dollars in donations to the criminal organization ACORN over the last two years. The NEA also provides invaluable political indoctrination, inserting propaganda for statist causes like global warming into education curricula. In exchange, the Democrats are universally sworn to oppose vouchers and school privatization, no matter how much it hurts other constituencies they profess to care about.  There are many fine teachers among the ranks of the NEA, but their individual merits vanish beneath the vast corruption of the union establishment.

We’ve also seen billions of taxpayer dollars spent to bail out General Motors, for the benefit of the labor unions whose parasitic embrace ended its free-market life. The unions set a wage level that rendered GM unable to turn a profit, becoming what Mark Steyn describes as “a vast welfare plan with a tiny loss-making commercial sector.” Every American taxpayer was fleeced by the Obama Administration to rescue the unions from the consequences of their actions. Why should they mediate their demands or become competitive with independent labor, when they can hire politicians to follow them around with a club in one hand, and lifesaving cash transfusions in the other?

These events are entirely predictable, because where the supply of votes and political cash from unions meets the demand from Big Government, a transaction is bound to occur. In a centralized state, the power of a political collective is vastly greater than individuals, or most corporations. Plenty of big companies spend cash buying political influence, producing all manner of mischief… but they can’t deliver the kind of packaged voting power that a labor union or racial grievance organization can provide, because they cannot compel – or even encourage – their employees to vote a certain way. The NEA and AFSCME have a lot more than dollars to spend in the political marketplace.

This kind of thing is inevitable, as long as we allow political control over industry, and place huge amounts of tax money in the hands of our government. The depth of corruption can be measured with the value of a congressional vote… or the presidential seal. Despite its overwhelming presence in every aspect of our daily lives, Big Government acquires many characteristics of anarchy, in which the diminishing resources of a moribund economy become the spoils for feuding warlords. One of the hallmarks of civilization is that no one should ever discover they have involuntarily been conscripted into a gang, or the government that increasingly resembles one.

Cross-posted at www.doczero.org.

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Everyday, they make me sicker and sicker.

tessa on February 12, 2010 at 5:44 PM

sorry, big OT….shooting at UAH (University of Alabama, Huntsville)….3 confirmed dead, 1 confirmed injured, 1 shooter (female) in custody….

runawayyyy on February 12, 2010 at 5:47 PM

“their individual merits vanish beneath the vast corruption of the union establishment.”

I’m not sure I understand what you mean by that. I don’t see how the corruption of the union establishment can in any sense “cover up” the individual merits of teachers. The two seem pretty unrelated.

It bothers me just as much when individual teachers take umbrage at a criticism of their union, as if it’s some reflection on their personal ability or performance.

notropis on February 12, 2010 at 5:49 PM

This really makes me angry… Here in Los Angeles the city needs to cut the workforce because like every other city revenues are down… The labor unions who represent the employees slated for layoffs are forcing the city council to make the airport, harbor and department of water and power hire these employees. I hate for anyone to lose their job but how is this fair?The money that goes to pay them is money that won’t go into the infrastructure which needs it!

CCRWM on February 12, 2010 at 5:49 PM

Isn’t that nice, forced conversion into a union member. What a joke that movement has become.

Bishop on February 12, 2010 at 5:52 PM

I think this refers to the disgusting numbers of teachers retained because they cannot be fired for love or money.

WitchDoctor on February 12, 2010 at 5:52 PM

This terrifies me . . .

Ingenue on February 12, 2010 at 5:57 PM

Wait a minute… Are there people out there who DON’T want their kids to be raised by mobsters?

logis on February 12, 2010 at 5:58 PM

Another outstanding piece Doc.
And you nailed one of the great tragedies here:

There are many fine teachers among the ranks of the NEA, but their individual merits vanish beneath the vast corruption of the union establishment.

JusDreamin on February 12, 2010 at 6:03 PM

Nice day-care business you got there…

… it would be a shame if anything happened to it.

Seven Percent Solution on February 12, 2010 at 6:06 PM

This terrifies me . . .

Ingenue on February 12, 2010 at 5:57 PM

It’s time to turn that around.

daesleeper on February 12, 2010 at 6:07 PM

Wow! That is totally scary. I’m a one person business owner, this could damn well happen to me too!

4shoes on February 12, 2010 at 6:11 PM

People voted for “Chicago thug politicians” and they got “Chicago thug politics.” Wow. What a surprise!

oldleprechaun on February 12, 2010 at 6:12 PM

Wake up people! This was reported 6 months ago and Michigan is only the beginning. This will happen wherever there is a Democrat monopoly in the State House. Look for similar moves in Massachusetts and any business that receives any money from the government. Are you a Section 8 landlord? UNION! Do you provide government-subsidized training programs? UNION! Communism is gaining a stronghold throughout the country and only the TEABAGGERS are doing anything!

LonelyMassRepublican on February 12, 2010 at 6:18 PM

Some kind of creative destruction needs to happen with these labor unions. They have bled members, and credibility for decades, and yet they have commanding influence within the Democrat party to the point where one could draw a corruption parallel to that of organized crime.

Join conservatives on an open forum at It’s About Freedom.

IronDioPriest on February 12, 2010 at 6:22 PM

And remember that woman who was helping neighbors by taking their kids in for the school bus stop, and was hassled because she wasn’t ‘licensed’ and didn’t have a ‘day care plan’? Hassled by the State department that covered that, of course…

Can you say: Union enforcers?

Remember if you want to be nice to someone about their kids in the future you will need a ‘license’ and a ‘plan’ and pay up to the State and the Union.

ajacksonian on February 12, 2010 at 6:24 PM

TEABAGGERS are doing anything!

LonelyMassRepublican on February 12, 2010 at 6:18 PM

Uh…I believe that should be Tea Party participents…don’t go Olby on us.

Les in NC on February 12, 2010 at 6:26 PM

Remember if you want to be nice to someone about their kids in the future you will need a ‘license’ and a ‘plan’ and pay up to the State and the Union.

ajacksonian on February 12, 2010 at 6:24 PM

And you will need a degree in “early childhood education,” paid for, of course, with a government-guaranteed loan — which you can conveniently have forgiven if you devote a certain number of years of your life to “public service” — during which time, of course, you will be a member of the SEIU.

rockmom on February 12, 2010 at 6:32 PM

Bureaucracy is expanding. Sooner or a later you’ll need a license to breed.

Holger on February 12, 2010 at 6:34 PM

It’s crazy, but what does one expect from Michigan? As a state, it is the very essence of government-union collaborative failure.

ROCnPhilly on February 12, 2010 at 6:35 PM

The unions have long been the problem in California. They have rigged the bidding process for all jobs funded by public (taxpayer) dollars.

There is a term called “Prevailing Wage”. It is a wage that is about 25% higher than the norm. It must be paid on all public works projects. Public agencies pay, essentially, 25% more than they need to for services. No wonder we’re broke.

If anyone has a mind to check thios oput, take a look the the State’s Department of Industrial Relations web page. Look under Prevailing Wage determinations. http://www.dir.ca.gov.

What you see will shock you. Craft people making $150,000 per year? And the fat Cat Bankers and the Doctors get the grief for making too much money?


And why is it that Public Emplyee unions are allowed to exist? Are they not a violation of anti-trust laws? I do not have a choice of where I get these services. If I want to hire a union contractor to do work on my house? I have the choice to do so if I’d like. I can also hire a non-union one which will undoubtedly save me money.

I don’t have a choice for public services. If I did, I’d feel differently.

Gunslinger on February 12, 2010 at 6:39 PM

Taking America back from these crooks will be a long project.

GaltBlvnAtty on February 12, 2010 at 6:53 PM

In order to prosper, a union requires two essential advantages: solidarity and exclusivity.

And a third — brute force in the form of Big Government.

publiuspen on February 12, 2010 at 7:01 PM

Downsize That Michael Moore! My relatives in Michigan cannot wait to leave. Last one outta there should steal the light bulbs & copper plumbing.

BHO Jonestown on February 12, 2010 at 7:15 PM

Of course there is a way to avoid being stuck in this union — accept business from cash paying customers only. Why is the state involved in paying for or subsidizing child care in the first place? These providers leave themselves open to this coercion by having a business model based on government payments.

Literally, this is another example of the ‘nanny state.’

GnuBreed on February 12, 2010 at 7:15 PM

If I figure out a way to score a few billion, where can I start a new country?

IlikedAUH2O on February 12, 2010 at 7:49 PM

Maybe the libs will give us some land cheap to just go away.

Swap for all those hedge funds and gold the right has been buying.

The US Gov’t may need some hard assets one of these days.

IlikedAUH2O on February 12, 2010 at 7:54 PM

Margaret Thatcher crushed the coalminers who had the most powerful union in the UK. She also made unofficial strikes illegal, abolished the closed shop and enforced secret ballots. Blair and Labour tinkered a little with the restrictions when they got back to power in 1997 but left the key Thatcher laws in place.
The result is that the majority of workers in the private sector are not unionised and even the public sector unions have been emasculated…there is the odd strike but they usually fizzle out. Frankly I am astonished at the extent of union power in the USA and the amount of taxpayers money they suck up.
Even in the worst days of union power in the UK in the 60s and 70s they were politically driven by the left but they were never controlled by criminal gangs….unless this nettle is firmly grasped in the USA you will see the unions become the fourth branch of the US political system alongside President, Congress and SC…

callingallcomets on February 12, 2010 at 8:04 PM

We can’t afford all the public employees. It is time to terminate their contracts. They can join the rest of us in the bread lines.

Metanis on February 12, 2010 at 8:42 PM

So this woman- and many, many others like her- are having their wages stolen from them and given to a union without their consent.

How is this even legal in the United States of America?

Jay Mac on February 12, 2010 at 9:08 PM

If LBJ’s “Great Society” hadn’t incentivized single motherhood, there would be no need for government funds to subsidize child care in the first place. Our society is skewed beyond belief by these disastrous policies that liberals like to cite as successes.

The government has no place in the child care business, or any other business that doesn’t have direct national security implications, and even then, there should be a minimalist approach to federal involvement, especially with such schemes as subsidies, which alter the natural balance of a free economy.

Big Government is the source of most of the ills that our economy is now suffering, and Big Government, left unchecked, is a growing, feeding, ever more hungry beast that will eventually swallow all of our liberty and prosperity.

hillbillyjim on February 12, 2010 at 10:44 PM

Time to rescind the law allowing gov’t unions. Nothing but a Democrat ATM machine. Biggest scam perpetrated on the American citizen in the history of the Republic. At least until Obamacare is passed.

chickasaw42 on February 12, 2010 at 11:50 PM

This is great, as unions have already done so much to make Michigan such a great place to live. Oh, wait…

redwhiteblue on February 13, 2010 at 1:47 AM

Hey! I’m one of those unionized child care providers in Michigan! The only way I can fight back is to not accept families who use the child care subsidy.

SueM on February 13, 2010 at 6:23 AM