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Collective Bargaining, Explained: Why It’s at the Center of Fights Now

The term "collective bargaining" has been somewhat ubiquitous lately, as legislators in several states have moved to limit union rights. But while collective bargaining lies at the very heart of what unions do, how it works -- especially in the public sector -- is not always so straightforward.

What is "collective bargaining"?
Simply put, "collective bargaining" is the process through which employees band together to form a union and negotiate a contract with their boss that lays out certain employment conditions, including things like salaries, benefits, vacation time, work hours, safety conditions and grievance procedures.

Is collective bargaining a "right"?
Sort of.

The United States has officially recognized the right to unionize and bargain collectively since at least 1935, when Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act, a federal law governing the formation of unions and the process of collective bargaining. (The U.N. has also long recognized collective bargaining as a fundamental right for workers.)

But the NLRA only applies to private employees. And while federal legislation has since extended certain collective bargaining rights to federal employees, state employees remain subject to their individual states' laws.

In the cases of Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee and Idaho, legislators are seeking to limit the collective-bargaining rights of their state employees.

What's the argument for limiting public employees' right to unionize?
Well, public employees can have more leverage than private workers.

While private unions have an incentive to keep their demands reasonable (lest they drive their employers into bankruptcy and themselves into unemployment), public unions are in a different position. Paying government employees more might mean higher costs for taxpayers, but since it's hard for most people to shop at a different government, there's little incentive for public unions to scale back their demands.

Another concern is that public unions can politicize state agencies at the general public's expense. The unions can use big money and get-out-the-vote muscle to back the election of politicians who will offer them cushy contracts -- and leave taxpayers to foot the bills.

Supporters of public-sector unions counter that state employees still face the same workplace issues that private sector workers do, including scheduling, grievance procedures and safety conditions.

Why is this all an issue now?
Many of the states considering this kind of legislation are doing it, they say, in the hope it will help close their respective budget gaps. It's unclear how much money limiting union rights will save and even harder to know whether legally limiting state workers' union rights will have any practical effect. While it is within the states' powers to limit (or even abolish altogether) their employees' collective-bargaining rights, public employees have occasionally risked fines and jail time by holding illegal strikes.

Without arguing any of the points in the article would it not to add something about the critical importance of Unions to Democrats as a whole…and at least note that the elimination of unions whenever and whenever possible is a significant and in all probability a very successful strategy of the Republicans?

Certainly in the case of WI, were the Public Service Union is now forbidden to represent workers for any reason, after giving everything demanded in the way of pay and allowances…what else can the reason be?

The reasons given, “to allow flexibility” to other public entities is hollow indeed…after all, flexibility to do what’s already done?

Hardly stands up to examination.

Gee, did Fox buy ProPublica? 

What is up with all of the “Another concern is…” unsupported by any evidence to substantiate the far-from-veiled accusation?

Hernendez sounds like he is a paid shill for the Rebulicans.  He has not done his homework.  Cutting the pay for the public workers is not doing anything to close the budget gap in states.  As a matter of fact, Florida is giving away the money it took back from education to give to people for corporate and citizen tax cuts.  That still leaves it with a huge deficit that it will surely use next year to cut more state workers and services.  Winsonsin already gave a huge tax cut to its corporations and the money it is trying to get from some of the public unions will not even come close to closing its budget gap.  Hernendez has bought into the sound bites of these governors without checking out the facts.  We depend on your site for better reporting that we got from Hernendez.

I agree with Mike’s comments above and add another, as a former journalist: 

News stories attribute statements to individuals or organizations.  The reporter doesn’t get to make flat statements, without citing his/her source.  On what authority are the statements in this article made? And if it is not a news story, but an op-ed piece, who is Sergio Hernandez and what is his background that qualifies him to write on this subject?

I like the work ProPublica does and that it isan association of professional investigational journalists, but you slipped up with this piece.

I thought this was the most lucid and concise explanation of the situation that I have seen yet. Thank you for showing that the bias towards the left in recent ProPublica pieces are purely a function of personality and not policy.

I appreciate the lack of inflammatory language and the sterile presentation of fact.

To the two previous responders. First, I think the comment about Fox is out of line. There are a huge number of pieces that have recently been published on this site that have many of the readers thinking that maybe ProPublica was picking up where NPR or MSNBC left off.

I appreciate the fact that there are different positions, however none of the language used in the article was inflammatory. It was delivered neutral, unlike the aforementioned stations.

To the flexibility issue. The law at the state level governs the city workers. Here in California, there are many city workers who work to a 20 year pension, saving all their benefit and time off pay for the last three years to boost their salaries to get larger pensions from those last three years which their pensions are based on.

They then come back as contract hires doing their same job, at a payrate commensurate with their experience. They basically do not retire. They do so only on paper to draw double paychecks. This what collective bargaining at the state level results in.

Not every city, I would guess has such gross abuses, but I would be willing to wager it is not outside the norm. People naturally think they should always get more, and naturally want to work any system to their benefit.

That’s fine as long as it is not with tax payer money.

Nobody is arguing against private sector unions, because they do not have the power to vote money out of their neighbors pocket and into their salaries, neighbors who have nothing to do with their sector of business.

And of course that last sentence is hyperbole. They are not directly voting the money out. They are voting in politicians who will legislate in their favor. Winning for them is more money and benefits for the same or less work, that is the entire point of a union, increasing the price and position of a labor pool.

That means that more money is coming out of city budgets, and that money comes from other tax payers.

Voting pay raise out of their unwilling neighbors pocket in the form of increased cost to government.

I am eager to here your response, but I do hope it is not more alarmist hyperbole

Please explain why a worker who cannot get fired (or near enough to be the same), whose company cannot go bankrupt (the government),
and whose sector is public SERVICE, should have the ability (note that I purposely do not call it a right) to band together to deny government services to other citizens until they are paid more.

RE:  Logan:

You are absolutely wrong that public workers who are also in a union cannot be fired.  The very fact you said this tells me you are buying the lies from the Republican’s ads on TV.  Whatever they say, you need to check out, because they lie all the time. 

If there are issues with public employees gaming the system, that speaks to the fact that the administrative officers that do the bargaining are not doing their jobs.  Management is responsible for making people obey the law.  If the law allows them to do this, then management has not done it role in correcting this.  Don’t bame the workers for something that management didn’t do. Blame management.

“maybe ProPublica was picking up where NPR or MSNBC left off.”
The insinuation that NPR is biased is false and cannot be proven. MSNBC has on air employees from both the left and the right. Arguably it has more from the left, but I don’t see the outright lies and falsehoods that dominate FOX.
By the way resident Richard Nixon was a strong supporter of public employees right to bargain collectively.

I agree with the descriptions provided in this article, however, the parts that talk about unions potential politicizing agencies and influencing elections should note that private industry that receives or may receive gov’t contracts also donate money to politicians to influence decisions in their favor.  The taxpayers might also get stuck with these costs.

Underlying it all is the fact that as long as we have privately financed elections, politicians (Republicans and Democrats) will always answer to their primary funders.

Howard Orenstein

March 11, 2011, 6:34 p.m.

The reporter states: “Paying government employees more might mean higher costs for taxpayers, but since it’s hard for most people to shop at a different government, there’s little incentive for public unions to scale back their demands.”  Let’s remember that government employees are reasonable people, and often have reasonable demands that would go unchallenged without collective bargaining.  Over 40 years ago, when I was a government employee in NYC, my caseload at the welfare department was 1.5 times the recommended number, at least by federal standards. Other unfair issues included low starting salaries, and paltry pay increases.  Most of the workers went on strike, and, as a result, we technically had no jobs. After a few weeks, the city government and the welfare workers were at an impasse and could not reach a sensible solution. But, after a month of picketing, the mayor agreed to an impartial fact-finding procedure. The strikers won the right to bargain on a many issues, the right to an impartial referee when labor and management disagreed, improvements in conditions for welfare recipients, reasonable pay increases, health insurance, a union education fund, and a 3-pronged (labor-city-public) panel that drafted the city bargaining law that is in effect today. That panel eventually became in 1967 the impartial Office of Collective Bargaining.

Howard Orenstein

March 11, 2011, 6:41 p.m.

In my comment I wrote: “Let’s remember that government employees are reasonable people, and often have reasonable demands that would go unchallenged without collective bargaining.”

That should read:

“Let’s remember that government employees are reasonable people, and often have reasonable demands that would not be addressed without collective bargaining.”

Sorry.

Re Logan’s statement that Public Employee Unions vote “pay raise(s) out of their unwilling neighbors pocket”—most people in this society takes money out of their neighbor’s pocket via voting self-interest. As examples, home-owners take money out of renters’ pockets via numerous government programs, and artists vote for pols who promise to fund the arts—even though many taxpayers don’t give a hoot for art. And public employees are far more answerable to the public than many of the other folks dependent on their neighbor’s pocket.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, who wrote in an Aug. 16, 1937 a letter to Luther Steward, the president of the National Federation of Public Employees”

“All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.”

“Samuel Gompers was no fool, he knew the causes underlying the social struggle, yet he set his face sternly against them. He was content to create an aristocracy of labor, a trade union trust, as it were, indifferent to the needs of the rest of the workers outside of the organization. Above all, Gompers would have none of a liberating social idea. The result is that after forty years of Gompers’ leadership the A. F. of L. has really remained stationary, without feeling for, or understanding of the changing factors surrounding it. “
Samuel Gompers by Emma Goldman [Published in The Road to Freedom (New York), Vol. 1, March 1925.]

As Margaret Thatcher famously said “The problem with Socialism is you eventually run out of other people’s money”.

If you work for a private company, do you get to vote and elect your management every couple of years?

If private management was selected by vote of the employees, wouldn’t the employees vote for and support whichever candidates for management would take the best care of them?

Carola- I agree that this happens for many issues, and anywhere that it does happen it should cease. The article mentioned public workers so that is where i contained the idea

SJM- I believe there is a little thing called tenure in most public teaching institutions. So the least senior on the staff are fired first, regardless of competence. This effectively insulates a senior person from job loss, even if they are manipulating the system.

Blaming administrators for not doing jobs is excusing greed at the individual level. If the administration that negotiates is elected from within the labor pool, they are elected to turn a blind eye, so that people can maximize their personal position. While this may not be the case 100% of the time, it is a possibility. The problem of rampant corruption in the entire system remains.

James Bowen- Please peruse the gun piece by Ms Wang
www dot propublica.org/blog/item/in-gun-control-debate-more-than-one-issue-at-play (i left the hotlink out because it triggers a manual review of the comment, and delays the post)

Make sure to read through the comment section, and you will see where this comparison came from

Rich F- I agree. Any government service or contract should be barred from exposure to union negotiated labor for that reason. Corporate donations should disbar a legislator from voting on laws affecting spending concerning the donating entities(as should any entity, union or corporate).

Howard- I respectfully disagree. My mother was involuntarily in a teachers union. She taught special needs children. The union ordered a strike. She thought it would be detrimental to her students development to disrupt their school environment by striking. She went to work and was verbally harassed. Her tires ended up slashed. That is not reasonable action.

If you do not like the job, quit. The job sucks because it isn’t going anywhere. I am a military veteran. I served. I was not unionized. The workers are not forced to work there.

Your example of ridiculously high workloads is a display of poor leadership. The leadership should have been fired, not formed into a union to blame administrators of that union when greed becomes rampant.

Howard Orenstein

March 11, 2011, 10:56 p.m.

Logan,
The NYC workers walked off for a number of reasons, including establishing provisions for better service to the recipients of public funded welfare. Many of the workers enjoyed serving the public, like your mother did in her classroom, so why should they quit altogether? How do you get government leaders to pay attention when they are not aware of (or not care about) the needs of the employees and those whom the workers are supposed to assist? The strike showed courage and it was successful in alerting the government to the needs of the public, as well as those committed workers who were hired to fulfill that mandate.

It’s unfortunate that some overzealous people mistreated your mother, however.

Arguing with Logan about details will go nowhere.  He knows what is right and resorts to unrepresentative (fantastical) personal anecdotes that reveal the emotional state that he grew up with and retains.  He has no authorities or statistics or other highly qualified information.  It is my observation that such people deeply desire an authoritarian hierarchy in their lives that may not be questioned, and all others must also obey, for it is The Law, formerly the Divine Right of Kings.  Power to the people is a threatening concept which motivated the right wing after the tumult of the 60’s and 70’s to reassert the unquestioned authority of wealth, which is the real issue.  Unions are an illegitimate exercise of power in the eyes of the Kochs and Mellon-Scaifes and other millionaires who are funding this attack on the working population.  Right Logan?

Actually, Logan, some of the language is not neutral.  For example, “big money, cushy contracts…”.  This is definitely anti-union vocabulary.  Also, note the one sidedness - no mention of the role of unions in providing balance against the “big money” of corporations.

As a 30-year attorney in the education field in NY I have seen both the pros and the cons - at least with respect to teachers and administrators. I have seen how tenure entrenches incompetence so deeply that getting rid of deadwood costs hundreds of thousands per perp., thanks to a very powerful and militant teachers’ union known by the acronym, “NYSUT” (New York State United Teachers). They have historically been the largest single lobbyist in NY in terms of dollars given to politicians.

    Administrators are even worse. In 1996 a Sufflok County superintendent was paid $980,000 - in addition to his $250k/yr. salary - as a token of the school board’s appreciation for his resignation.

    While litigating on behalf of taxpayers who foot the bill for the these excesses has treated me to the seamy side of union power, abolishing public unions would be a grave mistake. Kneejerk reactions such as Wisconsin’s will almost certainly undermine the morale and essential quality of public services and, in the end, are unlikely to translate into more revenue for the state. And, in any event, any collective agreements currently in effect must be absolutely honored by the state for the duration of their term to avoid running afoul of the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

    Hopefully, more rational heads will prevail in the vast majority of states (of course there are always states like Idaho, Utah . . . etc.)

Daniel- while I am not saying the piece is perfect, I am saying it is a more neutral piece than any other I have seen. Here is the context of ‘cushy contract’, and ‘Big Money’.
—-
The unions can use big money and get-out-the-vote muscle to back the election of politicians who will offer them cushy contracts—and leave taxpayers to foot the bills.
—-
This is in reference to influencing state agencies, and tries to show that a national entity has more money than state entities, and cushy is a description of a contract that is not fair to the government or taxpayer. Would “overcompansated and lenient contracts” been any less slanted vocabulary?

I think the author could have included corporate donation influence as a balance against union interest to absolutely show no bias, but it is an opinion piece focused specifically towards the difference between the appropriateness of private sector unions vice public sector unions.

And it is his piece,  he gets to write about what he wants, we can only comment.

G.L. Clark- a wonderfully dismissive and personal attack. Is this normal conversation with people that you disagree with?

Your description of people with the need for direct marching orders for opinions seemed to have recently manifested in Madison, where there is copious amounts of video evidence of people unable to articulate a coherent position as to why they were there, but they sure seemed capable of chanting slogans. And this is from programming like the Daily Show, which is not known for being pro conservative.

As for your snide use of ‘fantastical’, is that because you say they are? Or is that your effort to paint me off as emotional, and thereby discount my experience. It would appear you are taking a page from O’reilly or Beck, and dehumanizing an opposing point of view by attempting to make it appear emotional and unstable.

I do not think I presented it that way, but clearly I need to work on my communication skills if that is how it was perceived.

I never once attacked anyone in this entire conversation. I quoted other articles from ProPublica to support my comments, and borrowed from the piece itself.

The threatening concept of power to the people under another name is the ‘Tyranny of the Majority’.

Unions are not illegitimate. They are absolutely ok . PUBLIC unions are not ok, because they can vote people into office to directly affect my already meager pocketbook.

Howard- I don’t know what the answer is, but it sure seems the one constant is that a few individuals will ruin it for the whole. I think before the current speed of communication, there was an argument there for public unions. But now, what with the Internet and the 24 hour news cycle, if something so egregious to require a union to fight it was happening I think the light of day could be brought on it through media exposure.

Look at the City of Bell situation, they have effected a massive change in local government through media exposure.

Logan, your response to my analysis is interesting, but hardly a rebuttal to buttress arguments lacking any authoritative backing.  Your credibility is all based on personal experience, your opinion. 
Specifically, your characterization of my criticism as “a wonderfully dismissive and personal attack.” is off target.  You avoid the critical observation that you substitute personal anecdotes for any substantive evidence.
You complain “Is this normal conversation with people that you disagree with?”  I feel that it’s appropriate to ascribe emotional motivations when a person lacks sufficient backing for arguments.  You have your opinion, and it’s what you deeply feel.  That’s OK with me, but that’s all it is.
You take as personal “your snide use of ‘fantastical’” which is not snide, but a definitional reference to the unlikelihood that your examples are representative of the majority of human experiences in those situations.
If you don’t like that criticism it doesn’t add anything to demean my judgement that they are insufficient only because i say so, “is that because you say they are? ”  It is intended as a challenge to you to provide compelling sufficiency of evidence, not a couple of personal examples.
It’s not that I “make it appear emotional and unstable.”  It’s more than appearance.  Why else would a person characterize democratic processes as “The threatening concept of power to the people under another name is the ‘Tyranny of the Majority’”.
And why do you support a position funded by millionaires whose historical position has been to destroy any established governmental aids to the bottom 80% of the population?  If your concern is that public unions “may affect my already meager pocketbook.” why would you trust millionaires who disdain people of meager means?
Note the value judgements you have made Logan;
“people unable to articulate a coherent position as to why they were there, but they sure seemed capable of chanting slogans.”  Their message is clear that the political maneuvering in Wisconsin is a threat to unionization that 75% of Americans agree is a basic right, public or private. 
“It would appear you are taking a page from O’reilly or Beck,” is demeaning beyond description—I didn’t compare you to any despicable media conspiratorial propagandists.
Back your opinions with compelling evidence.
G.L.Clark

GL
No you did not compare me to Rachel Maddow that is true, but then I was not acting like her.

You have presented no sustainable fact to buttress your ascertations. We could play my statistic against yours all day and still get no where.

The piece is an opinion piece. Comments involving opinion are then appropriate.

The definitional likelihood of a noninvolved third party substantiates my case in the comment preceding my last by a Mr Jensen

Characterization of direct democracy as the tyranny of the majority is the reason why this government was established as a Republic and not a direct democracy.

I specifically mentioned corporate money, with the inference of millionaires, should be held to the same standard of non involvement as unions.

Their message was garbled nonsense. If all you can do is scream slogans when even John Stewart is trying to find out your position, you are not coherent, you are indoctrinated.

And you absolutely took sinilar behaviour from Beck or O’reilly, because you feel that they do that to you so it is fair game.

Have a great night

General McAuliffe

March 13, 2011, 10:40 a.m.

Nuts!

Look, opinion is not truth.  Half-truths similarly are not truth.  One can color an observation all one wants through whatever colored glasses you happen to be wearing at the time.

However, deep investigation of questions about observations does reveal truths.  Read “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy”, by Greg Palast.  This is an excellent, and non-partisan, in-depth look at the forces that successfully acted to undermine our democracy in the 2000 election.  One can read it and immediately feel that the conclusions are based on the evidence, and that the evidence is clear (for example damning documents are not just discussed but reproduced within its covers for the reader to examine.)  The author predicted the misuse of electronic voting machines in the 2004 election, and in fact there were many questions about the result of that election based on how those machines were used or misused.  Palast does not let the Democrats off lightly, but his focus is on how the Republicans used underhanded means to unduly influence those elections where in power, as the dominant party in power.  It is also clear that Republicans have been far more successful than Democrats at influencing national elections because they appear unfettered these days whereas the Democrats are playing much more fairly.

Present day, the way power politics is being played by the party in power is undermining our democracy by one side seeking to destroy the other through unfair means.  For example, in Wisconsin the governor has signed a bill that includes the most restrictive voter ID bill in the nation, clearly designed to disenfranchise the urban poor (overwhelmingly African-American).  Of note, restrictive voter ID bills only come into being when Republicans are in power - I challenge anyone to find a recent case where Democrats have sought to limit the voting of minorities, who overwhelmingly vote for Democratic candidates.

Logan, it seems to me that you’re stretching to make any of your arguments stick.
I must agree, “No you did not compare me to Rachel Maddow that is true, but then I was not acting like her.”  that you do not act as she does, since she presents issues replete with backing from authorities and statistical data and representative examples
You’re avoiding a responsibility to back the assertions you first put forth, which is the proper obligation of the advocate, not of the critic.  I have criticized your evidence s being narrow and unrepresentative, and you refuse to show otherwise.  “You have presented no sustainable fact to buttress your ascertations (sic). We could play my statistic against yours all day and still get no where.”  Not “we” will get nowhere, that’s where your position is.
When you say, “The piece is an opinion piece. Comments involving opinion are then appropriate.” It suggests that all opinions are equal, but obviously some are inadequately based, as is yours.  Quoting some “Mr. Jensen” as backing without giving his qualifications is without value.  Why is his opinion any better than Joe The Plumber’s, or yours?
Your defense of the power grab that is perpetrated by a few very wealthy individuals who have essentially purchased political clout lacks the legitimacy of the more democratically backed union movement.  Rich people have been loathe to share any of their booty with working people since capitalism was conceived, to the point of enslaving minority races and forcing children to labor to their deaths as chimney sweeps.  Since you distrust democracy and prefer a republic, will you rise to the occasion and show how this republicanism is in the interest of the majority and not solely to benefit the gentrified plutocracy?
I resent that you assume to know how I feel, as this asserts, “And you absolutely took sinilar (sic) behavior from Beck or O’reilly, because you feel that they do that to you so it is fair game.” when all I said was that they hold conspiratorial theories and are propagandists.  Would you deny that, and rise to defend them as bona fide journalists?  If so, your argument’s appeal is narrowing even more, as your credibility crumbles.
You have a great task on your hands, to go to bat for the egregiously wealthy in our nation who are systematically attacking democratic systems that have been in place for three quarters of a century to the benefit of the vast majority of workers who have been an essential part of creating the wealth that empowers the very assailants on those rights.
Go to bat, Logan

Here is another anecdote about statistics.

My aunt just ran into one of her professors from college 20 years ago. He was excited to let her know that the work she had put in taking surveys allowed him to get published internationally.

The neighborhoods being surveyed were distressed and not altogether the safest place for two young female college students. She guiltily mentioned to me only really talking to one or two people per tract, and filling out the rest. She was only worried about the credits at the time. She did not have the heart to tell the man.

You obviously only will be satisfied if I throw out some quoted study. Even if there was one that somehow applied that was not engineered to show a position, you would then discount its methodology.

Statistics do not make reality they are a tool. You want to me to make thesis statements on an opinion comment on a descriptive piece.

You say I am dogmatic, in not as many words. You use flowery language to try and establish intellectual dominance. You clearly do not want hear what I have to say and do not want others to hear my opinion and so attempt to discredit my words through your reliance on statistics.

I come to ProPublica because I enjoy the many sides they bring.

You can continue to hunt my comments down and inflict yourself on the conversation (yes I know that is sensational language). Enjoy.

James B Storer

March 13, 2011, 4:21 p.m.

I like the phrase in the first paragraph of the first comment by “Logan,” to the effect of acknowledging that bias can be a function of personality and not policy.  Indeed, I will take a little sprinkling of HONEST personality (whatever the persuasion) in preference to news from an empty gray suit.  It provides something to agree or disagree about.
    The comment by Richard F. says it well:  “Underlying it all is the fact that as long as we have privately financed elections, politicians (Republicans and Democrats) will always answer to their primary funders.”
    It gets tiresome to hear over and over again that large membership unions can donate enough money to adversely affect the ballot box.  This is absolutely too ludicrous to accept for responsible debate, considering the overwhelmingly destructive effect that relatively small-membership corporatism has for influencing elections.
  General Mcauliffe – your comment today on the subject was excellent.  It is clearly written from knowledge based on fact, and from fact based on knowledge.  I second your feeling that “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” by Greg Palist is a great read that all can benefit from.    –Skartishu,  Granby MO

Logan,
I apologize for my style being offensive to you, but please do not doubt my sincerity.  I write here to test perceptions of reality, my own and others, to ground myself, to affirm a sense of sanity.  I don’t want to inflict, infect or intimidate anyone.  I want to engage all I meet with a critical message about the dire situation this nation is in, due to the concentration of wealth in the hands of extremely wealthy families who fund co-ordinated antidemocratic conservative propaganda and political influence organizations.  That information is freely available.
Since you like analogies, here is one that I think summarizes the situation;  a wealthy financier, a public worker and a conservative retiree were seated by a waiter at a table and served a heaping plate of desserts.  The wealthy person grabbed all but one piece, and said to the retiree, “Watch out, that public worker is going to get your dessert.”  The wealthy person left the place, contacted his friend, a news outlet owner, and told him about the struggle of ordinary people for their fair share because of the greed of public workers.  This news raced around the nation, picked up by news outlets and propagandists alike, who believed it or cynically used it to their advantage. 
In Wisconsin, the politician who began this struggle was put in office with the financial help, and strategic guidance of the wealthy. 
I am deeply interested in why you, and millions of others, see a “public worker problem” but never respond to the underlying causality of wealth concentrating at the top, and political power and public opinion being bought in an unethical marketplace.
I see a threat to the greatest experiment in democracy ever attempted, and I’m not playing rhetorical games when I engage you Logan;  I want you to think about what is required of us to right this dysfunctional system.
“We should live in a simple way, for others to be able to live as well.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi
Love, Peace and Justice to all.

interesting facts: over the last decade in MN student enrollment in 2year schools is up 70 percent, direct spending per student down 69 percent.  Instructors at the two year level have seen 12% pay increase over ten years, while oddly the MNSCU chancellor has received a approx 86% base pay increase over the same period (not including obviously well deserved bonuses!!).  Incompetence and unethical behavior, even for tenured faculty can always be dealt with through the “collectively bargaine” process in the contract- administrators tend not to address problems as is their job.  Layoffs are a different matter- and even in private industry laying off the experienced workers and keeping the new cheaper ones would look a lot like age discrimination.  The comparisons between public and private falls down where the choice of management above public employees is usually very political- like having someones own political flunky/ lawyer friend appointed president of a college, rather than an experienced educator.  Education funding, with collective bargaining, is unstable still- layoffs seem to happen every few years when the economy is tight, regardless of the fact the number of students and the demands on education outcomes go up and up.  How will putting the pay for teachers (or other public employees) completely in the hands of politicians improve this??  In my opinion it will make the system even less stable when we keep hearing how important education is….

“Another concern is that public unions can politicize state agencies at the general public’s expense.”
as a general point, didn’t this already happen, except corporations instead of public unions?

I was thinking the same thing.  Does the largess of unions compete dollar for dollar with the private sector in terms of manipulating lawmakers?  NYS may have one powerful teachers union but we have many more powerful business lobbyists.  For all the breaks we give business why haven’t they been able to create a thriving economy lately?  They certainly create a lot of wealth for some people.  Seems to be business likes to blame everyone else for their failures.

In looking at the comments posted, I was struck by the statements that the article was an “opinion piece” by virtue of the way the article is formulated, by both what it presents and what it omits. It begins with a format that seems to present only facts, giving definitions and answers to the bold questions used as its organizer. But then, it’s 3rd bold question is a standalone with no 4th bold question “What’s the argument for maintaining public employees’ right to unionize?”

  Even before that omission, however, was the generalization, seeming to be the first fact in support of the bold question “What’s the argument for limiting public employees’ right to unionize?” - public employees can have more leverage than private workers - with the next paragraph as its “evidence” that public unions are less reasonable in their demands since they have a monopoly in providing the workforce and don’t limit their “demands”.

  The next evidence in the following paragraph is the concern that “public unions can politicize state agencies at the public’s expense.”  Making opinion statements as if they are fact, has become a much used rhetorical tool, but are not, in fact, evidence.  Where is the data to support these 2/3 points?  To assert that public unions have more leverage, is an opinion statement itself unless the writer shows proof.  Are wage demands by public workers higher than private workers doing the same work?  Have demands been generally “unreasonable”?  Are public workers gouging their own and fellow taxpayers’ tax rates by their positions?  What real examples exist in state and local government that collective bargaining has politicized a state agency:  a department of transportation, a department of motor vehicles, a highway patrol?

  The only evidence for public sector unions was the last sentence in the section focusing on workplace issues that faced by both public and private workers that are part of collective bargaining.  So, there is only one way in which collective bargaining by public workers has even a slight credibility?

  Again, it may have looking as if it was a fact piece, but didn’t finish as one.  More importantly, it didn’t live up to the evidentiary standard we expect from the investigations and findings that ProPublica writers usually present.  And what an odd final point to conclude the piece: “...public employees have occasionally risked fines and jail time by holding illegal strikes.”  Not a well-rounded-off conclusion at all, but perhaps, it was intended to just portray public union workers and members as using collective bargaining and by extension the threat of strikes as “proof” of that use of leverage.

I am in favor of collective bargaining . This law is directly affecting the middle class and destroying it. Here in Detroit we have had more than 1 mayor and numerous city officials who have abused tax payers money that should have gone for upkeep on the city to personal motivations and have cost us a lot including this city’s reputation. Politicians are always talking about how the people prosper but neglect to reflect on the millions of dollars that sit in their bank accounts. The laws that are passed for the people do not affect the elite. They do not pay their fair share of taxes and have access to all kinds of loopholes. Many political positions allow those in office to receive salaries even after their terms are up. If they fail at doing their jobs rarely do they lose them. They are able to keep their jobs even when they consistently do a bad job. The average worker would lose their jobs for a fraction of what politicians do not meet up. It is sad to say that our politicians go to ivory league schools and possess business degrees, but obviously their education does not take the place for commitment and compassion for the people. They are voted in for the best interest of the public but only serve the best interest of the rich. Until there is a truly unselfish act of working for the best interest of the people how can we move forward.
Our economy is getting worse yet our corporations are profiting more than ever. It does not take a degree or a fancy education to make decisions that are sensible and honest just intregrity which alot of our leaders are obviously missing. Are they out to help you or hurt you. Or are they just out to help themselves even if it means the destruction of this once great country. Read your history on how Rome fell and you will see many correlations between the ruthlessness of yesterday and the tyranny of what is happening now. We cannot keep going on like this.

So if public workers are not allowed to engage in collective bargaining, then that would mean that either (a) each public worker would negotiate individually for his/her wages and benefits, or (b) the public entity would dictate all of the terms of employment, without negotiations.

Is there another model that I am missing?

One of the things you should not be able to buy is a government position. Eliminate the political parties.  We need to cap donations to politians on a per person basis.  No corporations, unions, or any other large entity that has a motive should be able to buy politicians. We need to run government through a system where you must be either a Congressmen, Sentator, or Judge for a certain amount of years to become familar with government.  We should take advantage of the internet because it is practically free and becoming the widely used tool for communication to have candidates get their position out.  They should have a website and have the freedom to create youtube and other type blogs and that sorda thing to communicate with the American people.  Their should be a vote to see who will enter into the running, where most of the votes will come from the local people who are familar with the representatives.  Lets say theres a maximum of ten candidates who get voted in.  Then those ten candidates enter into a government type tour around the country to speak in stadiums and town halls.  The tickets are free and first come first serve sold on the internet.  Each is given a regulated time to make a speech or take questions and the speeches are posted on the internet equally on a government website together.  They have a vote for the ten after the tour. The lower 5 are eliminated.  They then give the people whos candidate was voted out an oppurtunity to revote. They then revote for their new favorite out of the remaining five.  These 5 turn into 3 with the people who were eliminated votes getting recasted if they choose, 3 to 2, then 2 to 1,  This is probably the way to get the most popular candidate and the middle of the pack common sense guy elected.  Now how do we kill the huge corporations we call the Republicans and Democrats.

How interesting that most of the commentators believe that only Repulican politicians are rich!  So seriously, what about all the wealthy Democrats?

Dave Clapper`

Sep. 18, 2012, 1:52 p.m.

It is the job of our elected politicians to make certaqin that the contracts are maintainable and reasonable.  Do not fault the unions for geting what they can, many years they come away close to empty handed.  Yes there are abuses, Omaha, Ne is a good example with police and fire uniions, however, thes contracts were approved by the duly elected officials at the time.  Social, economic and other considerations often bring about sometimes unfavorable responses to bargaining that would otherwise be turned down.

You vote for the Constitution , the law of the land ! Not for issues ! Right now our President has not done his job. He thinks he is the Government. We the people are the government, we the people who pay taxes, we built the roads, and build your buildings and schools and your hospitals, we who pay taxes are taking blame for what? So you can wine and complain . Grow up and get a job. Work is honorable !

yet another someone else

April 14, 2013, 12:04 a.m.

what about us poor conservative Republicans? why assume we’re all wealthy?

To the poor conservative republican, read a book and get on the right side

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