What’s the beef with unions?

Cynthia:  In the spirit of Labor Day, Mike, I say we grill up some veggie burgers and talk about unions.

Mike:  Sounds great, but I’m sticking with beef.

Cynthia: I wonder if public-sector unions will be the red meat in elections here like they were in Wisconsin. Do people think about “Labor” now as largely white-collar government bureaucrats, or industrious blue-collar workers like Rosie the Riveter? We certainly heard a lot of folklore about lazy unionized state employees with bloated retirement benefits from Paul LePage during his failed attempts to pass “Right to Work” laws.

What face of unions do you think will have a greater impact on voters this year in Maine, Rosie the Riveter or Betty the Bureaucrat?

Mike:  With those options, I’d have to say Betty the Bureaucrat.  The unions swinging the biggest sticks in Augusta are the MSEA and MEA – state employees and teachers.  Mike Michaud has them wrapped up and has their machines working on his behalf.

Eliot Cutler’s role is more interesting, since many of his positions are Democratic Party orthodoxy but he tacks right in his support of education reforms.  On those issues, he lines up with President Obama against the traditional Democratic bloc of teachers’ unions.  We have a front-row seat to what is effectively an intra-party fight on education: a pro-union candidate versus a pro-reform candidate in a general election.  Sounds like they should meet behind the gym at 3 o’clock.

How do you see it playing out?  And, lest we forget about the other statewide race, how will Shenna Bellows overcome Susan Collins’ numerous labor endorsements?

Cynthia: I suppose you’re right. There’s a Harlequin mask for those like Eliot Cutler who support collective bargaining but don’t support political parties that support collective bargaining. But there will be no fisticuffs behind the gym to see who gets the teachers’ vote! Brother Michaud is rightfully the union man, as was Obama.

The lack of good jobs, stagnant wages and income inequality are riveting campaign issues for unions in Maine, so my money is on Rosie.

You do raise a good point about Sen. Collins and endorsements, though. Of course widely respected, Collins has voted against raising the minimum wage, against the Paycheck Fairness Act, against the Employee Free Choice Act and against several other labor-friendly bills. Apparently more important to workers at BIW, though, is that the incumbent senator is polling well and holds the purse strings to the defense budget. So don’t talk to me about machines. Even orthodox Democrats are often reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them.

But I have another Labor Day question for you, Mike. Are unions people, too?

Mike:  I do love the push by unions for the Orwellian-named “Employee Free Choice Act” that, of course, eliminates the free choice of the secret ballot.  Instead, it lets Sal and Jimmy “ask” you if you would like to sign a little card in front of them “freely” electing the union.  But if someone suggests that we should have some form of voter ID in political elections, the union cries of disenfranchisement, suppression, and intimidation are deafening, even if the vast majority of Americans agree with it.  If someone can spin their way out of that contradiction, we ought to give up on windmills and hook up a generator to them!

Anyway, yes, unions are people in the same way nonprofits and corporations are people: they are groups of individuals coming together to accomplish shared goals.  You know, that whole pesky “free association” thing the Constitution protects.

But free association leads me to another question for you: should individuals be compelled to join – and fund – a union in order to work for their government?  I don’t know about you, but I’m with FDR on this one: no way!

Cynthia: Oh, please. Hook me up. Republicans force women seeking cancer screening at Planned Parenthood to run a gauntlet of crazy, wild-eyed proselytizing “Jimmys,” but want to protect snow plow guys from union bosses like SEIU President Ginette Rivard?

But back to my question, corporations and unions may be separately recognized as “people” under the law, but they are not equal. Companies are free to contribute massive amounts of money to political campaigns without shareholders having a thing to say about it, while unions must get permission from members to spend dues on politics.

Finally to your last point, FDR got overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court. Public sector unions are constitutional and people have free will. If you choose a good-paying government job you should reasonably be expected to chip in for benefits received. We can’t have freeloaders running the state house.

Mike: You’re right: public unions are constitutional, but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.  Any interest group is going to have freeloader problems.  All sportsmen benefit from SAM’s public advocacy, even if some don’t join.  All contractors benefit from ABC’s advocacy.  Public unions should prove their value to their potential membership the same way everyone else does, rather than using the law to force individuals to take a certain action.

But that is neither here nor there at the moment, since with Labor Day’s arrival we are now in the election season and everything that entails.  Are you ready?

Cynthia:   I am really excited about this campaign season and our ongoing conversations, Mike. Happy Labor Day!

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