Today President Obama addressed the National Governors Association in Washington, D. C. In his remarks, he is cited as presenting two statements regarding governmental employee unions.
The President said public workers should not be vilified in the context of budget deliberations. Okay, public workers as a group probably shouldn’t be vilified. As a group.
I was a public employee most of my working life. I worked as a U. S. Marine (no union) for four years, a Border Patrol Agent (union member) for six years and a Customs Inspector/Customs and Border Protection Officer (non-union member) for twenty-two years. I also worked for seven years in private industry as a locksmith – without a union. I was part of one government employee union and refused to join the other.
In my experience of twenty-eight years in a ‘bargaining position’ – meaning union representation – job, there were more than a couple public employees who should have been vilified. Perhaps me included at one time or another. However, I can safely say unionized public employees are among the least productive workers in the United States. There are a couple reasons for this.
First, public employees have ‘civil service’ type protections by law. Without any union at all, public employees have legal protection from ‘arbitrary and capricious’ actions by management, specifically being fired. Also protected by law are levels of wages, regular hours, amount of time on the job continuously, overtime payments and so forth.
The second level of protection is unions and union ‘contracts’. Any benefit in a union contract are above and beyond the laws already in place. These contracts can extend overtime benefits, limit working hours and provide various ‘grievance’ procedures for challenging pretty much any decision made by management.
The net result is public workers virtually cannot be fired. Sure, there are laws, policies and procedures for firing employees, but the fact is, one would have to commit some major felony in such a manner as to embarrass the agency in question – or be politically incorrect – in order to be fired in real life.
None of this is to suggest middle management is free from ulterior motives and petty spite. However, at the moment we are discussing unions. Management will have to await their turn.
Where I worked, there was a man who was found sleeping on the job. Not dozed off in a corner during a break, but had a pillow and such showing he planned on sleeping. I believe management caught him sleeping on the job three or four times. Management was going to fire him – a decision I find most acceptable – but the union ‘grievance’ process kept him working. Collecting taxpayer money and benefits while doing a decidedly sub-standard job. I had the misfortune to work with him. He was the sort one could depend on to leave all the work for someone else. If we lived in an honorable society, this man would not have been fired, he would have been publicly executed and his head mounted on a spike as a warning to others. I digress.
I think this man and his ilk can be vilified. They take money and provide precious little in service. I said ‘…and his ilk…’; there are more instances of malfeasance and non-productivity. I don’t have time to list them all here. Perhaps in the book I’ll maybe write.
I think those who cover for him and his ilk can be vilified as well. This man could not get away with his slacker attitude and misconduct without support from others – the union. Had more union members – especially union leadership – objected to his lackadaisical and sloppy work ethic, he might have been shamed into actually doing something worthwhile. As it happened, the union elected this worthless waste of time the local president.
None of this is to discount the bulk of public employees – including some union members – who actually put in a day’s work. They should not be vilified. However, it’s hard to tell the sheep from the goats from the outside. Unions need to be self-cleaning in order to maintain any level of credibility.
Back to the President.
President Obama also said public employees should not have their rights infringed.
Here I have a serious question: To which rights does the President refer? No one, not even Governor Walker of Wisconsin, is proposing limiting their right to express opinions contrary to that of the government. No one is limiting their free exercise of religious conscience – unless the employee in question is a medical worker who feels abortion is forbidden by God. I’m wondering if the President understands the rights of individuals, public employees included, to keep and bear arms? Perhaps the workplace rules of ‘no firearms’ are to be discarded?
I could go down the list of rights enumerated in the Constitution. Right of assembly, to be secure in one’s property, papers and person, the right to a fair trial and so forth.
What rights, Mr. President?
Where is the ability to hold taxpayers and common citizens hostage in order to obtain an exorbitant wage and benefits package a ‘right’? Show me in the Constitution the ‘right’ to impoverish the citizenry in order to establish a special class of employees?
The invocation of ‘rights’ is a great emotional and patriotic sounding sound bite. But without some substance, it’s just a sound bite. Just more political hot air. It helps to have something definable in mind.
No rights are being violated, Mr. President. They are simply having an unfair advantage removed. Remember all the talk about ‘leveling the playing field’? This is part of it.