As with many of my conservative views, they are positions to which I ascended. I didn’t come fully loaded with them as I shot completely assembled into life. The same holds true for my views on unions.
Growing up in Canada with teacher parents, I found walking the picket line with them and their teacher union comrades to be refreshing outdoor exercise and a welcome avoidance of intellectual pursuit. That was when I was about 7. My views of unions have since evolved due to various experiences and analysis foisted upon me by adulthood. A few teachers in Wisconsin seem to have avoided a similar mugging, and currently find themselves fighting the state to maintain a pension that, according to the Wall Street Journal, represents about three quarters of their salaries as opposed to one quarter for private sector workers. The yearly social and health benefits nearly equal their annual salaries.
How exactly does one justify that kind of entitlement? How much of a raving narcissist must you be to be that far out of step with your market value? I realize that teachers are “priceless” and that you “can’t put a price on mo(u)lding the minds of youth,” but even the priest who has just delivered the “word of God” (a pretty important job, one would think) only gets what he can score from the collection plate after he delivers the goods. If it’s not falling from the sky for him, then you can’t expect it either.
As an independent worker, I only expect to be paid for what I produce—nothing less, nothing more. It’s a direct, straightforward exchange of production for compensation. Teachers and other union members may think that they’re better off unionized, but what about this: What if every teacher were capable of negotiating his own contract with his school board in accordance with his value? Teachers who were in higher demand due to their expertise or performance, or who put in more extracurricular hours, would be free to negotiate a higher pay independent from that of their colleagues. The biggest complaint I’ve heard from hardworking teachers is how they break their backs coaching sports teams and grading papers from dawn till dusk while earning the same salary as the seat-heater down the hall who clocks out at 3 p.m. and gets the kids to grade each other’s work in—class. Worse, if she holds the school’s gold medal in the seat-warming Olympics by reason of sheer longevity, just try dislodging that same permanent fixture if think you’d like to try teaching her subject.
Sure, everyone gets gold-plated benefits in the union system, but there’s an alternative. Working at a higher, self-negotiated rate and paying your own benefits into preexisting plans for independent workers allows greater freedom of choice in what one does with one’s own earnings. If the compensation offered wasn’t adequate to cover independent health care costs, then the businesses would have a difficult time recruiting. It’s not like they’d be getting a free ride, because workers would have the power to decide which businesses are worthy of their talents, and when the relationship no longer worked, they could leave. Which brings me to my next point: vacations and leave.
Here in France, union workers often brag about how much vacation time they’ve been able to finagle out of their employers—particularly if that employer is the taxpayer, and the taxpayer is me. Nothing makes me go ballistic faster than listening to some union hack brag over a two-hour lunch, about how he’s going to head back to his new 35-hour-a-week job of two weeks and sit there planning his eight weeks’ worth of paid vacation on my dime, in between bouts of ruining my days with various strikes and service disruptions.
Know why vacation time is so valuable for union members? Because they hate their jobs so much that they can’t wait to escape. Often. But you know, that’s freedom—or so the union chiefs would have us believe.
My personal view of freedom is a little different. It involves working about 15 hours a day, whenever and wherever I feel like it. Sometimes I’ll even get excited about taking a 3 a.m. work call from a different time zone. I don’t usually eat lunch because I often get so caught up in my work that I don’t even think about it. I’m not sure when “quitting time” is because I’ve never bothered to set one. Vacations? I don’t typically take them, because I travel enough for work-related reasons, and that’s good enough for meeting new people and seeing the sights. This change of scenery can also mean a tax deduction—something from which a union comrade couldn’t benefit. If I do take a true vacation, I usually end up bringing some work along, because I love working.
In France, union-mandated liberticide of independent workers is in full force. Journalists can’t even obtain their press cards in France unless they agree to become salaried rather than contracted, and forgo their independent status and right to negotiate independently with media bosses. Journalists who works as “auto-entrepreneurs” (a new independent status introduced by President Sarkozy to encourage economic freedom) or worse, as self-salaried “corporations,” negotiating their own contracts, are shunned and rejected by the powerful unions that exercise full control over the awarding of professional press credentials. So as one might imagine, there are now more than a few dangerous non-union workers threatening the very existence and raison d’etre of these unions, which derive their power purely from fear: fear that if you’re on your own, you’ll starve. The only threat in that regard really is these unions, which have a lockdown on the entire system.
Once people realize their own talent, and ability to bargain it without any middle-man meddling, they tend to see unions as a serious obstruction to their own potential and, ironically, that of our collective potential as well.