Meet John Doe: Unions are an extension of your rights of free speech, freedom to assemble
Editor’s note: As he has become more of a regular contributor, Paul Gorski’s columns will now appear under the column title “Meet John Doe.” The title comes from the 1941 film of the same name. As Gorski explained in an e-mail: “The story is about a fictionalized victim of society ‘John Doe,’ popularized by ghost-written letters to the editor, who is eventually portrayed by a real, average man. ‘John Doe’ goes on a tour of speaking engagements, and ‘the central message of the Doe speeches is “Love Thy Neighbor,” though, conceived in cynicism, the speeches strike so responsive a chord with the public that John Doe clubs pop up all over the country.’ Quote from http://www.allmovie.com/movie/meet-john-doe-v32067. A central message of the film is that we can each accomplish good if we all work together and put aside our biases and differences.”
By Paul Gorski
There’s much coverage in the press these days about gun rights, abortion rights and freedom of religion, but also much union bashing. Seems some people feel unions are to blame for our local and state budget crises. That is simply not true.
First and foremost, unions are an extension of your rights to free speech and freedom to assemble. You may not like unions, you may love them, or you may be indifferent to them. However, if you allow others to restrict your rights to organize, you’re giving up your fundamental rights little by little, whether you belong to a union or not. I say you must defend these rights, whether you agree 100 percent with union policies or not.
While union benefit payments are part of some government budget problems, they are not the cause. Who negotiates those pension and benefit packages? Your elected politicians and their staffs. Who spent the benefit contributions instead of depositing them into benefit fund accounts? Your elected leaders. If you want to improve the system, elect leaders who are better contract negotiators and fund managers — don’t blame the unions.
Suppliers and distributors are allowed to negotiate business terms, so why can’t unions? Microsoft, as a supplier of the DOS and Windows computer operating systems, had extremely restrictive agreements with PC manufacturers at the dawn of desktop computers. The agreements were so restrictive that it was economically unfeasible to sell computers with a competitor’s operating system. It was Microsoft or nothing. Later, Wal-Mart began dictating how its suppliers were to label, package and even palletize products for its stores. If you didn’t, Wal-Mart wouldn’t carry the product.
Over time, both companies have had to moderate their business practices, as their business partners became better negotiators.
I don’t admire these companies, but I don’t deny them the right to exist, nor should anyone deny you the right to organize under union leadership.
After all, unions are simply suppliers, suppliers of talent and labor. As suppliers of labor, unions should be allowed to negotiate wages and benefits on behalf of their members, just as long as they bargain in good faith.
Again, your business and/or elected leaders must take the lead in any contract negotiations to ensure fair and reasonable terms.
Unions are not unlike business co-ops that also negotiate “on behalf of their members,” but I don’t hear anyone bad-mouthing business cooperatives or the protections they offer their members.
As member-centric organizations, unions and business cooperatives share many of the same values: member participation; shared economic benefits, education and training of members; and concern for the community. So, cut the unions some slack and protect your own rights at the same time.
You can learn more about business cooperatives at http://www.ncba.coop/, and you’ll find more information about the economic importance of unions at my website, http://www.laborleadingtherecovery.com.
Paul Gorski is a Cherry Valley Township resident and a former Winnebago County Board member.
From the Aug. 1-7, 2012, issue