Not many people know that the president of the largest association of business and industry in Louisiana grew up in a union household. My dad was a member of the firefighters’ branch of the AFL-CIO for over 30 years. He grew up poor, was very blue collar, was a darned good firefighter (retired as assistant chief), and felt for years that the ordinary working man deserved the representation that came from affiliation with a union. I remember gatherings in my home in my early years where my dad and my uncles who belonged to private-sector unions extolled the power of organized labor and its special place in the fabric of a rising middle class.
But times changed and so did my father’s viewpoint. His first questioning of unions centered upon the tactics of the epitome of labor bosses in the ’60s and ’70s, the United Auto Workers union. That privileged class gained unparalleled wages and benefits by constantly threatening strikes that would shut down the “Big Three” automobile manufacturers and playing each against the other utilizing a “patterned bargaining” strategy. My father was bewildered by the fact that workers garnering unbelievable (at the time) wages and benefits would be so antagonistic toward the employers who paid them. He had the very old-fashioned notion that there should be some loyalty between the workers and the company that gave them an outstanding standard of living.
The ’80s arrived and my then-retired father reacted to Ronald Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers’ union (PATCO) workers who tried to call what they thought was Reagan’s “bluff” to fire any of them who struck. My dad was a Democrat who loved Ronald Reagan. I’ll never forget my question to him when Reagan dropped the hammer on PATCO: “Do you support firing public-sector union members who strike?” His answer was unequivocal: “When your job is to protect the public, you do not strike. My only regret,” he said, “was that all of their leaders did not go to jail.”
I guess my dad was an anachronism, a dinosaur of sorts. He had this old-fashioned notion that, when you worked for the public, you served it with commitment and honor. His service in World War II would never let him rationalize any circumstance in which a guardian of public safety could leave his post and expose the public to danger in order to leverage the situation for personal gain.
But the unions today are not your father’s unions. They are also incrementally falling into two opposing camps: private-sector unions that increasingly see the impact of stifling government regulations (XL pipeline, “climate change” regulations, etc.) on their livelihood and public-sector unions that support any plan that grows government by increasing government control over the economy. If folks like my dad and union supporters of his age like Democratic Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington State were alive today, they would clearly communicate to the unions—public and private—how their excesses were fueling their decline.
Perhaps at some point modern-day union leaders will come to their senses and realize that laundering taxpayer dollars from the private-sector into public-sector union coffers to reward elected officials who provide them with unsustainable wages and benefits is a scam that has run its course. If that realization does not set in, the frustration of the taxpayers who see the services they are supposed to receive from government deteriorate while a chosen few profit greatly will only increase. The recent Wisconsin public-employee union warfare with Governor Scott Walker was not an aberration. Taxpayers will gladly support reasonable pay and benefits for government workers who provide necessary services and who consider themselves part of the organic community, not parasites feeding off of the organism. The choice is up to the unions.