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Unions have helped everyone

March 1, 2011
By Richard Clark

ESCANABA - Negotiating labor contracts is time consuming, headache producing, and tiring. Collective bargaining is negotiating between employee representatives and employer representatives. Without collective bargaining unions cannot represent employees on wages, safety, hours of work and other conditions of employment.

Collective bargaining is a human right, but without federal legislation businesses in interstate commerce would not have any obligation to bargain with employees.

Without a union with collective bargaining rights an employee has very few rights. People who are mistreated have no recourse as most employment situations are "at will." An employer can terminate an employee for any reason that isn't illegal, such as sex, race or religious discrimination.

Article Photos

Richard Clark

Without collective bargaining an employer does not need just cause to fire a worker. Unions negotiate contracts with grievance procedures that end with arbitration requiring just cause for discharge.

Law books describe the employer/employee relationship as Master/Servant. Collective bargaining gives employees representation in the work place.

Automation and outsourcing eroded union jobs in the private sector. Public employee unions have faired much better than their brothers and sisters in the private sector. Their jobs have not been sent across the ocean and tend to be labor intensive, service jobs: teachers, social workers, police officers and firefighters.

The rub for Repubs is that public employee union leadership generally supports Democratic candidates for public office. The Wisconsin governor proved they are correct. The Repub plan here is "to take the unions out at the knees," said a spokesman for Americans for Prosperity.

The billionaire Koch brothers started and support the Americans For Prosperity, which funded tv ads and a website calling out "stand with Walker," the Wisconsin governor. The Koch brothers were born with a silver spoon and are part of the I-want-to-get-richer-than-the-money-my-daddy-left-me society.

The Repub Wisconsin legislature and governor want to destroy public employee unions. The governor falsely claims that he must eliminate collective bargaining to save pensions and healthcare for retiring public employees.

In February 2010 the PEW Center on the States published a report on state financed pensions, The study found that Wisconsin is to be one of a few states that are "solid performers" with fully funded pensions.

Bishop Listecki, archbishop of Milwaukee, issued a statement in support of unions. It said, "Our own dioceses and parishes have not been immune to the effects of the current economic difficulties.

But hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers."

Bishop Listecki was following Catholic tradition that started in the 19th Century with Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum. Pope Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate (#25) wrote that the call of the Church to defend the rights of unions must be honored more today than in the past.

So why should we care? Michigan's governor said he wants no part of Wisconsin's way, and yet he proposed legislation that requires emergency financial managers to terminate collective bargaining agreements. State Representative McBroom voted for the bill and it is now in the Michigan Senate. Since all the Repubs in the House voted for the bill the Senate will follow.

I emailed Representative McBroom and Senator Casperson and asked if they would support legislation similar to that proposed by the Wisconsin governor to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights. It has been over a week. Neither has responded. A simple "no" would have sufficed.

Senator Casperson cosponsored a law to prohibit governmental bodies from requiring contractors they hire to pay prevailing wages, clearly an anti-worker/anti-union position.

Collective bargaining is a headache, time consuming and tiring but as noted by Bishop Listicki, "However, it is equally a mistake to marginalize or dismiss unions as impediments to economic growth. As Pope John Paul II wrote in 1981, "[a] union remains a constructive factor of social order and solidarity, and it is impossible to ignore it." (Laborem exercens #20, emphasis in original)"


EDITOR'S NOTE - Richard Clark, Escanaba, practices personal injury law throughout the Upper Peninsula. He can be reached at



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