President’s Letter – March 2011

Attacks on collective bargaining undermine a basic right for employees: a voice at work

by Monica Malamud, AFT 1493 President

For several weeks now, we’ve been hearing the grim news about the Wisconsin Governor’s scheme to strip public sector workers, including faculty, of their collective bargaining rights. Unfortunately, similar legislation has been introduced in other states as well.

On the surface, proponents of these initiatives to do away with unions say that flexibility is necessary in order to deal with the current deficits. But the existence of unions and their right to negotiate does not stand in the way of finding solutions to the economic crisis. In fact, through the collective bargaining process, public employee unions in Wisconsin have offered concessions about their salaries and their contributions towards health care costs, in order to help the state deal with the budget deficit. Unfortunately, for Wisconsin Governor Walker this is not enough. Which points to the real motivation behind his proposal to disband unions, and similar proposals in Ohio, Florida, Michigan and New Hampshire: the goal is not “flexibility”, but rather absolute power for employers to make decisions unilaterally, without ever negotiating with employee groups.

Without collective bargaining employers have unlimited power

Collective bargaining does not give extraordinary powers to unions. Collective bargaining means that agreements are hammered out collaboratively between two groups: employers and employees. Those who would like to do away with collective bargaining say that unions have too much power. They’re actually right: in their opinion, unions have too much power, because any power that the union has means that employers cannot do as they please, so they would like to silence the voice of employees and give employers all of the power. With unions and collective bargaining rights, the power is fairly shared among stakeholders and the two parties must reach agreements, usually through compromises.

When compared to other countries, progress on collective bargaining rights in the United States has been slow but steady. Union membership in the public sector has been rising. We must continue to move forward, not backward, for the benefit of working people—the majority of the population. In fact, according to recent polls, a majority of Americans are opposed to the weakening of organized labor and the erosion of collective bargaining rights. The current attack on workers’ rights to form a union and to bargain collectively cannot be tolerated. Revoking these rights would erase decades of real progress for working people. Let’s stay informed and do everything we can to ensure that unions can continue to protect workers and be a force for social progress.