As evidence that Wisconsin union leaders are living in another dimension, last month, the United Auto Workers local representing 2,750 employees at Wisconsin’s Oshkosh Corporation voted unanimously to reject a one-year contract extension proposed by management. What were they being offered? Terms that included a 3.5% increase in wages, a $750 signing bonus, no increase in health care costs to the workers, and generous increases in pensions and fringe benefits. Not only did they reject the offer, they did so angrily. Even Harley-Davidson’s reluctant and last-minute “concessions” — a wage freeze, layoff of 325 workers, and union employees accepting the same pension plan as salaried workers in exchange — seem like a no-brainer in today’s economic climate.
Union leaders in America today must open their eyes and realize that any American working at a job with benefits can be considered extremely lucky. The inexplicable rejection of management’s proposals by the UAW at Oshkosh Corporation is only the latest example of the fantasy world where the law of supply and demand has been demoted to a debatable theory. “Fight greed” is the mantra of the UAW, yet it is union greed that hurts the majority of hard-working Americans who do not belong to a union.
Russ Feingold may believe he is fighting for “working families,” but it appears to be Ron Johnson who sees that 85% of non-union employees in Wisconsin who are struggling. Enter the selfish teachers’ unions. Modeled after antiquated and destructive labor contracts suited for factory workers, the typical teachers’ union contract is loaded with provisions that not only do nothing to promote education, they harm education. Harmful and selfish education union provisions drive away good teachers, protect bad teachers, raise costs, and tie principals’ hands. As national attention turns to education solutions such as charter schools and merit pay, teachers’ unions will be there throwing grenades every step of the way.
Ron Johnson recognizes that the dramatic rise in influence enjoyed by the teachers’ unions has coincided with stagnant and unacceptable levels of student performance. A new documentary on the teachers’ unions’ responsibility for the abysmal state of American education entitled Waiting for Superman is now out in the theaters. I doubt Russ Feingold will see it. Despite paying lip service to education reform, you could hear only crickets chirping from the Feingold camp when the Obama administration — in an effort to avoid angering the unions and endangering their political contributions — took a hatchet to the very successful D.C. school voucher program, despite a United States Department of Education report that showed students had made statistically significant gains in reading achievement.
In August, Russ Feingold released an ad called “On Our Side,” featuring what are supposed to be ordinary Wisconsinites praising Feingold for siding with them. Unfortunately, two of the “ordinary Wisconsinites” praising Feingold in the ad include high-powered AFL-CIO lobbyist Joanne Ricca and a woman from the office of the AFL-CIO president.
For his role as union accomplice in dismantling Wisconsin’s private and small business communities, Feingold has received the highest possible (100% or “A”) ratings by the SEIU, AFSCME, NEA, and the AFL-CIO. That’s really all I need to know on November 2nd. Between more than $1 million in campaign checks, the repeated use of AFL-CIO higher-ups in his ads, and his consistent support of “card check” and other pro-union bills in Washington, Feingold is in lockstep with the unions, and that puts him out of phase with the 85% of Wisconsin employees who are non-union.
Wisconsin and Russ Feingold have to rethink their approach to labor. Our global economy has provided struggling industries with a new source of labor — foreign workers willing to work for a lot less than the prevailing wage here. Rather than sitting in lawn chairs with union-made picket signs in front of U.S. companies where the doors are locked and the grass is no longer cut, unions must recognize their new environment and adapt. The American economy can no longer afford “cradle-to-grave” employee care, retirement at 55, and lavish pensions worth more than the annual salaries of many private employees provided to union workers by their employers.
As we look at another Labor Day — the official workers’ holiday — in the rear-view mirror, we need to honor the American worker as well as the role that unions have played in building this country. But we also need to recognize that a new day has dawned for American labor. At a recent AFL-CIO rally in Washington to stump for card check legislation — the equivalent of potassium chloride to Wisconsin’s small businesses — the unions handed out hundreds of hardhats to their members to wear while posing during their march.
Inside the hats it said, “Made in China.”