John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Unions in Crisis

Posted on November 30, 2008


         It was the best of times and the worst of times for America’s labor movement. 


         It was the best of times, because they now have the political muscle that they have been working so hard for over the last decade.  Both the House and Senate are dominated by labor-friendly Democrats and the Obama Administration is expected to appoint Labor-friendly David Bonior to be the new Labor Secretary.


         But it is also the worst of times, because the labor movement is now being exposed for what it has become:  out of touch, counterproductive, inefficient, unnecessary, corrupt, and anachronistic.


         Time Magazine put on its cover Michelle Rhee, the new superintendent of the D.C. public schools system.   The story that accompanies the cover is a devastating critique of the teacher’s unions, which deserve the lion’s share of the blame in our struggling public education system.


         The story said this about the number one goal of the teacher’s union, the tenure system: “Teachers got tenure rights in the early 20th century to protect them against meddling politicians and school-board members who treated their jobs as patronage pawns. But the rationale is plainly antiquated. Today dozens of federal and state laws protect teachers (and other people) from arbitrary firing. But most teachers still receive tenure almost automatically. In fact, even before they get tenure, they are rarely let go. Schools spend millions of dollars evaluating teachers, but principals have little incentive to shake up their staffs, and so most teachers end up scoring near the top.”


         Rhee’s aggressive efforts to save the DC school system has received this feedback from the head of the teacher’s union:  “Michelle Rhee believes in scorched earth," says Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a national union that has become unusually involved in local matters in Washington. "I am not saying that D.C.'s school system doesn't need a lot of help. But I have been part of a lot of reforms, and the one thing I have never seen work is a hierarchical, top-down model."


         Of course, Weingarten is the top obstacle to real reform in the D.C school system.  For a system that consistently spends more per student that just about any in the country, the fact that its students score at the bottom of the rankings just as consistently is a national disgrace. 


         Talk of a bailout for American car manufacturers is cause for another embarrassment for the labor movement.  The ridiculously high cost of producing high quality vehicles has put the price of many American cars at a competitive disadvantage to their foreign competitors. 


         What is especially galling to many Americans worried about the price of a bailout is a labor program that pays ex-auto workers a full salary not to work.  Unemployment benefits are one thing.  Paying people not to work is different.


         The fact is that many foreign competitors move their production facilities to right to work states, especially in the south, and they are able to produce high-quality cars at lower costs because they don’t have to deal with the unions. 


         Democrats in the Congress will likely pass legislation to make it easier for unions to organize.  Since Democrats get most of their campaign contributions from one labor union or another, this is no surprise. 


         The sad thing is that the unions want to do to Walmart and to the federal government what they were able to do to our education system and to the domestic auto industry.


         Government is already ridiculously inefficient.  How will making even more government workers union members make the government work more efficiently?


         The union movement had a place in our nation as we moved into the industrial age.  But Big Labor has worn out its welcome.  Giving them more power seems like a really dumb idea to me.

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