Efforts to Rein In the Power of Unions

Published: January 16, 2011


To the Editor:

Once again, labor unions are under attack (“Strained States Turning to Laws to Curb Labor Unions,” front page, Jan. 4).

What is remarkable is the extent to which politicians (primarily, though not exclusively, Republicans) are using the current economic situation to fulfill longstanding political goals. We should not be surprised that the dominant response seems to be: weaken labor unions; undermine entitlement programs; cut taxes on the wealthy; privatize public assets; deregulate.

Not surprised, perhaps, but certainly angry. We got into this mess because of the greed and stupidity of bankers, and the willingness of legislators to deregulate the financial sector in the first place and permit a wide polarization of income and wealth.

No plausible case can be made that this economic crisis is somehow the fault of the elderly poor, or Medicaid recipients, or union members or the unemployed, but it is these people who are bearing the brunt of budget cuts and deregulation. Using an economic crisis as an excuse to reduce further the threadbare safety net and labor market protections — to further a political agenda that far predates our current sorry economic condition — is shameful.

Chris Howell?Oberlin, Ohio, Jan. 4, 2011

The writer is a professor of politics at Oberlin College.

To the Editor:

Your article about efforts to curb government workers’ salaries and pension benefits made me think about our general economic “race to the bottom.”

Rather than get angry and dismantle the remaining decent-paying jobs with earned pensions, why not question why these same benefits are becoming a rarity in the private sector?

With the last 20 years of economic gains going to a sliver at the top, we now focus on beating up the remaining solid middle-class workers who actually possess what we all have been working for: a decent standard of living.

Elizabeth Angyal? Chicago, Jan. 4, 2011

To the Editor:

We are getting punch-drunk from vitriolic arguments about unionized government workers destroying the economy. Three points:

(1) Government workers tend to be better educated and more skilled than the general labor force, and correcting for these factors results in the startling news that government workers are actually paid 4 percent less than comparable private-sector workers, according to the Center for Economic Policy Research.

(2) Current pensions and wages were negotiated in good faith by unions and public-sector employers, commitments were made and now these workers suddenly find themselves unfairly blamed for a financial meltdown caused by (unpunished and unaccountable) actors in the private sector.

(3) Government workers are taxpayers and voters, and they have every right to speak collectively through their unions in debates over their work lives and public policy. There is an employment system where workers are forbidden to demand fair conditions or compensation, and where employers control everything. It’s called slavery.

Sally M. Alvarez?New York, Jan. 4, 2011

The writer teaches labor relations in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell, Extension Division.