Americans oppose taking away public employee collective bargaining rights by a margin of two to one, according to a March 1 New York Times/CBS poll. The same poll indicates that a margin of 56 percent to 37 percent of those polled also oppose cutting public sector employee wages and benefits to reduce state budget deficits. Furthermore, asked how they would choose to reduce their state’s deficits, “those polled preferred tax increases over benefit cuts for state workers by nearly two to one,” according to the New York Times. These figures may surprise some, especially when so many media fail to explore the roots of these issues. I think what we have here is another example of what rarely is appreciated: common sense.
Prior to becoming a Supreme Court justice, Lewis Powell wrote a memorandum to a beleaguered business community in 1971.
“Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power only available through united action and internal organization.”
Powell was advising the business community to get organized in order to achieve its goals.
In fact, large portions of the business community have gotten organized over the last 40 years, and one of their primary goals has been to weaken the influence of organized labor. The anti-union “industry” in the United States is a multi-billion dollar business annually. According to American Rights at Work, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce alone spends $50 million per year on anti-union/anti-worker activity.
So, the recent poll results showing wide support for workers’ right to be in unions and bargain collectively is very encouraging data. It shows that Americans can see what is really going on: that the promise of “trickle-down” economics has not worked. Common sense shows it is impossible for government to provide for the needs of the community when tens of millions of well-paying jobs have disappeared from the American landscape. Those well-paying jobs fueled government in the form of corporate, property and wage taxes.
Organizing health care
Let me take this concept of organization a step further.
Tens of thousands of us go to work every day here at Kaiser Permanente in an extraordinarily organized environment. The health care delivery system here is the most organized in the nation, a model of fully integrated care based on preventive medicine. Further, almost all of the employees who work in this system are organized into unions.
Since common sense dictates nothing significant can be accomplished without organization, we should internalize the advantage we have as we go to work every day and as we think about how we can extend our influence on a truly beleaguered health care system and a truly beleaguered working and middle class in our nation.
Wherever I go to tell our story, people’s reaction is jaw-dropping. Our system, our patient-centered outcomes of excellence, our great conditions of employment, and our right to organize without opposition and our employment and income security agreement are not the norm outside of KP.
I find great synergy in today’s polls and in our system of work and care delivery. We are living in a time when, given the opportunity, people can envision what makes sense.
There is a deep relationship between the right to collectively bargain and to figure out what is best for the greater good. Public employees understand the complexity of budgets. Health care workers understand the complexity and expense of care delivery. I suggest private sector manufacturing, construction, service and transportation workers also understand that their products must be high quality, affordable and competitive. And they desperately want to contribute to producing high-quality products and services for themselves and for the greater good.
But unless workers are organized they will not, as Lewis Powell advised the business community, be able to “engage in long-term planning over an indefinite period of years.”
Let’s truly celebrate today’s polls, which show that the American people are in full support of the common sense of organization by the people who work every day for the common good.