Labor unions in America go as far back as 1773 although they were referred to as guilds back then. The first strike by a union was in 1779 when printers in New York decided they wanted more money and lesser hours. The first strike in Philadelphia occurred in 1797 by the carpenters’ union.
Philadelphia, back in those days, had a lot of strikes and became officially known as a union town.
In those early days the unions were needed to stop employers from exploiting their workers, to get fair pay which is now called a living wage, safe working conditions, and to reduce hours from 12 to 10 to 8.
Somewhere between the 1800s and now the power of the unions became skewed. Once being revered as champions in regards to the plight of the working man they eventually became regarded as cartels by the 1960s; an evil monopoly that gouged businesses from profit. To many business owners union bosses have become a more acceptable form of militants.
Through the collective bargaining process between the unions and employers wages went higher than what many businesses could afford to pay. Along with these wages came healthcare costs and retirement packages that went far beyond being a competitive force in regards to labor needs.
As unions became more successful and richer other people such as workers, taxpayers, the unemployed and businesses paid the price. Higher wages also meant that a business couldn’t afford to hire more people which contributed to unsafe working conditions and goods being produced that were of lesser quality.
Unions were also able to manipulate the government and politicians to do their bidding for them.
Once the government authorizes the presence of a union in the work place, the unions are afforded certain protections from laws such as taxation and antitrust. Companies must work with the unions in what is called good faith bargaining. Depending who you ask good faith bargaining can be a real oxy moron.
In addition many unions make employees pay dues as a condition of working for companies and then use the dues to buy political positioning which have nothing to do with the collective bargaining process. This is illegal, but the unions are protected from having to be held responsible for their actions.
Although companies don’t have the choice whether or not they can ignore the union, they do have another alternative that many have opted for; they close the business and relocate to places like Mexico or China.
In the 1960s and 1970s Philadelphia had a lot of factories where people could work and make a pretty good living. Many people opted for factory work instead of going to college or went to work in a factory after they finished their service to the military.
In the early 1980s many factories did close due to their inability to continue to have the unions ransack their profits. This left hundreds of thousands of skilled and unskilled workers without jobs.
There were some unionized factories that remained open, but only because what they manufactured had a large supply-and-demand that worked in their favor. One of those factories, Hostess, finally closed their doors in 2012 and left 18,000 workers jobless.
The company cited a strike by their workers who were members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union which falls under the AFL-CIO labor union that hurt their ability to churn out Twinkies, Wonder Bread, Zingers, and Ho Hos to the masses. Apparently neith side was willing to give an inch.
The company did reopen in 2013, but only 500 people were hired.
Meanwhile AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka was able to continue making visits to the White House several times a week and collect his yearly salary of $278,000 per year.
Perhaps in the dark recesses of Trumka’s mind he has forgotten that the job of a union is to secure fair salaries for their members, but not at the expense of the American workforce. Union bosses also shouldn’t be willing to throw their own members under the bus for their own profit, but that’s exactly what’s happening as thousands of union members lose their jobs every year so the bosses can get richer.
In Philadelphia the unions are strong and perhaps that was no more evident than in July of 1986 when AFSCME local District Council 33 shut down the city when they went on strike. Trash collections stopped and union members piled bags of trash in the middle of streets thus preventing buses, police cars, ambulances and delivery trucks from getting through.
The strike lasted 19 days and a new two-year contract that included a 10% raise was ratified within hours. Basically the city caved because they had to and they’ve been caving ever since.
Unionized businesses in the private sector have significantly shrunk over the last couple of years and that is mostly due to the fact that these unions have forced them to close their doors through their greed. Unions in the public sector have grown.
Because the public sector is made up mostly of government owned or funded businesses and they don’t need to make a profit or at least that’s the way it used to be.
For years unions for government employees flourished because the government, the same people who gave all the rights to unions in the first place, just went along with the demands because they could just take the increases from the wallets of the taxpayers.
Once the recession hit in 2008, state and federal government agencies discovered they could no longer afford to pay the astronomical price of doing business with the unions which leads us to the stoop of the Philadelphia School District and their budget woes.
On August 31, 2013 the current contract for all members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) will expire. With 37 days to go until the expiration date the school district and the union are currently in negotiations, but are still worlds apart.
The school district has stated that they want to get $133 million in concessions from the PFT. Some of this money will come from reducing salaries from 5-13% depending on how much money the employee makes, no raises until 2017 and then any increases will be based solely on performance, 5-13% of health insurance premiums will be paid by the employee (they pay $25 now), the PFT’s Health and Welfare fund will be eliminated at employees will get whatever coverage the school district provides for them, members will no longer get 100% payment for unused personal days, but will only get $160, and no payment for lost prep time.
According to Selma Daniels, a member of the PFT, the union has engaged in conning the public into siding with them by antagonizing or even working with parent advocacy groups to protest the proposed cuts in service. In some instances money is paid to these groups for their work.
These protests make for good press and are always front page news. Basically Daniels says that the protests and speeches that are made by these groups are well-orchestrated events with the PFT serving as the ultimate puppet master.
It’s time for the union to understand that the school district isn’t trying to bust the PFT, but they’re trying to keep the doors open. These concessions will let the school district bring back the people they’ve laid off. This would be a good thing for the students of the school district because this would mean that they’d still have the resources that they need in order to get an education.
The money isn’t there anymore to support PFT employees Jerry T. Jordan, Arlene Kempin, Jack Steinberg, Freda Sydnor-Joell, and Joan M. McGowan. It hasn’t been for a long time and that’s the fact of the matter.
If the union decides it wants to continue to fight a losing battle, they may opt to strike.
Pennsylvania has more teacher strikes than any other state and this would mean that not only will people not get called back to work, but the district’s 149,535 students will become unwilling pawns in the battle.
Parents who work for low wages or who don’t have the luxury of calling out will have to miss work to stay at home with their kids which could mean that they’ll lose the money needed to feed, clothe and provide shelter for their children. The parents will also become unwilling pawns.
It’s time for the grown-ups to belly up to the bar so the kids won’t have to.