September 3, 2007

public employee union membership up 106.4 percent.

There are a few facts the writer fails to point out. As for unions in the private sector the issue is unions trying to get their share of company profits in good times. The problem is when bad times happen the union costs stay high. Also when people start making over 70k a year and have 3x the health benefits as non union people its time to wake up and stop living in the early 1900's. Child labor and sweat shops now only exist legally in third world countries. Unions have outlived their true mission/usefulness and from the union members we have spoken to feel that their non-public unions are selling out to business owners anyway.

As for public employee unions, the solution is simple. They should be illegal and are the result of years of gutless politicians with no vision as to the effects of future tax liabilities they have placed on their grandchildren. There is a reason public employee union are growing. Its not need. Its greed. The bolded sections of the article are good reading. The rest is mostly pandering to private sector unions. Whats funny is even the pro private sector union member and leader realizes that public employee unions are out of control in terms of costs and influence.

Henry column: Unions, negotiations the American way
By LOIS HENRY, staff columnist | Saturday, Sep 1 2007

Cover your ears. I'm about to commit Kern County heresy.

Labor unions are not the devil's spawn.

Unions have helped improve working conditions and wages for countless Americans in all walks of life.

Without unions, average workers would not enjoy the benefits of middle class life -- safe working conditions, health insurance, retirement, livable wages -- that most of us now take for granted.

Union members turn right around and spend those livable wages on (gasp!) living. Their money is pumped back into the community through mortgages, shoes, groceries, car payments, cell phones, dance lessons, home decorating -- did I mention shoes? -- and so on and so on. Why those socialist fiends!

No one bats a capitalistic eyelash when industry strives to get the best price for its products.

In fact, right here in Kern County there are several industry cooperatives that band together for just that purpose. Calcot and the Independent Oil Producer's Agency are two that come to mind. Cotton growers and oil producers pay dues to those associations that then help market the products for the best prices.

This is how Calcot touts its services on its Web site:

"If Calcot did not exist, cotton growers would have a far more difficult time getting a fair price for their crop, since they would be at the mercy of independent buyers."

Workers' products are their time and their skills. Unions help get a better price for both.

What could be more American than that?

And while many bemoan the political power some labor unions wield, it surely isn't more than that of say Castle & Cooke, Chevron, ConAgra, or, I don't know, Halliburton.

For those who want to limit labor unions' access to politicians (and we all know campaign contributions = access) I say, fine. Do it. But be fair and curtail industry just the same.

Yes, I know some union members don't want their dues supporting political causes or candidates espoused by the union leadership. Well, I don't want the money I spend on frozen broccoli or gasoline to go to some political causes or candidates either, but realistically, I don't have much control over that.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was the vice president of the Bakersfield Newspaper Guild, Local 202, here at The Californian for several years. Ten years ago, I moved into management and have, on several occasions, been at odds with that same union.

I've seen both sides and I don't believe unions are the enemy.

I was interested to see that despite national trends, unions are not on their deathbeds here in candy-apple red Kern County.

While membership has been declining steady across the country, down from 20.1 percent in 1983 to 12 percent in 2006, to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it's up locally.

Between 1996 and 2006, overall union membership in the Bakersfield metropolitan statistical area increased 82 percent, according to the Current Population Survey, a joint report put out by the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics. During that same time frame, the total number of employees increased by 28.3 percent.

Though there was a healthy increase in union membership in the private sector, 56.8 percent, the majority of the increase was driven by public employee union membership, a whopping 106.4 percent.

That's a reflection of a similar whopping increase in public employment overall, 70.4 percent versus 18.2 percent in the private sector. That's another story.

Those numbers mean some public employee unions have gained strength and the scales have tipped heavily, perhaps too heavily, in their favor, especially in terms of benefits.

Kern County officials acknowledged to The Californian several years ago that it is cheaper to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in overtime to firefighters rather than hire much-needed extra hands largely because of the lucrative benefits firefighters enjoy. (This, by the way, is just one of the many reasons it's important for public employee salaries to be open to the public, as was recently affirmed by the California Supreme Court.) Not to mention all the municipalities now facing enormous unfunded liabilities because of generous retirement benefits promised to a variety of public employee unions in recent years.

Who's to blame for that? The unions? Or public officials who forgot to bring their backbone to the bargaining table and act on behalf of all their constituents, not just the few with potentially powerful campaign endorsements? But that's what negotiation is all about.

Happy Labor Day.

Lois Henry's column appears every Wednesday and Sunday. Comment on this column at or e-mail her at or call her at 395-7373.

Lakewood Accountability Action Group™ LAAG | | Lakewood, CA
A California Non Profit Association | Demanding action and accountability from local government™

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