Warning: In this post, I’m going to use something that somebody said in order to make a point that I would have tried to make even if I couldn’t find anybody who said it.

Four years ago, at around the time that Scott Walker was doing what he did to public employee unions that made himself famous, Doug Mataconis wrote a critique of public employee unions to which I’m largely sympathetic. But Mataconis ends with this almost throwaway sentence:

The party is over guys, and your days of feeding off the government trough are coming to an end.

My problem with that statement is that it’s unnecessarily confrontational and a goad to anyone who sees the issue differently to knock the chip off his shoulder. As a public employee who for a long time thought he was in a public employee union* and who works with other public employees, most of whom are in said union, I’ve heard enough complaints about how those who oppose public employee unions don’t care about the workers and are trying just to demonize the mostly minority employees who make up the bulk of public employees.

I’m not well-versed in the rhetoric of those who oppose public employee unions. But it seems hard to find one, especially if he or she holds elective office, who doesn’t choose to demonize public employees in some way while opposing such unions. Too few people maintain that it’s possible such unions represent mostly hardworking, well-intentioned people, and yet those unions just don’t function well for the state, for taxpayers, or for people who rely on the services provided by those employees. (Yes, I know some public employees who seem to just phone it in, and that’s a pretty big problem. But it’s not the sum total of the problem.)

Again, I’m tone trolling Mataconis’s piece. The rest of his article makes mostly an argument about why such unions can present a problem, and that argument and similar arguments need to be part of the discussion. But if those who oppose public unions wish to garner more widespread support and not appear to be merely partisan hacks, they should make the case on the merits and shy away from the “government trough” language.

*I got very mixed messages as to whether I was in the union. When I finally got up the courage to formally rescind my union authorization card (Sangamon is a card check state for public employees), I was informed that I wasn’t in the bargaining unit anyway, even though the union let me vote on the contract back when it was up for consideration. Fortunately, the union had never deducted dues, but I had walked out with it when it did a short strike, and in retrospect, doing so without being in the bargaining unit put me in danger of being fired. I shouldn’t have walked out anyway since I didn’t agree with the union, but I didn’t want to be “that guy” who scabbed.

Category: Statehouse

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7 Responses to Wherein I troll tones: public employee union edition

  1. fillyjonk says:

    “My problem with that statement is that it’s unnecessarily confrontational and a goad to anyone who sees the issue differently to knock the chip off his shoulder. ”

    This is my problem with way too much of what passes for political discourse these days. Too many ad hominem attacks passing as critique, too much “Because I said this and I believe it really heartily,” too little “These are the reasons why your ideas are problematic, and here is evidence to back that up.”

  2. fillyjonk says:

    FWIW, the only time I was ever in a union was my brief stint as a grad student TA at Large Public Ivy and the biggest issue of the day was some agitators wanting to strike in protest of the (first) Gulf War. Even with cooler heads pointing out that that would have been an illegal strike and therefore grounds for firing anyone who struck….still, a block of us went to the meeting (we normally didn’t) so we could vote against it.

    The meeting started at 6 pm. The vote for the strike (which was rejected) was at 11 pm. It was fairly ridiculous and kind of soured me on the idea of unions.

    • Oscar Gordon says:

      I don’t get this need to demonize participants of institutions we are critical of. It strikes me as counterproductive on multiple levels.

      • fillyjonk says:

        Well, I know I shut down from wanting to consider further criticisms (even if they may be constructive) if it starts off with an attack on who I am or a broad-brush characterization. It’s not good psychology if you’re trying to get people to consider your POV.

    • I used to be a member of my grad TA union, too. I supported it at first and then decided not to when it wanted to strike for an 8% raise. This was in 2010, when a lot of people felt lucky just to have a job. (The strike never happened. The union settled for a 2% raise.)

  3. Mike Hunt Ray Rice says:

    It took you 4 years to come up with this?

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