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Worker bashing and union busting
To the Editor:
Union bashing seems to be the theme this year in most all of the states where the republican politicians have gained majorities, and with it, control of state government.
In some states, they actually won with a majority vote, as in Wisconsin, albeit with false promises and finger pointing. In Maine, some late season campaign shenanigans in the Senate (a small fine was assessed on the perpetrators) and a minority vote for the Governor led to an ouster of the former democratic majority.
Since this conservative rise to fame we are witnessing a coordinated effort with questionable financial backing throughout many of these states against working men and women, against retirees, and against one of the most democratic institutions in America: Unions. Union members vote whether to have a union, what to pay for dues, what to pay for officers salaries, who those officers will be, what to place on an agenda before bargaining a contract, and then whether to accept the Company’s offer.
The game plan has been simple: split and divide workers, try to turn them against each other. They do this by painting the public sector workers as having a rich pension, great hours and benefits, and as greedy. The far right would have us believe that they are like parasites, living off our taxes.
I wonder why the politicians who claim that do not place themselves in that same category. Their salary is paid by citizens’ taxes, yet they do not offer to pay more for their pension, work longer hours, work later in life before they retire, pay more of their wages in taxes, nor reduce the number of politicians that represent us.
When Governor LePage took office, one of his first moves was to hire his own inexperienced daughter before many other people who would have been more qualified for wages that most new state workers would have been elated to receive. That is nepotism and is unethical by most standards and a very poor example to start with.
Then the Governor stated that the State needs to pay the hospitals what we owe them, which was in excess of $100 million dollars. He thought this is the right thing to do because we owe them that money. I may agree. (That money was paid, and then the newspapers exposed millions of dollars of bonuses paid to top executives there.)
But the logic does not hold true when he talks about the state workers’ retirement system. The state of Maine owes their pension fund a lot of money, too. The amount of money missing is in part due to former governors not investing the amount needed to fund the liability. In this case, the Governor promotes that we should cut back the modest pensions for these workers, increase a tax on those folks alone, and then advocates making them to work until age 65.
This is not the path he chose for the hospitals! I hope everyone realizes that these state workers only receive this state pension. They are not allowed to collect Social Security like the rest of us, even if they pay into it as part time workers.
And then there is the wrongly named Right to Work legislation. It has nothing to do with someone having a right to work or someone finding people a job for someone. This law lets some workers who enjoy the benefits negotiated by their union not pay their fair share of representation. This legislation creates freeloaders in places where unions have been voted in by the workers there.
In this anti-union proposal, 90% of workers in a union may pay their union dues, and the other 10% can choose not to. Problem is, the law mandates that the union has to still represent those that do not pay. This could be compared to several families moving into a community that is already established. Then those families decide that they do not want to be part of that community, but still live there.
They do not pay their property tax because they do not see a benefit. But the town still has to plow their road, educate their children, remove their sewage, provide water, fire and police protection, etc. But they don’t pay their fair share, and in time, other townspeople have to pay more to make up for them.
It’s the same scenario with a right to work state. Some workers do not pay their dues and the other dues paying union members provide the funds to negotiate better wages, health care, pension, handle grievance issues, and monitor safety, etc, for them while they freeload. “Ain’t right, no where, no how!”
Then there’s the name calling. In the Sun Journal’s Perspective section of March 14, Scott Lansley refers to everyday union members as “Thugs.” Why? Because they want to exercise their rights and go to Augusta and protest peacefully and make themselves heard? These people are teachers, firefighters, laborers, millworkers, day care providers, nurses, clerks who work in the capitol, road crew people, electricians, and a lot of other just plain good, hardworking, tax paying, honest workers.
I was there and did not see any thugs. I did witness some “tea party” people who coincidentally timed their protest for the same time as ours. They tried to engage us with their bantering, but we were there to focus on our issues, and not get caught up in their schemes.
Lansley also refers to “union bosses.” This is laughable. An ultra right conservative who promotes big business whose CEO’s dictate their agenda with the lure of big money refers to an officer of a union as a “boss.” Most officers of their local union receive very little extra pay, maybe a stipend of $100 per month and get reimbursed their actual wages for any time they lose to do union business.
Union leaders can only spend money when voted to do so by their members. They only act on an agenda as voted as well. The International union leader or president would typically make three to five times what their average member makes. Corporate CEO’s may rake in as much as 100 times their employees’ salary, plus such huge bonuses that count in the million, tens and hundreds of millions of dollars! So you tell me, who’s the boss? The far right, under the tutelage of leaders like Karl Rove, continue to dupe the public into thinking that slander that actually applies to them, should be tagged to people they oppose.
The true fight in Augusta this legislative season is not about someone’s right to work, or whether dues should be deducted from a paycheck, if someone’s pension is too generous. It's about a national agenda created by the right wing to demonizes unions, vilify workers, shift the tax burden from the rich to the middle class, and grab power for years to come. It’s worker bashing and union busting.
They are trying to get rid of unions overall. They do not like to have to answer to anyone. And all this is not necessary to balance a budget, not ethical, and not a way to promote jobs and will not elevate the middle class. We need to raise workers’ standard of living, and not hop on a race to the bottom of wages and benefits. Our minority elected Governor has made many gaffes in such a short time. He could try to be inclusive instead of exclusive. Thirty-eight percent of the vote does not give him this mandate.
Solidarity to all workers!
Maine Labor Council VP,
USW Local 900 Recording Secretary,