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Union-Busting’s Tasteless Florida Flavors

| January 27, 2013

A cabbage-packer at Flagler County's Hollar & Greene packing plant. (© FlaglerLive)

A cabbage-packer at Flagler County’s Hollar & Greene packing plant. (© FlaglerLive)

It’s not been a good couple of weeks for unions. Actually, it’s not been a good couple of decades. But let’s take it one shock at a time.

Earlier this month the Florida Supreme Court ratified the Legislature’s 3 percent garnishing of state workers’ wages, ostensibly to make workers contribute to their Florida Retirement System pension, but in fact to plug state budget holes at workers’ expense. Beside breaking a promise to workers, who were hired under one set of rules only to see the rules change without their say, the decision rewrites law to mean that a contract is whatever the Legislature says it is, whenever it chooses to say it. “A good politician is quite as unthinkable as a good burglar,” Mencken once said. He’d never met some of our Florida justices.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive Last week, the House Government Operations Subcommittee doubled down on the demise of the Florida Retirement System. As if recent market history was a dream worthy of Bobby Ewing, the panel is proposing that starting next year, state workers’ defined-benefit pension plan be replaced by a 401(k)-like defined-contribution plan. That would not only shift all the risk to workers. It would create risk: betting one’s retirement stash on the stock market has been a twice-repeated disaster for those who saw their savings vanish in the 2001 and 2008 market collapses.

That’s not the Legislature’s concern. Its loyalty to workers, such as it is, ends once the state is done with their service, if not before. House Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Jason Brodeur, the Sanford Republican, summed up the insult to workers last week when he crudely-and falsely-equated workers’ current retirement system with a handout: “There will no longer be a blank check written by the taxpayers.”

Brodeur was 6 years old when Ronald Reagan busted the air traffic controllers’ strike, so he came of age just as America was making the vilification of unions national policy again. He’s part of a generation of Reagan-suckled politicians to whom degrading workers comes naturally. He might as well have said that Florida was doing a teacher or a firefighter a favor to let either slave for relative poverty wages for 40 years, and that neither had earned that retirement check. How revolting that a legislator could be so cavalier about the state’s most valuable laborers, and get away with it.

He can, because workers don’t have much leverage to counter the slurs. The same day Brodeur began making funeral arrangements for the state retirement system, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that union membership fell by 400,000 in 2012, even as the economy added 2.4 million jobs. Just 11.3 percent of workers are unionized. That’s the lowest level since 1916 (when Upton Sinclair’s Jungle was every corporate executive’s favorite book to ban). Take public sector workers out of the equation, and the proportion of unionized workers falls to 6.6 percent.

In Florida, just 5.8 percent of workers are unionized, one of the lowest rates in the country, though 7.3 percent of workers are actually represented by unions. That’s a consequence of the so-called “right-to-work” rule written in the Constitution, one of the great heists of language and labor that gives union-busters the cover of law. It gives a worker the “right” to profit from a union’s collective bargaining power to ensure fairer work conditions, wages and benefits, without having to belong to the union, or pay it dues.

And still, unions are vilified, often, in a weird form of sadomasochism, by the same workers who’ve seen their wages and benefits erode precisely as union membership has declined. Between 1979 and 2007, earnings for almost all workers but those in the top 10 percent of have either stagnated or declined, in inflation-adjusted dollars, according to the Congressional Budget Office. For the top 10 percent, earnings have jumped 33 percent.

That was before the Great Recession, which decimated workers’ standing: for those lucky enough to have held on to jobs, pay has been either reduced or stuck below inflation-adjusted levels, especially in Florida (where teachers have gone without a raise for six years, and where vibrant job sectors are tourism’s burger-flippers and health care’s bedpan-cleaners). Benefits have been slashed. Job security is a museum piece.

We’re going back to the dark days of the early 20th century, when worker-bashing was a corporate sport and the likes of George Baer, the lawyer who represented owners in the Coal Strike of 1902, could say with a straight face: “The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for — not by labor agitators, but by the Christian men to whom God in his infinite wisdom has given the control of the property interests of this country.”

The great age of unions, between the 1930s and 1970, which also coincided with the great age of the American middle class and a rise in wages and standards of living unparalleled since, is over. We’re back to Baer country.

The union-busting era has paid fantastic dividends-for the busters. But it wouldn’t have been as lucrative without three decades of indoctrination painting unionized workers as the enemy, and the rich as “job creators.” The numbers, and the wreckage wrought by those “job creators,” ridicule the fantasy.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here. This column is also syndicated through Florida Voices.

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28 Responses for “Union-Busting’s Tasteless Florida Flavors”

  1. Lonewolf says:

    Workers benefits will leave with the Unions

  2. amom says:

    We are on a dangerous path when the powerful and rich, will continue to be allowed to exploit the middle class. They pay lower and lower wages, do not offer benefits, as they put more and more money in to their fat bank accounts..

    No longer can the middle class expect a fair wage for a fair days work.

  3. Edman says:

    Short term profit motives have become the norm instead of business longevity and accountability with management caring more about their own stability than the workers. Unions are needed to protect the middle class and ensure livable wages. Our economy will be stronger with unions than without them.

  4. Magnolia says:

    Whether or not you want to join a union should be up to the worker. In my early years I was forced to support a union who did nothing for my salary or working conditions. I didn’t make much to begin with and resented highly that the union took money out of my check. Where does most of that money go? To politicians. The unions likely funneled much of the TARP money into the political coffers in Washington. That’s how it usually works.

    If you don’t like what you’re being paid, you have the freedom to find a new job. The federal government has laws concerning most work place conditions now in this country. We can’t afford to fund pension retirement funds like we used to; we have too many who are now unemployed, too many not working, too many bankrupt retirement funds.

    There are plenty of employers offering benefits in this country without paying off unions.

    • amom says:

      Not so. Companies really are free to pay low wages, no pension (buy your own 401k, with minimal help from the company), very few if any benefits.

      Free to find another job, also low pay. Without unions, or government backing, workers have no power.

      The rich get richer, get their taxes cut and contribute to political campaigns that benefit them…… the middle class and poor get poorer.

    • Eric says:

      You are out of your mind if cannot see through this. Did you read the article? The state retirement was extremely well funded and doing just fine. These state employees have suffered through long careers many risking life and limb for the retirement promised when they started. Scott did this because everything else is broken and he needs the money for other projects. This is truly a tragedy for all state residents. The only reason we have as good of employees as we do is because of the retirement. With that gone these professionals will also be gone. You should have lost your job! Freedom is not free people! Join your union and fight for your rights!

  5. John Boy says:

    Republican Tea Baggers have done a great job in returning the average worker to the status of indentured servitude. First they eliminate your pension, eliminate your benefits, drive savings account interest to near zero. What will be left, nothing, the average dumb Republican Tea Bagger will work at minimum wage until he /she drops dead and will then thank the likes of Scott, Bush, Romney, McConnell, Boehner and all the idiots whose major thrust is to destroy the Country so they and their friends benefit while the normal people loose everything they gained in the last 150 years. Is it possible that all those AK-47’s will come back to haunt these Bast*rds..

  6. Alex says:

    Pierre, If (a big if) 401(k) is good for private sector employees, why the 401(k) system is NOT GOOD ENOUGH for public service employees? The current system kicks the can down the road to taxpayers for liability who have no input to the commitment.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Alex, I’m glad you put a big if to the suggestion that 401(k)s might be good for private sector employees. I think they’re a fabulous rip-off, a way for companies and the public sector to pretend to be doing something beneficial for employees as cover to abandon the responsibility pensions represented. As far as the Florida Retirement System is concerned, it’s one of the most solid pension plans in the nation. There’s really no reason to mess with it.

  7. The Flagler County Commission refused to sign a contract with the PBA which would cover Public works employees. They instead decided without input to negate the seniority clause, the gold rule for layoffs, and never put in the employee handbook, violating all employees rights. Then they brought in Craig ,hatcetman,
    Coffey to dispose of all the Unionized employees. Qualifications were not considered, a few in HR were in on the fix and kept the good jobs for themselves, and their favorites.

  8. Dlf says:

    I guess we make the above argument for the people who worked at Hostess Bakery ,the union leaders still have their jobs. We continue to downgrade the rich,but how many of us have got a job from a poor person or even a middle class person. It’s seems to me the rich may be the only game in town ,and many of them are leaving town. Lets face the fact that has the unions grew and demanded more the “rich” move out of town and will continue to do so. The remark that everyone was doing well between 1930–1970 was in part due the fact we were not in a world economy like we are now. If you look at the industries that were thriving under the unions are now going out of business, auto, steel jobs that in general produced a product have moved out of town, but the union leaders have held on to their jobs those rich so and so’s. Unless we get off this class war fare we will all lose,the rich the middle and the lower class. We never had this “class” separation untold the last five years, wonder why?

    • Geezer says:

      While Hostess was announcing that 18,000 jobs would be wiped out, they paid out
      1.8 million dollars to its executives. Most of that dough came from the employee pension funds.

      Anti-union is anti-middle class.
      Unions are badly needed–CEO salaries vs worker salaries are 380:1 on average.

      • Dlf says:

        The exec had a contract, the same as the union did,the union execs stuck it to the workers and they still in most cases still have a job. In case you forgot you get paid based on education, responsibly and experience,not because you belong to a socialist union. Why has the unions buddies, Obama and the crew of crooks in Washington taken care of the union, because it is a dying breed. Many union members do not want to spend the time getting an education, having the responsibility or working the long hours that management does,they want a job that pays them just because they belong. Like I said I never got a job from a poor man.

        Magnolia, You hit the nail right on the head, great comments!

        Geezer, Wake up and smell the NEW flowers,they are non union made.

      • NortonSmitty says:

        Hostess cut their drivers wages from an average of $45k a year in 1997 to $35k by 2011. They had to do this because they had been rolled through three different Bain Capital style owners who leveraged their pensions and put the company into so much debt to pay the execs they had to cut the drivers.

        DLF, And Jamie Dimon still isn’t allowed to sleep under the I-95 overpass just like the rest of us! Because though he lost $6.5 Billion for JP Morgan/Chase last year on idiotic derivatives trades against the Euro and had his pay cut IN HALF to a mere $11.5 Million in 2012, he still will get arrested just like the rest of us if he tries to grab the part under the bridge where you stay dry if it rains just like the rest of us!

        I mean, how could the law get any fairer than that?

        confidential, I’ve been saying for years, the labor movement should pool up some dough and rent a billboard as you cross the Florida border heading south saying “Welcome to Florida, where Labor has no Value!”

        I got a $Grand to start, anybody want to join me?

        Steve, OK, you and I can do that. Great. And we’ll just let your brother who was unfortunate enough to be born with an IQ of 90 and my idiot cousin starve. Or better yet, we’ll hire them to go to work for us! Then we’ll make a lot of money and they won’t quite starve! And we’ll get rich, no, that’s a bad word. We’ll live comfortably.

        And we’ll meet at The Club on weekends and pat each other on the back for our humanity and our undying devotion to the Lesser Classes. And toast each other with a fine brandy on our humanity and our luck to be born in such a great and noble country.


        Magnolia, Maggie darlin’, in what Randian utopia do you live? It can’t be here in the Sunshine State. It must be in some free-market paradise called Citybanktopia, Headupmyassistan or Wallstreetovakia. Where all you get is Fox News and Rush Limbaugh 24/7 until you agree to happily work for two fish heads and a cup of rice a day. And be oh so grateful. “Thank you Sir, may I have another?”

        Because the Union bashing statements about your real life experience with the Evil Union Thugs don’t quite have the ring of truth to those of us who have actually tried to work and raise a family in the Right-To-To Work-For-Less Republican paridise that is the State of Florida in the 21st century.

        In the same post you state “If you don’t like what you’re being paid, you have the freedom to find a new job.” and then ” we have too many who are now unemployed, too many not working, too many bankrupt retirement funds.” Either you take what your given, shut up and be thankful and teach your kids the many wonderful ways Mom can cook Top Ramen every day, or quit your job and try to find a better one when there is no work available and it is a stacked deck for anyone who wants to buy labor by design. But don’t deal with Unions because They are Bad!

        I try not to be angry, but you have to at least play to the level of your competition. And I’ve never minded stooping to do it.

      • Dlf says:

        Geezer,did you see who was bailing out the union at Hostess again,it is not the poor or the union crooks who kept their jobs If the new owners are smart they will move it to a right to work state.

    • It might be because one half of one percent have more than all the rest of us put together. Unions are about continuous training and certifications in highly skilled fields. It’s about apprentiship programs and learning from a master. Real world on the job training. Also most Union pensions are self funded by the members and contributions from contracted private companies. Health and dental care are also covered. Union members give eight hours work for eight hours pay and don’t talk on cell phones all day.

  9. Anon says:

    Right to Work + At Will Employment = All for me and a little for you.

    Workers are paid just enough to keep them poor.

  10. DP says:

    @ Magnolia

    Got to love your coment ” If you don’t like what your being paid, you have the freedom to find a new job”.
    Apparently you feel it’s completely alright to have an agreement when you are hired some twenty five years ago, with an understanding that you will not be paid premium monies in lieu of having a retirement when it comes time to retire. Then some jerk comes into office who stole your money to fill his own private pockets, as well as mine, and states he had to pay for his own retirement, so I should too. Would you stand for that if you were in my shoes?? I seriously doubt it. The Florida retirement system has been one of the most stable and properly managed programs in its entire existence. I guess you would have to say that our state legislators can make a mistake, miss spend our monies, and then tap into a fund that was supposed to be protected, has been well managed, to fix or cover up the lack of funds the state miss-spent is perfectly ok, dump the blame on the shoulders of the employee’s and their unions. It wasn’t just funded on your back, as was mine either, but every person that bought something in this state, county, or city paid a sales tax is where those monies came from. Those laws you quote are geared towards the employers, not so much for the employees. We have cops, firemen, & teachers that are just barely making a living, no raises in years, higher insurance premiums, and now an additional 3% expense of paying into something that was guaranteed. Oh I forgot the 2.2% additional into social security, leaves those same employee’s with allot less money to pay their bills and feed their families,on 2004-2005 wages. This economy is all their fault’s, not the polications is what your saying indriectly. I can’t just go out a find a another job due to my age, and I still have kids in school, I don’t mismanage my money, I don’t eat steak & lobster, be chauffeured all over, have FDLE protection, have my health care paid by the citizens of Florida, oh yea also have a full retirement after serving ONE term being paid for by who? “YOU GUESSED IT” you and me. But that’s ok I guess? So I say stop blaming the worker, and start laying the blame where it needs to be directed at ‘THE POLICATIONS” you keep voting in. Do I sound like I have sour grapes, or hard feelings? You bet you’re a@# I do. An agreement or contract was broken, when I say I’ll do something I do it, the only time I wouldn’t is if I was dead.

  11. Magnolia says:

    Can’t believe the number of people here who think they are reduced to a life of low wages without unions. Baloney! Not likely you are going to find a lifetime career, like those with the United Auto Workers did. it always ends the same, those unions run the companies out of business, we find out their pension funds have been raided, and the taxpayer is on the hook to pay the bill.

    While the Florida fund is in good health, many are not. There is a point when taxpayers and companies can no longer pay for raises and lifetime benefits. You must be responsible for yourself. If you are not, these unions will continue to shut airlines and companies down because the companies and the taxpayers simply cannot meet their needs. Why should I have to pay for your retirement?

    No wonder this country is in trouble. Everybody thinks they are owed something. The government is not responsible for you and neither am I. Get out and earn it. And if you are not being paid enough, improve your skills and your education and get a better job. That’s how this country is supposed to work. That’s how it used to work.

  12. Steve says:

    Here’s an idea. Start a business for yourself and bring America back to the middle class standards we knew. Make a lot a or make a little ! Its all up to you. That WAS the whole idea to be an American. Freedom to make your own way thru life………..

  13. Whodat says:

    If Gov Scott wants to play that game let’s start cutting the fat on these legislators we elect to Tallahassee. They have the nerve to call that work. If Gov Scott has no inclination that he will not be reelected he can blame himself. Floriduh’s worst Governor!

  14. says:

    lets have all the politicians local, county, state, and federal give up their taxpayer pensions and have them have a 401k ,that would only be fair or is that just a word

  15. confidential says:

    Welcomed to the Southern States that proudly display ” The Right To Work…For Less State”.
    Is about the only one thing that I dislike while happily enjoying and spending the last years of my life in Dixie!
    I love and treasure Dixie enough, to take a stand and ask our majority fellow voters to make the necessary changes while casting our ballots and fix what is wrong now. And Yes We Can!.

    • Geezer says:

      Isn’t it puzzling how people seem to care more about Goliath, while David gets the S**t-end of the stick?
      Some Floridians have Stockholm syndrome.

      “If you don’t like what you’re being paid, you have the freedom to find a new job.”

      Uh huh, sure–after you’ve toiled at a company for 25 years, just go searching for another.

      Jesus H. Christ!

      • Magnolia says:

        Geezer, “Care about Goliath?” Who’s caring about Goliath????

        Try coming back in your next life as a single mother, with kids, and try finding a job. You get back what you put into it. That’s all I was saying.

        Why would you accept less than you are capable of reaching? Look at the employees of Eastern Airlines, in the same boat, and they bought the damn company!

        Why is everybody automatically saying “I can’t do it”? YES, YOU CAN.

        There are no limits on what we can achieve in this country, yet.

        • Dlf says:

          They don’t want to do it when the government ,the union and the rest of the ones who are doing it pay their way. Look at the pension fund in Chicago,broke, who has been running Chicago? Oh that’s right the new mayor is one of Obama’s buddies.

  16. Sherry Epley says:

    My comments from another article apply here even better. . . an example of how these symptoms of degradition are inter-related:

    It’s so interesting and troubling to me that few people see the big picture of the degradition of our once great society, civilization, and culture by connecting the dots and realizing that it is all inter-related. We are all glorious humans, attempting to evolve, while struggling with the frailties of our species.

    When our citizens move away from even considering contributing to the “common good” by paying reasonable taxes, and actively placing into public office (AKA voting) honest, open minded, intelligent people who truly represent their constituents. . . self interested greed and corruption fills that void. When our citizens call for smaller (not better) government and less regulation, the quality of the goods produced, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the houses we live in, the jobs we have, the education of our children, the infrastructure that keeps the lights on, the banks honest, the mail moving, the roads and bridges safe. . . and on and on. . . is diminished because self interested greed and corruption fills that void.

    The opposite of love is not hate, it is FEAR. Think about it, all negative emotions are based on fear. And, when the media plays us like fiddles, emotionally appealing to to our baser instincts, and fills us with fear. . . fear of “THEM”. . . anyone with a different political perspective, skin color, income, religion, gender, sexual preference, or language, and fear of the people “we” put in office. . . we are divided and greatly weakened. . . self interested greed and corruption fills that void.

    We are now living with what we have, ourselves, created. . . LESS for our people:

    . LESS Safety
    . LESS Income
    . LESS Respect
    . LESS Influence
    . LESS Unity
    . LESS Job Satisfaction
    . LESS Security
    . LESS Character (ethics, integrity, honesty, etc.)
    . LESS Education
    . LESS Compassion/Tolerance. . . . and on and on

    It’s appalling to me to read many of you write that LESS is all we deserve. You compare one LESS to another, as though two “wrongs” make a “right”. Self Interested greed and corruption has clearly permeated our way of being. It is taking its terrible toll on our entire country, and by our very bad example, the rest of the world. We can move our degenerating civilization toward a more positive and healthy future. The question is whether will do it. . . and do it in time.

  17. farmer says:

    Welcome to the world economy.Union workers ABUSED the system with there set amt.of work.,do only a certain job etc and it was so bad that automotive unions had a group of workers do nothing ”look it up” and same with public work unions.Now not so much stuff.All the foreign autos unions here are different, work at the task assigned etc.Its true that Obama gave GMto them but destroyed a lot of old retired people money with the GM bond travesty.

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