In Wisconsin, a Rebuke to Union Wrath

Alberta Darling (R) speaks to press after holding her seat in the most targeted WI Senate race.

I was on my computer late last night and so had a chance to witness the failure of a months-long effort by unions and Democrat groups to take back the Wisconsin Senate after it helped Governor Scott Walker introduce pension reforms for public sector union employees.

Because I was actively tweeting my reactions to a very heated topic, not surprisingly, I caught some flack from people who disagreed with my hope that Republicans would retain their majority in the Senate.

What surprised me about the critiques I saw leveled at me was how many would claim “the pope is pro-union” (typically followed by an expletive describing their distaste for my anti-union sentiments). They were most offended, in other words, that I as a Catholic was not cheering for the Democrat/Union team.

Get real. I believe it’s totally Catholic to be anti-union in the particular circumstances of the Wisconsin recall elections. Here’s why.

It’s one thing to be pro-union if that means supporting the rights of workers to band together to achieve a fair wage and humane work conditions. It’s another thing when unions band together to preserve unfair perks and benefits which are directly destabilizing and threatening the public finances of a state (which is what was happening in Wisconsin, and also describes accurately what is happening in many other states across the country).

When public sector unions and national Democrat political groups far outspend local Republicans fighting for reelection, it’s very clear they aren’t fighting on behalf of the weaker, underprivileged minority. The forces behind these efforts to recall the Republican senators were not the underdog, they were big money. Organized labor big money.

And they lost. And that’s a good thing for American society. Because there’s nothing in the solidarity movement or the Church’s traditional support for employee organizing that says these groups have an absolute right to put their own interests ahead of the common good of a state or country.

Democracy is a virtue here, because last night’s victory was one achieved by ordinary folks in Wisconsin who took time out of their day to go to the polling booth, having listen to both sides of the argument, thought about it, and took the initiative to act for the best interests of their state, and their children.

As pundits on NRO’s The Corner have mentioned, last night’s defeat and rebuke of the unions in Wisconsin has national consequences. It says there is hope for newly-elected officials who promise to reform the excesses of government (and especially the excess of government pay-out to public-sector union employees) and proceed to fulfill that promise, that they will be reelected to continue to serve another day. It says there’s a future in fulfilling their promise to act in the best interests of all the people they represent, not just the people who pay union dues and work in and for government.

It’s also a victory for the people of Wisconsin. If you look at the indicators coming out of the Badger State, things are looking good there: more people are getting back to work and enjoying the fruits of their labors through less government regulation and debt.

In other words, more worker rights are being secured for more people in Wisconsin — because more Wisconsins now have a chance to actually get a job. Shouldn’t the unions be happy about that?

I know I am.



  • Greg

    Wrote a blog post this morning about Archbishop Dolan’s realization that deception has played a role in recent political events, in his case in the New York “same-sex marriage” bill. The same type of dynamics apply here with the needs of working people being deceptively conflated with the socialist goals of union bosses. The challenge is to detect and manage the deception in the public square.

  • JohnE

    A union must continually justify its existence with further perks, pay, and benefits. I can only see one of two things happening with a union long term:
    1. The union becomes too greedy in its demands and makes the business or industry uncompetitive or less competitive, resulting in fewer jobs.
    2. Fair working conditions are achieved, but the union continues to collect dues anyway — essentially an unneeded tax on the workers, and workers will get upset on the lack of return on their “investment”.

    I’ve never belonged to a union and hope I never have to. Are union dues adjusted downward or the union disbanded after fair working conditions have been achieved? Perhaps someone with more union experience can enlighten me.

  • Mike S.

    There are some good comments above and I appreciate the different points of view. Unfortunately the unions (perhaps primarily union leaders) have destroyed the image of unions. Once an organization that performed a necessary function for the benefit and fairness of the employees has become the catalyst for decline of business. The good ole boy system no longer benefits the “people” but rather themselves and the politicians they support. There is substantial distaste for unions in the South due to the business community’s awareness of the union tactics in the North. The tactics were not for the good of all, and definitely not for the sustainability and growth of the business. When you force the business (and the people who take all the financial risk) to their knees, you may feel you have beaten them up and won, but at some point you are no longer competitive and the company closes and takes all the jobs away. THERE IS a correlation between strong business, economy and JOBS and no unions in the South. Though I am supportive of the “good” performed by early unions I cannot support again. Very good post Thomas.

  • Waking Up Catholic

    What can we thank unions for? The 40 hour work week, fair pay, benefits (at all), Saturdays off, the list goes on…

    Unfortunately, the union officials, not the union workers themselves, have become corrupt in a bloated system. While seeking a fair wage is important, the unions went beyond a fair wage. My brother and brother-in-law, both formerly union, were making $40-45 per hour, and they even pulled in six-figure incomes during the height of the housing boom. Plus, their benefits, such as health insurance, were far beyond what you would see in the traditional market. They had $0 out-of-pocket costs for health insurance. None at all – not even a copay on doctor’s visits. Because of that, they overused their health insurance for every minor sniffle, and it drove the cost of their health insurance through the roof. All of this was passed on to the employers.

    When tradesmen are making 50-100% more than their peers working in other sectors who have college degrees (and more), there is something wrong there. While I value the apprenticeship programs, is it worth paying double the salary of someone with a degree? I think not.

    My dad was union. My brother and brother-in-law were union. Many of my uncles, cousins, and friends are union. Now, most of them are unemployed or have gone non-union. The employers simply cannot afford to pay the union rates, and it is destroying the union’s foothold here in Chicago (a once union-friendly town). Many trade shows are leaving our area because of the union bureaucracy.

    For a short while, I was even union. While living in New York, I worked for a local union. When life forced me to move back to Chicago, I tried transferring to a local union here. At the time, I was only an apprentice, but I hoped to transfer to the apprenticeship program here, but they rejected me. They said I could try and “apply” to the program here like anyone else. No special favor as someone who was already a card-carrying “brother.” Instead, my “brothers” left me high and dry. That was the end of my union days.

    I can appreciate the benefits that the unions offer. My dad has retired on the union pension he has, but I worry that it may collapse one day as the unions go broke. For a short while, it did take care of many of my family members, but the union leaders are more interested in their own agenda than that of the union workers.

    When the contractors came to the unions asking them to almost double their ranks, the unions should have pushed back knowing that those same guys (and more) would be laid off when the bubble burst. When the union workers were asked to work 70-80 hours a week, going against the unions’ 40-hour precedent they worked so hard to get, they should have pushed back. Instead, they just kept collecting a check. When work got slow, union members should not be doing 40+ hours of “side work,” but should funnel that business to the union to help their “brothers” out. Instead, they pirated it all for themselves, against union regulations. By most workers, that was an accepted practice. Where is the “brotherhood” in that?

    I believe in the concept of unions – fighting for fair wages, benefits, work hours, et cetera, but the problem is that it has gone far from that. When plumbers make $120,000+ in a year (real figure), there is a problem. When a teacher in my school district retires with a $150,000 pension, there is a problem. When union leaders and members forsake the ideals that they were formed for the sake of their own benefit, they will surely crumble… and they did.

    I hope unions make a comeback, but only after they realize why they were formed in the first place.

  • Davide

    I belong to the firefighters union my two older sisters belong to the teachers union (one did till June). Both sisters taught in public schools and we all found what was going on in Wisc. as troubling (of course we had to keep our opinions to ourselves). But when teachers take their students out of school to protest and to rallies it is appalling, shameful, disgusting and even vulgar. And our mother is a physician (pediatric orthopedic surgeon) in no way would she ever write fake excuses for employees to miss work. I am glad the republicans won. Contrary to popular belief not all union folk vote democratic. There are thousands of union folk who vote republican but out of fear they are silent and keep a low profile. You won’t believe some of the bullying that takes place at union halls and union meetings.

    • Thomas Peters

      Davide – thank you for your perspective and I want to add: I don’t mean to demonize union employees. I mean to criticize strongly what organized labor leaders are doing.

      • davide

        Tom of course I never thought you were “demonize union employee’s”. I have yet to see you demonize anyone. I totally get what you are saying. My sister Maria got so sick of the public school crap, in a few weeks she will be teaching at a Catholic high co-ed high school. Of course she had to take a huge pay cut but that’s okay. Her sanity more important I am thinking. Thank you.

        • Marie

          Davide –

          I’m working in a Catholic school. At our public school district here, 1st year teachers with a BA are earning $52k. In our Diocese, 1st year teachers with an MA make $32k…. I feel your sister’s pain salary wise, but totally agree it is worth it.

          • Scott S

            I don’t believe this. My wife works at our local church school and makes more than she did as a public school teacher. There is no way a church school could recruite talented teachers by providing a wage so far out of line with what they could get elsewhere. There is no way a private Catholic School could charge students money and have teachers that were less qualified than public school.

          • Thomas Peters

            Scott – extrapolating from your wife’s singular experience is hardly convincing to anyone who does not know your wife. I have lots of friends who teach at Catholic, private and public schools. They tell a very different story about how it actually is out there.

          • Davide

            Scott it’s like this. My sister worked for a public school system that was one of the wealthiest in Ohio. I do not know her finances it is none of my business. But I have never known her to lie to me. She told me she had to take a hit in pay. She was not speaking for other public school systems or other Catholic high schools, she only spoke from her personal experience.there are a million personal experiences. What does it matter to you anyways? My sister is “qualified” she is an excellent teacher, unlike her younger brother (me) she uses her brain wisely. Peace

          • Marie
          • Marie

            Scott, I’m not lying.
            Yes, students pay tuition for Catholic school (I currently have 6 of my own children enrolled in Catholic schools) but the tuition doesn’t even cover the schools expenses. It is subsidized by the parish AND by the diocese.
            Meanwhile, I pay close to $7000 per year in property tax – as do all my neighbors – many of whom do not have children or are empty nesters, or, like me, have children in Catholic school that they are paying tuition to support. Almost all of this property tax money goes to our local school district.

          • Marie

            PS – I work for a lot less money in a Catholic school because I want to teach kids the truth. I don’t want to be bound by the secularism of the public system. I know many of my colleagues feel the same way.

          • davide

            Bravo Marie! My parents also raised us in Catholic schools. 5 of us graduated from all male or all female Catholic High’s and five others still in school and ofcourse it was very expensive I am sure I don’t want to know what my parents paid on our education, but I am glad they did. So many parents can not afford such blessings as a Catholic education that’s why I am a huge supporter of school vouchers. Growing up we were very poor, dirt poor would have been a step up so I understand the suffering of so many families I think all kids deserve a good education. People like you Marie are inspiration to others

          • Curious

            Do your homework and educate yourself. Find out how much it cost to educate one student in the public school in you area. I am sure that amount is much greater than the tuition of any Catholic School. I have worked in public, Catholic, and an independent school. Independent and private school tuitions are much higher to cover the costs of educating students because they do not get support (money) from a Church. Tuitions rarely cover the costs of educating expenses. That is why most private, independent and parochial schools have large fun raisers. It has been my experience that teachers accept a lower pay in these schools (including little to no benefits) because it is their CALLING to teach children with God in their curriculums. That is impossible in most public schools. I currently teach, design curriculums, and I am currently involved in an accreditation study of a school. The pay for Catholic school, private, and independent school teachers is usually less than half of what their peers make in the public school system. Most are WELL qualified with many designing and creating their own successful programs, and they LOVE their jobs. You want to know why? They can teach with God at their sides and speak often of God in their classrooms. They consider themselves vessels of God, and they are answering His call to teach. God Bless.

    • Patrick

      Thank you Davide for your courage and service. Public unions operate in collusion bargaining, not collective bargaining, because they pay the Dems with votes and money, who then turn around and lavish the unions with everything they ask for, paid by taxpayers. Good work if you can get it though, or have a conscious to dump on all the other “workers rights” in the state.

  • Matthew McSorley

    I respectfully disagree. I believe this is part of a large anti-labor campaign aimed at weakening all unions and ultimately the middle class. The income disparity in the United States continues to grow as the wealthy get wealthier, thanks to the legislative support they purchase, at the expense of the middle and working classes. Now, having chastened public sector workers, the next target will undoubtedly be private sector workers. This bodes ill for every American who works for a living.

    • Thomas Peters

      Matthew – I respect your civil tone. Thank you for that. Can you elaborate on how you expect private sector employees to be targeted? Can you point to republican-sponsored legislation in Wisconsin (or elsewhere) that you think targets private sector employees? Thanks!

      • Scott S.

        Yeah, it’s a totally Catholic position to support a law to ban employees from bargaining for their wages so that we can screw them, and their families over and take their wages away , for work they performed, in order to reduce our tax bill. Where do you make up this stuff?

        • Thomas Peters

          Scott S. – I try to derive my opinions from reality. And the tangible disagreement in WI was over asking public sector union employees to contribute a modicum of their own income to their health care and retirement funds. When a legislature ever actually considers legislation to “take their wages away” you will begin to have a point. Until then, you don’t.

        • Joe M

          Scott S. A bargain involves two parties reaching an agreement, starting from equal ground. Public employee unions electing politicians and then being rewarded by that politician with pay is not an example of bargaining. It’s an example of fraud and betrayal of the common good.

    • Joe M

      Unions were genuinely necessary when companies held monopolies on jobs. Now, people have far more employment opportunities than those days and are free to change jobs if they don’t like the one they have. Now, unions represent nothing more than a monopoly on labor, causing the same harm to everyone else that any other monopoly does. — Can we please dispense with the class and income disparity arguments as the relics that they are? There is no such thing as a consistent middle class that makes the same income their entire lives. Arguing that is to pretend that life is represented completely in a snapshot. People move between income groups at a very high rate in this country. In economic terms, it is not groups of people that liberals want to punish and reward. It is behaviors.



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