The danger of inflexibility

I try not to get too political in this blog, but occasionally there is no escaping it. The more I read about the situation in Wisconsin, where the state government is facing a vote to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public workers, the more I wonder if unions aren’t going to push themselves into obsolescence.

The recession has hit everyone hard, and local and state governments are faced with some very tough budgetary decisions. Business people already know that if the money is not coming in, something has to give. As employees are a significant source of overhead, they’re often one of the first things looked at to cut. Sacrifices must be made, whether it’s everyone taking a cut, or a few being let go in order to keep the rest employed. No businessman likes doing it, but it has to be done.

Obviously government is no exception. If the money isn’t there, it isn’t there, and even states can only borrow money for so long. Cuts eventually must be made, and that means some employees may lose their jobs, or most will need to take a cut in pay.

Unfortunately, too many unions seem determined to play a nasty game of chicken with both business and government. They seem unwilling to give even a little, somehow figuring the decision-makers can find other places to cut. While this may make them look momentarily popular with their members, what good does it do them if the company then goes bankrupt and everyone loses their job?

The inflexibility of unions is hurting their members and hurting the national economy. Now is not a time to fight change. Now is the time to acknowledge the problems businesses and governments face and work together to solve those problems. But far too many unions seem unwilling to do that, afraid that giving even an inch is showing weakness that will lead to a loss of power.

Governments are starting to fight back. They, at least, have the power to override the unions’ collective bargaining power. In Wisconsin they appear poised to do so. Other states, such as Tennessee, are taking notice and considering similar measures. If Wisconsin is able to do it, you can bet it will start a chain reaction of states.

What is more, once the trend gets started, you can count on businesses to lobby for the states to at least temporarily extend that power to them as well. State governments, recognizing where their tax revenues come from, will likely do just that. Unions, in attempting to win the battle, may find themselves losing the war. Heaven knows with unemployment as high as it is, scabs won’t be hard to find, should unions insist on pushing things too far.

I’m not necessarily against unions, though I do think lately the unions have been guilty of putting themselves above their own members by being willing to let companies go under rather than cooperate. I’m afraid that if they don’t start being part of the solution instead of part of the problem they may very well find themselves not only without a seat at the table, but banished to the wilderness.

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