Started writing a response to comments on my last post, and it just got longer and longer, so I’m turning it into a separate post…
Responding to what several of you have said: Yeah, I’m almost positive we DON’T, and CAN’T, have public-employee unions in SC, and normally I would just say that flat-out. But something I read not long ago confused me on that point.
Here’s what shook my confidence on that (which I was half-remembering when I wrote this post last night — a friend reminded me enough of the details that I was able to look it up)… It was in a story during the city elections in Columbia last year:
VanHouten and three other police officers have formed a chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, and their first public act was to endorse Steve Benjamin’s candidacy for mayor…The police officers say they want to model their organization after the Columbia Firefighters Association, which doesn’t practice collective bargaining or negotiate contracts with the city but does call itself a union. That organization has been active since the 1960s but only recently has begun to flex its political muscle….
This boggles the mind: Why on Earth would anyone in South Carolina want to CALL their organization a union — which brings all sorts of calumny and resentment down upon their heads in this right-to-work state, which means they get all the BAD PR from being called that — when they get none of the ADVANTAGES of actually BEING a union, i.e., collective bargaining? You got me.
Anyway, though, I think I can go back now to saying confidently that we DON’T have public employee unions in South Carolina. My point is, we don’t have ’em, and don’t need ’em.
As for Kathryn’s suggestion that you only get lousy employees if you don’t have unions, I disagree: We have many very fine, dedicated, smart people in state government in South Carolina. You just don’t hear much about them because they keep their heads down and do their jobs and try not to draw the attention of the crazies at the State House — the people you DO hear about.
However, let me say that I DO share Tired Old Man’s concern about the fact that in state government, we’ve had a ” series of digressions from past personnel policies that protected state employees.”
I believe strongly in good pay, good benefits and good working conditions for public employees. I think, as an expression of the values of society, we should treat them better in many cases than employees are treated in the private sector (I hear tell that sometimes they even get laid off, ahem). And in the past, we had a consensus for that, in SC and elsewhere in this country — before despising people who dedicate their lives to public service became a political movement. Their pay was never good, but the benefits were, and so was the job security, so there was a balanced tradeoff. Personally, I want any society I’m a party of to treat its employees far better than private companies who lay people off to get an uptick in the stock price. (In fact, I’m marveling at what’s happened to our society that private companies are unashamed to do that. I remember when executives took pride in taking care of their employees. But then, I’m getting long in the tooth.)
That’s what worries me about the proposed pension changes — which I plan to question Nathan Ballentine (a sponsor) about when I see him later this week. There are some public benefits I think are TOO generous — such as full retirement after 28 years. But in general, I want the people loyally working for ME and my fellow citizens to get a decent, fair deal. The last thing I want is to have a union turning that relationship into an adversarial one. Which is what unions do.
By the way, I used to work for a publisher who had a saying, which went something like this: “Companies that get unionized usually have asked for it.” (It was therefore his strategic aim never to give employees such motivation.) I agree. Ditto with public entities, going back to Tired Old Man’s point. To me, when you get to the point that a union comes into your company, something that is essential to civil society is lost. Yes, I realize that the bosses usually started the downward slide in civility, but the formation of a union is to me the last nail in that coffin.
I think it would particularly be tragic for state employees in SC to become unionized. There is already suspicion, and sometimes hostility, between them and the Republicans who run this state. My God, can you imagine how that would be escalated if the anti-government ideologues were actually able to call them, accurately, UNIONS? Warring camps, that’s what we’d have, and the ugliness in the air (already pretty unpleasant after 8 years under a governor who despises the state employees who worked for him for the simple fact that they WERE state employees) would be far worse than anything we’ve ever seen here. The very air of Columbia would smell and taste of bile, permanently. Oh, and for my liberal Democratic friends who think that’s worthwhile, let me clue you in on something: The unionized state employees would LOSE that bitter, adversarial battle. Over and over and over again.
I believe in treating public (and private) employees right, to the point that they don’t want a union. I think that’s smart, but I also think it’s the right thing to do.