Public Employee Unions, Banks, and Bankrupt Cities: Who's to Blame? – Part Two

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(Continued from Part One.)

Shouldn’t compromise, on a broad and fundamental level, be the new normal? I don’t mean political compromise that’s an intangible dog-and-pony show that gets citizens nowhere. I mean personal sacrifice from the bottom up. Shouldn’t everyone admit that it’s not the 1950s anymore? That no one is really, necessarily “owed a house, two cars, standard vacation times, etc., anymore? That no one is really “owed limitless credit card spending that mostly supports cheaply made Chinese goods? How did we get to a point where we — as public or private sector workers and anyone in between completely refuse to reduce our own consumption or take a bit of a hit to a relatively luxurious lifestyle so that that lifestyle has some chance of continuing in the future? (And yes, speaking from personal experience, in my book any country where the majority of the population has access to shelter, running water and a Wal-Mart has no idea how good it has it.) We live in a world where lighting-fast global trade and information exchange is changing everything we need to change along with it.

Now, I hesitate to revert to Nucor as an example (since it’s a valued MetalMiner sponsor, therefore close to the company) but I can’t resist simply because it’s a great example. When faced with the recession and declining orders and revenues, the company which paradoxically does not employ a union workforce yet is proven to have some of the most engaged, committed and dedicated employees in the steel industry didn’t issue massive layoffs; instead, it lowered everyone’s wages for an indefinite period everyone, from the CEO to floor workers. Did hundreds of people lose their jobs? No. Did hundreds of people experience hardship? You bet. But the individuals who make up the company realized, as a whole, that sacrifices needed to be made now, so that the lifestyle and economy that we knew and loved can hopefully return.

So yes, many public unions are bloated, and yes, some of those jobs could likely be cut entirely. But is it the only bogeyman scapegoat that we should be focusing on? No. Should collective bargaining be totally stripped? Probably not. Could it benefit from being scaled back? Maybe. Ultimately, the focus should be on individual and, when added up, institutional compromise and sacrifice so that unions are not leveraged for the wrong reasons, and so that old jobs are not only retained, but new ones have the potential to be created. That way, cities like Vallejo and states like Illinois (where I live and from where I write) can get back to solvency sooner rather than later.

–Taras Berezowsky

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