When Ideas Become Dangerous

Many Americans are guilty of historical amnesia when it comes to the
benefits we have as a result of labor unions. Today’s anti-unionism culture
is growing, spread by corporations and politicians to plant ideas in the
minds of the public to destroy the middle-class. The most forceful of
these ideas is the one that attacks public employee unions and the
negotiated benefits of members of those unions. Corporate lobbyists
have spread misinformation about the “idea” of lavish public employee
wages and benefits. Partly due to this, these myths are now widely
accepted by the majority of citizens. Corporations and politicians
continue to perpetuate myths that demonize public employees and
union membership. They build on the idea and image of public
employees who are greedily sucking the life out of state budgets with
huge salaries and pensions. Again, it’s an idea that has been planted
in the minds of American citizens to drive a wedge between the
public and private sector to further fuel attempts to drive the
middle-class in the race to the bottom.

Whether or not someone belongs to a union they have benefited from
collective bargaining and union efforts to level the playing field among
workers. To give you examples of the benefits of unions and their ability
to improve working conditions for all workers lets look at well earned
and rightfully bargained benefits we all enjoy – union or not. The 40-hour
work week, paid vacation, paid sick leave, weekends, health care, health
and safety regulations. All these and more are benefits hard fought and
won by unions to improve working conditions for all Americans.
Currently in the legislature there are ideas circulating that public
employees are not making a shared sacrifice and must take a cut in
wages and benefits, just like the private sector. A recent report released
by Governor Rick Snyder plants the idea that public employees have
not taken any cuts in pay and benefits, but instead by 2009 increased
compensation 113% higher than the private sector. This misinformation
is now a published idea which will be perpetuated in the private sector
to increase hostility toward public employees and further divide the
working class. This idea is dangerous to public and private sector
employees because it begins the never ending cycle of driving down
wages and benefits in both sectors. The corporate/political attack on
unions begins; they saturate the media with the idea that belonging to
a union, having a decent well-paying job with good benefits and the
dignity that comes with union representation is “socialism.” The attacks
continue because it is well known that a vibrant labor movement is the
main protector of social programs that protect our most vulnerable
citizens such as Social Security, health-care reform, unemployment
compensation, Medicare and Medicaid. These can all be destroyed
bit by bit with the introduction of an idea.

The attacks on public employee compensation serve as a tactic to
divert attention from addressing the real problems that plague our
society and our state budgets such as the cutting of taxes for the rich
corporations and individuals. When the wealthiest don’t pay their
fair share then we see vital public services being cut due to lack of
funding. You have to ask yourself, how dangerous would the idea
be if we would begin to ask the wealthiest 1% to be properly taxed?
How dangerous is the idea to close tax loopholes that allow wealthy
corporations to pay less in taxes? How dangerous is the idea of laws
to protect the safety of workers such as ergonomics and MIOSHA
safety regulations? How dangerous is the idea of the 40 hour work
week, weekends, paid vacation, paid sick leave, decent health-care
benefits, and employer provided pensions? How dangerous is the
idea of a union to bargain collectively to protect all these benefits?
The answer is very dangerous indeed if you are an employer, you
would lose the ability to trample over your work force, deny them
time off when they are sick, work them to the bone in attempts to
increase productivity and profits, discipline and/or fire them at will
and without just cause. Here’s an idea that I would like to plant in
hopes it takes off like wildfire – become involved in your union and
fight back! Call the radio stations when you here misinformation
about public employees and unions. Write a letter to the editor
when you see an article defaming public employees, tell them about
your shared sacrifice – it’s called BLT, furlough days and increased
co-pays and health insurance premiums. Write or call your legislator
and tell them how public employees have contributed and shared in
balancing this state’s budget, plant our ideas and watch them grow!
If you need help writing a letter or talking points when speaking
with your legislator call the Local for help at 1-800-243-1985 we’d
be happy to help plant the idea.
Miya Williamson, UAW Local 6000 Financial Secretary/Treasurer