Monday, February 27, 2012

A culture war on the unions: a common tongue

In her state of the the state address last month, South Carolina Republican Governor Nikki Haley asked legislators present to give businesses that located to her state a standing ovation, and then she ripped into unions who in her mind discouraged business relocation. Note how she plays the culture war card against labor organizing to defend its interests:

Our agencies have taken strides ... to change the culture so that every single employee understands that if government is costing our businesses time, we are costing them money .... I love that we are one of the least unionized states in the country. It is an economic development tool unlike any other .... the unions don't understand that. They will do everything they can to invade our state.

Contrast the appeal to culture on the union question with Jesse Register's more candid comments to a TV reporter last week, comments that he thought were not on-air and which he said he would not publicly express. Register himself insinuates the same language of culture war against unions on behalf of municipal government:

I don't guess I'll say this publicly, but [the decision to end the school district's Labor Negotiations Policy with service employees' and bus drivers' unions] it's really a culture change. It's going from a system where people really felt entitlement [in labor contract discussions and negotiations].

Who would not be repulsed by misanthropes intent on killing growth or in believing they are entitled to what many people feel lucky to have? Under such logic, this is not just a simple matter of balance sheets and cash flow. It has been conflated with a primordial struggle between deeply held value frameworks in the expressed logic.

However, appeals to culture ignore more straightforward explanations. Unions can never effectively defend the rights of laborers unless they organize people to defend rights. They don't seek to kill growth, but insure that workers enjoy a fair share of the wealth they generate. If critics want to reduce questions of fairness to claims of entitlement, I acknowledge their right to be wrong, because they are wrong.

But, then again, those who wage culture wars should be ready for some blowback. If that is entitlement, then it is just as much entitlement when executives lay claim to what they believe is their share of the wealth. Register's base pay alone is in the hundreds of thousands. Is that an entitlement? If not, then how can that of a cafeteria worker--making a minuscule fraction of his salary and not enjoying raises at the same clip he has--be entitlement? So, maybe Director Register is the savvier pol in stifling publicly what he really thinks about his workers.

In her speech Governor Haley also mentioned Tennessee as one of her state's primary competitors for economic development. She was emphatic about maintaining a competitive advantage by any means necessary. When it comes to enmity toward hard working people banding together to protect themselves from being taken advantage of, the competitors must have to resemble each other to compete. The main difference between South Carolina's governor and Nashville's schools director is that the former is simply willing to be more transparent in her hostility toward unions.


  1. I'd be alarmed to find anyone who thought Jesse had any remaining credibility. Saying one thing in public, yet doing the opposite in private. Sadly, he doesn't have to face the music because he is accountable only to a board hardly interested in school governance. The board has given all their power to Jesse. All while the media does not bother to dig into the details.

  2. Thank you for your understanding words! I am sick every time I hear someone say that unions are killing business growth- really? In the south? In a right to work state. All you have to do is a quick salary comparison among school board administration and then compare that to the folks that work everyday to keep our schools running. It's ridiculous- many of the workers are barely above minimum wage- yet they show up and care for our children. Thank you for shedding light on this. We need a louder pulpit for workers in the schools.

  3. The federal government sued Boeing in an effort to stop them from opening a plan in SC. It was an egregious case of federal overreach. The NLRB dropped the complaint after Boeing indicated they'd manufacture some other stuff in union-heavy Washington.

    This adds some texture to SC's feelings about unions. I'm sure at times it feels like economic war for those disfavored by the current regime.

  4. I'm totally disgusted by the random acts of violence against Union workers. How is it even slightly productive to dismantle the MOU for cafeteria workers and librarians in our schools? I am missing something, I just don't get it.

    There are so many things we could and should be doing to improve the school district. More unhappy cafeteria workers, is that where we want to go?

    And yes, I understand there are some crappy workers in the schools. There are a few crappy workers in any environment! You can't use that as a reason to strip away their union, and you aren't even saving money, so it's totally pointless!!

    -CM A. Davis

  5. The culture change Haley and Register are referring to is one from a fair salary for comparable work to slavery, work for whatever the master deems you deserve.

  6. Ahh, slavery. Good one. Next, invoke Hitler.

    And "random acts of violence"? Please, elaborate or admit you failed debate class in high school.

  7. Anonymous, ok, slavery might be slightly hyperbolic, I'll restate for precision: "The culture change Haley and Register are referring to is one from a fair salary for comparable work to SERFDOM." We wouldn't want those parasites, oops, I mean, janitors and cafeteria workers to forget their place.

    BTW Anon, do you pay your maid who cleans your silver a living wage with health benefits or just her bus fare home?

  8. jcg - I'm willing to be convinced and/or learn something about school issues raised here (unions, charters).

    My maid takes the bus. My butler stays in the carriage house.