Are we witnessing the beginning of the end for the SEIU and other unions? *UPDATED*

There are some things that seem immutable, right until a collapse that, in 20/20 hindsight, seemed inevitable.  Just think of the Iranian Revolution, the Fall of the Berlin wall and . . . the SEIU?

For some time, the Service Employees International Union has appeared to be a permanent fixture on the political and economic scene.  With a friend in the White House, friends in Congress, and aggressive purple-shirted adherents fanned out all over the nation, how could one believe that it was anything but a locust plague lasting in perpetuity.  It had POWER.

But a funny thing is happening.  While the SEIU may have POWER, it isn’t doing it’s actual job, which is to represent workers.  Otherwise, how to explain the fact that government workers in Marin County, one of the bluest of blue spots in America, are dumping the SEIU (emphasis mine):

County of Marin public employees dissatisfied with representation by Service Employees International Union Local 1021 have petitioned to replace it with their own locally controlled union, the Marin Association of Public Employees.SEIU represents more than 1,500 of the county of Marin’s total 2,100 employees. The Marin Association of Public Employees represented county workers and the employees of a number of other local municipalities and public agencies for years before joining SEIU, which has 2.2 million members, in 1983.

In January, a petition requesting the decertification of SEIU was submitted to the county. Maya Gladstern, a systems support analyst with the county who is helping to coordinate the campaign for the association, said at least 30 percent of county workers have signed the petition, the minimum required for decertification.

“It’s a way of giving the employees of Marin more and better representation,” Gladstern said.


Gladstern said most of the complaints about SEIU stem from the union’s decision, three years ago, to merge many of its smaller local unions in California into four large locals.

“So we lost our small local,” Gladstern said. She said the union lost its permanent office, its executive director, three union representatives and an administrative aide.

“We went from having a local office where we could meet in private to meeting in the county cafeteria,” Gladstern said.

Gladstern said the union’s strike fund, which amounted to about $80,000 to $100,000, has been absorbed by SEIU, and the Marin employees are likely to see an increase in their union dues from 1.2 percent of their salary to 1.75 percent.

(Read more about the SEIU in Marin here.)

Of this last, emphasized, paragraph, my friend Steve Schippert has this to say:

Where I come from, that’s called stolen. Small union shop decides to roll on with the big boys, who can surely twist more arms and harder to get the workers more. When the Big Dogs end up taking from the workers (their offices, their local leadership and staff in order to do what all statist union leaders seek – central control), said workers decide that the Big Dogs were predators. And realize that they took their strike funds “for the better service to the whole” of course, and won’t be giving the money back.

Because, you see, it’s not about the workers. It’s about the Union and the top of its food chain. If it were about the workers, the strike funds garnered from those who paid into it would stay with those from whom it was extracted.

But it ain’t about them. Is it?

Any questions?

In many ways, you can change the names and nouns and this describes quite presciently what the beloved Health Care process will be like. There just won’t be any “petitioning” to replace the new Big Dog bosses.

When asked why I don’t teach in a public school and take summers off, my answer is a principled and monetarily costly, “I do not do unions.” I will die broke, in debt and hungry first. All on my own.

Marin’s county workers aren’t alone when it comes to feeling disaffected by the union’s loyalty to them.  With the recession, one of the things that is becoming patently clear to American workers is that unions really only have one constituency:  union management.  For both workers and employers, unions are simply an economic drain.  Certainly the numbers point to growing disgust with the whole institution:

Unions are losing the public-relations battle. A survey released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center found that public approval of labor unions has declined significantly during the last three years.

Positive attitudes toward unions have fallen in most demographic groups. Forty-one percent of those surveyed say they have a favorable view of labor unions, while nearly the same amount has an unfavorable view at 42 percent. The results are a 17-percent decline from the last poll taken in January 2007, when a majority of people (58 percent) had a good view of unions while 31 percent thought otherwise. (The findings reinforce a 2009 Gallup poll that said only 48 percent of Americans approve of labor unions—an all-time low since 1936.)

I certainly see that disaffection in my community and, for most people, it revolves around a single source:  schools.  All the lovely, liberal people where I live are discovering that the teacher’s union has a profound effect on their children’s education.  And somehow, liberalism flies out the door when one’s own children are the sacrificial lambs at the altar of liberal ideology.

I’m seeing that play out very clearly with one of the teachers at my son’s school.  This person is a cancer, loathed equally by parents and students.  The teacher is lazy, inept, vicious, erratic, and just about everything else you can think of that makes a teacher hateful and ineffective.  I’ve complained repeatedly to the administration and been told in carefully coded language that there is absolutely nothing that can be done about this teacher.  Thanks to union contracts, unless this teacher murders a student or praises Republicans, it’s a lifetime sinecure.  (And of course, one of the teacher’s sins is to advocate illegal immigration, but that’s okay….)

What’s fascinating is that, when I “innocently” ask those parents who rail about the teacher why the teacher is still there, I get a two word answer:  “The union.”  They understand that there is an institution standing there between their child and a quality education and, damn, if they don’t resent it.  They’ll still speak lovingly of unions in meat-packing plants in Arkansas, but they’re getting pretty sick of what’s going on in the school district in their own back yard.

I’m not unaware of the fact that unions have their place — perhaps only in history, but it’s still a place.  At the turn of the last century, the employers’ ability to exploit their workers was an overwhelmingly negative force, and one that needed to be countered.  But we’re not living in 1890 or 1910.  Instead we’re living in 2010 and unions, rather than defending illiterate, helpless employees against grasping employers, are themselves a corrupt and grasping group, destroying industries, rendering government bloated and ineffective (except where it’s dangerously intrusive and overwhelming), and generally acting as a significant drag on a moribund economy.

UPDATE:  Shortly after I wrote the above, I learned that Obama has appointed SEIU head Andy Stern to his debt panel.  While it is a reminder of how closely tied our president is to a corrupt organization, it doesn’t change my point.  Even if the head has a crown, can the entity survive if the body is dying off?  My post describes a dying body.  Yes, SEIU can damage America for some time to come, but I think its heyday is over.

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  • Charles Martel

    Book, I was a trustee on the board of a Marin school district back in the late 90s. We had a teacher at our elementary school who was terrible at his job. He was a nice guy who didn’t have a mean streak or axes to grind. But he just didn’t know how to teach or to discipline his class.

    State law allows boards to meet privately to deliberate on personnel matters, and at one such meeting we asked the superintendent if there was any way to put the teacher on probation and then fire him if he didn’t eventually come up to snuff.

    The answer was no. Or, rather, the answer was that it would take two years of painstaking note-taking, including almost constant observation by the principal and faculty chair, to build a case for dismissal (the teacher had tenure). We would also need that time to amass a war chest of several hundred thousand dollars to pay for the inevitable union lawsuit against the school district.

    So, Ms. Vicious is there for as long as she wants to be, and she knows it. Probably the only way around her is to transfer her to another grade level or school and give her as harmless a job as possible. It is still within a school administration’s power and purview to shuffle and reassign teachers. Something tells me, though, that your principal and school board have already considered this.

    On a different note, I wouldn’t take too much solace from your liberal friends’ disgruntlement with the teachers’ union. Given liberals’ solipsism, it’s easy to predict that as soon as their darling children move on from this teacher’s classroom, the issue of corrupt union power will melt back into that vast mental vat of sentimentalism and dreamy irrationality that powers their thinking process. Screw the kids who have to follow theirs.

  • suek

    >>the answer was that it would take two years of painstaking note-taking, including almost constant observation by the principal and faculty chair, to build a case for dismissal (the teacher had tenure).>>
    Ditto.  When we needed to hire a new superintendent/principal, the question I had was “are you willing to fire teachers”.  First one said yes, but he didn’t.  Second time around, my questions were more in line with “do you know what it takes?  Are you willing to do it”.  Second time around, the answer was yes and yes.  And she did.
    What we found was that if she started working on a teacher, the teacher tended to resent the close supervision, got the picture and left.  Better to quit than be fired.  A couple of them improved sufficiently with supervision to meet the necessary standards.  One teacher was an 8th grade English teacher, who took great pride in her coaching of the music “club” and preparing kids for eighth grade graduation.  For her, the ulitmate blow was to be “demoted” to teaching 6th grade, and have no function in the graduation ceremony.  She retired shortly after.  We never did have to go to the “fire him/her” stage, which was fortunate, because then you _do_ get into the union thing.  And any money spent on legal defense is just wasted funds when you’re talking about education.  It may be necessary, but it’s still wasted.

  • suek

    Better hold off on counting those chickens…

    They may yet come home to roost, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be very soon…

  • suek