Labor and Lazy

Labor and Lazy

I have never been in a union. This may make me less sympathetic or less passionate than those who have. Still, I think I understand the importance of valuing the working person and if unions are the way that has to happen, I am for them.

My mother was in the teachers’ union for a while. She had a bit of a love-hate, guilty feeling about membership. She was a lifelong Republican as was my dad and the words and concepts of an organized union made them think of communism and thuggery. I think my mom joined the teachers’ union because a lot of her fellow teacher friends belonged. I think Mom believed if she did her job well she would be rewarded appropriately. Both my parents believed in the bootstrap theory of social justice, that is, you get what you earn.

That attitude sure inspired me to work hard in school. It even inspired me to get a summer job in the orange groves of Southern California. I was the only Anglo on the crew. It was hard work. Cesar Chavez was organizing in the fields of California at the time. After that summer I decided paying twenty cents more for a can of orange juice so those guys would have running water and electricity and not have to sleep on the ground might be a fair tradeoff. At the time it seemed like the union was the only way to make it happen.

I also worked construction for a while but never joined any trade unions. It was always interesting to watch the boss play one worker against another. I always knew there were guys coming by daily who wanted my job. It kept me on my toes, but it also kept workers from speaking their mind to the boss. Maybe that was how he liked it.

Doctors do not unionize, although it might be a good idea for family docs. We have been undervalued by the government directed-payment scheme, even though there have been multiple attempts to address the inequity. Family docs do not lobby the payment-setting agency as hard as the specialists. Maybe we should have formed a union.

So I was amazed at the first two bills that came before the Senate very early in the session. They were both about making it harder for unions to get involved in state contracts. In the debate it was shared that >95% of state contracts were awarded to contractors who used nonunion labor. But still, these bills were designed to “level the playing field” since the perception was that unions were contributing to unfair bids.

I got a chance to review the bills before the floor debate. The first (SB1006) seemed simply mean-spirited but I was pretty sure the second (SB1007) was illegal. I mentioned this to my attaché. He asked,” Would you like me to get an attorney Generals’ opinion?”

“You could do that?” I asked, impressed.

He smiled, “No, you can do that.”

“I can?”

“Of course. You’re a Senator.”

Now I was smiling. “OK. How do I do this?”

“You ask me to do it. I’ll write it up. Then you’ll need to sign it.” He waited while I ran through the possible down sides. “So do you want me to?” He was tapping his foot, ready to get to work.

“Sure, do it.”

The Attorney General thought 1006 was probably defensible but was pretty sure that 1007 would get the State of Idaho into federal court as a violation of the Labor Management Relations Act.

It did not really matter to my colleagues, because it was “just one lawyer’s opinion”. The bills passed the Senate 27-8. I am sure learning how Idaho thinks from getting to know their elected representatives.

And now we are facing the “Education” bills from Superintendant Luna. The key element to these bills is not the addition of technology (laptops and online class requirements) but rather how negotiations between school districts and the teachers’ representatives will be handled. This bill (SB1108) is really about taking teachers out of the professional realm and making them at-will workers. I see the Republican Party strategy to dismantle organized labor as a political force playing out across the nation, not just here in Idaho.

History goes in cycles. The miners in the 1890’s in the Silver Valley could only get a living wage and stable, livable conditions with organizing and unions. Mine owners had organizers killed, and it all came to a bomb on Governor Steunenberg’s garden gate in Caldwell. And maybe we are still spinning through the cycle. Teachers across the state organized and struck 50 years ago. Maybe it will have to come to that again. I hope not. I would hope we could learn.

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About ddxdx

A Family physician in the Idaho State Senate
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