A middle-aged man dreaming of the day when he can stop begging for scraps and write for a living.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Problem With Unions

In the news today, Obama has finally done something to help unions, only six years late. Naturally, I posted this to social media and almost immediately got the following response:
FUCK unions. It is the unions who protect people like the cops who shot Hans Arellano, James Boyd, Levar Jones, Brian Dennison, Timothy Mitchell, Oscar Grant... I could go on.
In these situations not all of these guys are saints. But in all of these situations the officers life was not in danger and they killed them anyway. A single life lost unnecessary is too many.
I have a problem with leveraging popular outrage against genuine civil rights violations to build a straw man argument against an unrelated issue. Police unions -- not even the unions that helped to protect the police officers guilty of crimes -- are representative of all unions. There's a much bigger picture to consider here.

Unions are designed to protect their members and serve their interests. Now, not all of their members deserve protection. If they screw up badly enough they should be fired and where appropriate brought up on criminal charges. Where a union protects a member from appropriate consequences we can rightly say that the union has gone too far. It doesn't serve the interests of the union or its members to shelter bad members from consequences.

The point of public service unions is to provide a buffer between politics and people just trying to do their jobs. Should a science teacher be fired because someone objects to their teaching the theory of evolution according to natural selection? Should a cop be fired because he arrested a powerful person for breaking the law? In an ideal world unions protect the innocent and surrender the guilty. But we don't live in an ideal world and we don't have all the information we need to create an ideal world. We do know what kind of world we create when we discourage unions: a world where income inequality becomes the standard, worker rights get trampled on and median wages stagnate or decline.

We don't have perfect solutions. Let's stop attacking the solutions we have because they're not perfect. Where we can identify problems, let's work to make them better, not get rid of them with nothing to replace them.

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