Collective Bargaining

The news is full of the Wisconsin showdown, where the governor and the GOP dominated legislature want to strip the right to bargain collectively from teachers and public employees, except for police and firefighters.

There are a lot of odd aspects to the governor’s case. It’s odd that one side, known as “the State of Wisconsin,” can bargain collectively, but the other side, composed of a subset of citizens of the same state, cannot. When the State of Wisconsin seeks a supplier for, say, asphalt for highways, it bargains as a collective, does it not? It collectively represents the interest of the people of Wisconsin.

And of course, most likely it bargains all the time as a collective with a different collective, a corporation. For example, the government of the  state of Wisconsin bargains with Sodhexo corp. for food services at the State House.  Sodhexo is a collective: a legal person created to represent the interests of the shareholders. That’s collective bargaining: two collective entities representing two different interests. The Coca-Cola corporation is not a person: you can’t shake its hand or look it in the eye. It’s a collective, like Sodhexo or the NFL or Apple. These collectives, corporations all, are the very core of modern capitalism.

Clearly, “collective bargaining” per se is not the issue here, in that the State is a collective: it bargains all the time in the interests of the people of Wisconsin, whom it represents. And the Governor’s measure specifically exempts firefighters and police unions. They can still bargain collectively, but schoolteachers, sewer and maintenance workers, garbage collectors, park employees–they can’t. It’s not about “collective bargaining,” which clearly is at the very heart of the capitalist enterprise. It’s about granting the right selectively.

And how is that Constitutional?


  • yes – but it;’s really about breaking public unions and delegitimizing the idea that workers have any rights as a group – yet walker uses the language of class warfare. lying cheating thieves…

  • I just wanted to follow up on your comment for posterity’s sake.

    Both of Wisconsin’s largest public employee unions announced that they would agree to the budget’s financial concessions; Walker has refused to negotiate…and essentially proved that you were correct:

    Same link as above:

    I work for UW-Madison and I’m increasingly worried about the (nation-wide) idealogical ossification of our “liberals” and “conservatives” and these tit-for-tat election cycles. Does electing a dysfunctional government indicate that voters are no longer fit to govern themselves?

  • As a native Wisconsinite, former WEAC member, and someone with family connections to the state’s public employee unions, I appreciate this post.

    I also wonder if there isn’t another important economic collective in America: professionals. The knock on unions seems to be that its members’ salary and benefits are artificially high. A former high school classmate recently posted on Facebook:

    “I’m assuming if you are backing the need for collective bargaining, it is because you know that you could not get that compensation based on your own merit &/or ability.”

    Professionals don’t collectively bargain in a formal sense, but they do have “standards”. These standards, typically a specific type of college degree, limit the labor pool for the profession creating a kind of collective that keeps compensation high. It’s a loose collective, but arguably much more effective than a union. For example, what’s more common, a non-union plumber or non-professional engineer? Professionals also exercise this substantial leverage with a very low profile, we don’t “see” it in the same way we see unions. In fact, “professional” instead simply has become synonymous with “meritorious”. We see earning a professional degree as the only way to acquire the knowledge to do the job, but there’s really no reason to be believe this. A clever, hardworking high school graduate could probably learn most professions by some kind of independent study combined with apprenticeship – probably in a lot less than 4-5 years. Of course, if we allowed this, professionals’ salaries would drop, presumably to less “artificial” levels.

  • I wonder when and why the nation’s teachers and public employees became the Great Satan? At what point did earning $57,500 (the median salary including benefits for a secondary teacher) become the definition of “grossly overpaid” and “artificially high.” What marked the minute when sticking it to VA nurses and the janitors at the Kansas City IRS office by freezing their salaries become the linchpin of deficit reduction?

Leave a Reply

Your email is never shared.Required fields are marked *