[Vision2020] Why Not Democracy in the Workplace?

Nick Gier ngier at uidaho.edu
Sat May 14 10:04:36 PDT 2005

Greetings Visionaries:
I'm surprised no one has picked up on the police union issue.  Here is my 
response, which I hope a local newspaper will publish.

By Nick Gier
The United States has been a leading defender of liberal democracy in the 
world.  Why is it then that so many Americans appear to reject 
representative democracy in the workplace?  The Bush administration 
promotes free trade unions abroad, but does everything in its power to 
thwart them stateside.
Moscow mayor Marshall Comstock's recent comments (Moscow-Pullman Daily 
News, April 25) about a police union reveal this selective anti-democratic 
sentiment. Contrary to Comstock's implications, unions are not some 
mysterious external force; rather, they are, just like any other human 
institution, made up of hard working men and women in all areas of 
employment, including medicine, sports, music, and all levels of teaching.
Medieval worker guilds gave us the self-governing principles on which the 
labor movement is founded. Employees elect their unions according to 
carefully monitored procedures, and they can "decertify" unions that fail 
to represent them properly.  This process is being carried out right across 
the border with WSU's staff employees.
In December of 1981 the Argonaut, the UI student newspaper, the engineering 
dean declared that "we may as well live in Russia" if unions are recognized 
in higher education.  The problem is that our governance system was 
sovietized long ago.  Deans can veto department decisions (the Grishkoff 
case is a prime example) and presidents can overturn all lower 
decisions.  Ultimately, the unelected State Board of Education (read: 
Politburo) can do anything that it pleases.  The disrespect that it has 
shown to Marilyn Howard, its only elected member, is outrageous.
Comstock can't understand why his police officers want to waste their money 
on union dues when they are complaining that they don't make enough as it 
is.  If the UI had gone to a salary scale based on the federal GS system, 
as the faculty union proposed in 1976, UI professors would have been at the 
top of their peers rather than at the bottom.  UI administrators, whose 
salaries have outstripped full professors' by 74 percent since 1982, have 
always said that peer dominance was their goal, but they have failed 
miserably in that task.
If we had negotiated a contract with that salary scale, and if we had 
received raises equivalent to federal workers, today I would make $50,000 
more annually, out of which I could have easily covered my union dues, paid 
much more in taxes, gone to many more professional meetings, given much 
more to charity, and returned much more to the local economy.
Labor history is not taught very well in our schools and management has 
well honed anti-union disinformation programs, so Americans need to be 
reminded that unions brought them the 8-hour workday, safe working 
conditions, paid vacations, health benefits, generous pensions, and 
progressive socio-economic legislation.
Just as an example, unions led the successful passage of the Family and 
Medical Leave Act, which has allowed 50 million Americans leave-without-pay 
to care for their newborns or seriously ill family members.  For decades 
most European countries, where the labor movement is much stronger, have 
provided up to three months paid leave for these purposes.  Almost on every 
socio-economic statistic, countries built by Labor or Social Democratic 
parties do much better than the U.S.
It is often said that unions are not needed in companies and institutions 
that are run well and treat their employees fairly.  But this is as absurd 
as saying that democracy is needed only when tyrants arise.  George W. Bush 
hates tyrants and is also a political genius, so why don't we save 
ourselves a lot of trouble and money and let him stay in office, along with 
his Republican majority, until they die?
Only employees know what their needs are, and it is presumptuous for any 
manager to preempt their right to self governance. Mayor Comstock believes 
that "a union will not benefit [his] officers," but they have already 
decided otherwise.  Those below the rank of sergeant have voted unanimously 
to be represented by the Service Employees Union International, the 
nation's most successful and fastest growing union.
I challenge Mayor Comstock to embrace democracy in the workplace and 
recognize the police force's vote for union representation.

Nick Gier taught philosophy and religion at the UI for 31 years.  He is 
president of the Idaho Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO.
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://mailman.fsr.com/pipermail/vision2020/attachments/20050514/85fe6749/attachment.htm

More information about the Vision2020 mailing list