By Aaron S. Robertson
With Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker seeking to eliminate the collective bargaining rights of most state workers as part of his budget repair bill, I wish to weigh in on the debate with my thoughts.
As a small business owner, member of a labor union, political moderate, and former candidate for a seat in the Wisconsin state Assembly, I bring an array of unique perspectives to the table regarding this hot-button issue, but more importantly, I feel I bring reason to the table amidst a storm of misperceptions and hot-headed rhetoric. It is my sincere hope that cooler heads will prevail.
As a political moderate, I am open to the idea that public employees should contribute a little more to their health and retirement benefits as just one of many possible avenues to shore up crippling state budget deficits. However, I will always defend the rights of labor unions, both in the public and private sectors, to exist and to collectively bargain, even though I do from time to time find myself disagreeing with positions that they take.
The significant role of labor unions in our economy
Labor unions, whether they represent public employees or employees in the private sector, are significant actors in the life of our economy.
Like service organizations such as Lions, Kiwanis, Moose, and so on; like the Republican and Democratic parties; like an array of professional and industry organizations; like national churches; and like large publicly-traded companies that hold stockholder meetings, labor unions hold conventions, filling hotel rooms, restaurants, shops, and tourist attractions in their hosting cities and nearby towns.
Like businesses, unions are job creators in the sense that they need to hire and maintain employees all across their communities, states, and the country to handle an array of day-to-day tasks. And also like businesses, unions circulate money throughout the economy everyday with major purchases - they need printing, advertising, office equipment, supplies, vehicles, food, insurance, merchandise, you name it.
When the political action committees of unions dole out campaign contributions to candidates for public office, those candidates and their campaign committees take those funds and inject them into local and state economies through all sorts of means: printing, advertising, office equipment, supplies, catering, the hiring of staffers, and events of all types and sizes.
Disagree with the political views of labor unions as you may, but it is clear by these examples that the role of unions as prominent economic actors cannot be disputed. They really have become major economic powerhouses.
Not unreasonable for individual workers to collectively organize
Individual businesses join forces through organizations like chambers of commerce, industry and trade groups, or through other forms of alliances and partnerships in order to advance their economic interests.
That being said, it is not unreasonable to conclude that individual workers would - and should - organize collectively in order to advance their own economic interests.
Unions: A democratic (with a small "d") institution
Like libraries, a free press, the two-party system, and the checks and balances we have in government, unions are a democratic (with a small "d") institution. They balance the power structure. Similarly, as I have previously noted, businesses join forces through organizations, alliances, and partnerships of all sorts.
All of these seemingly different and separate institutions and organizations, when taken together, prevent the "-isms" from taking control of our country: Fascism, Bolshevism, elitism, and so on.
My unique perspective
As a business owner and a member of a labor union, I have a really unique perspective on the role of unions when it comes to balancing power.
I am president and a co-owner of Intrepid Innovations Inc., an online marketing firm. Like many small businesses, we're active in chambers of commerce and other business networking organizations.
But I am also a member of UAW Local 1981, the National Writers Union, a union that looks out for the interests of freelance writers (I'm both an author and freelance journalist).
As a business owner, I can't tell you enough how much my partners and I love Google. But as a freelance writer, there's an issue of great concern to me regarding Google. Google Books, a massive book-scanning project, could prove to have serious implications for writers and publishers when it comes to copyright infringement and the fair compensation of royalties. The NWU, along with other writers' organizations, is fighting the project.
The NWU also lobbies the federal government to get tougher on countries like China, to name just one, where infringement on intellectual property rights without compensation is rampant. The national economy is losing out on significant amounts of money and other capital every day because of this total disregard for intellectual property rights.
These are just two issues the NWU is working hard on, and I know that my union dues are hard at work, not only for myself and my fellow union members, but for writers all over.
Aaron S. Robertson is president of Intrepid Innovations Inc., a freelance journalist, and a former Democratic candidate for the 83rd district seat of the Wisconsin state Assembly. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent the views of Intrepid Innovations Inc. or any other business, organization, or person named on this blog.