John Ransom

If you read me regularly, you’ll know that there are very few things that I feel strongly about ;-). I’m kind of a wilting violet in print, who tries hard not to impose his views on readers. Instead, I paint words pictures of objective fact, interlaced with strongly-reasoned logical progressions that allows readers to form their own opinions unguided by me. (Take a deep breath here, and clean the coffee off your nose, chin, lips and computer screen)  

Today is no different.

Unions suck.

Really they do. I have said this before, as an objective fact:

(Editor's note: This column orginally appeared on December 14th

“They suck the money out of our wallets,” I wrote in July, “they suck productivity out of workers; and suck up all the leavings from the public trough. Increasingly, the public has had it with the private country clubs known as ‘public’ unions.”

The trouble with education, much public policy, government spending and the every-twenty-five-year bailout of auto companies in this country starts and ends with unions. I continued:

They are out-of- touch museum relics, fitting for a day that used rotary presses to distribute the news, but wildly inappropriate for an age that‘s both wired and wireless. Unions have prevented, and continue to prevent, much-needed reforms in education, public finance and government. They cultivate a sense of entitlement wholly out of order for the times, which call for more self-reliance and entrepreneurship.



Union advocates like to reply to this thesis- with good reason- by sticking fingers in their ears, jumping up and down in place, saying “pork, pork, pork,” while vaguely threatening the voting public with vengeance if unions don’t get more “pork.”

The good reason they chose this line of attack is that they have no logical argument to make.  

They are like the man told to us by Patrick Henry.

Amid the general joy and shouts of triumph by the freezing, threadbare American army that accepted the surrender of the British army under Cornwallis at Yorktown, Henry tells us, was one John Hook, who could only think of the beef he lost, confiscated to provide food for the starving, yet victorious army.

“But hark!” says Henry. “What notes of discord are these that disturb the general joy and silence the acclimations of victory? They are the notes of John Hook, hoarsely bawling through the American camp ‘Beef! Beef! Beef !’” in protest of his loss.

So it goes with unions.

Cities may go bankrupt, police may be laid off, public safety endangered and public finance corrupted but the unions get paid first, no matter what.

As real-life mobster and union delegate Henry Hill explained it in the movie Goodfellas: “Business bad? F-- you, pay me. Oh, you had a fire? F-- you, pay me. Place got hit by lightning huh? F-- you, pay me."

That’s why it shouldn’t surprise us that while most of America hails Michigan for victory in passing a right-to-work law in the union-controlled state that borders Canada, the unions are complaining about their beef- and their benefits. They did much the same in Madison in 2011 as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker forced unions to compete in an open way for benefit contracts. And despite union grousing, the world did not come to an end in Wisconsin. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

Magically, school districts on the verge of financial ruin suddenly were able to find millions of dollars in new money. How did that magic act happen?

“When the Appleton School District put its health-insurance contract up for bid for instance,” writes the City-Journal, “WEA Trust [the benefit provider run by the union] suddenly lowered its rates and promised to match any competitor’s price. Appleton will save $3 million during the current school year.” That open bidding process outside of the union monopoly was a result of Walker’s reforms.

And it reduced costs without degrading benefits.

So now, $3 million will go directly into the classroom, which is what teachers tell us they really care about. So now, $3 million will allow the district to retain employees, which what the union ought to care most about.

And that’s also what’s at stake in Michigan.

Right-to-work means an end to the union monopoly on employment. It means that more people can have jobs. It means that unions have to provide a competitive environment or their customers will leave.

But in the up-is-down, black-is-white and right-is-wrong world of unions, progressives and mental patients, a competitive environment must be avoided at all costs. That's way too much pressure.

“Exclusivity for a union with majority support is not a monopoly, it is democracy,” said Brenda Smith, local head of the AFL-CIO affiliated American Federation of Teachers and apparently an Orwell fan. “It is order rather than chaos. It allows employees to select their representative freely, without coercion from the employer. It allows them to amplify their voice through collective action under our constitutionally protected right to freedom of association.” And for unions freedom of association means workers are given only one representative, one association, one, non-dissenting voice carefully following the party line 

Spoken like a true Menshevik.    

Freedom of association, in a free society, also includes the right to NOT associate, especially with known associates, like union thugs.

And the right not to associate is what’s at issue in Michigan.

All hail Michigan.

Ps.- This column in no way modifies my oft-stated contempt for the University of Michigan Wolverines, it’s alumni, faculty, football team, basketball team, traditions or history. I’m not even sure they are still an accredited university.

Go Ohio State! Buckeyes rule, Wolverines drool.


John Ransom

John Ransom is the Finance Editor for Townhall Finance.