Op-ed: On the importance of unions

As published in the Union Leader on 8/31/2018

As president of one of New Hampshire’s largest labor unions, I have had the honor of speaking with countless state and municipal employees regarding their number one concern–  protecting their families’ economic health. They want wages that can support their families, and assurances that their employer will not tamper with their health insurance. The key to achieving these goals and more is for workers to unite against the political forces that want to divide us.

Earlier this summer, the U.S Supreme Court reversed a 40-year precedent that threatens a union’s ability to stay in business.  The Court’s decision creates an economic incentive for public sector employees to become “free-riders” who reap the benefits of contract negotiations without financially supporting the effort. If a worker can gain all the benefits of a service without paying, where is the incentive to pay? Once enough workers make the choice to become free-riders, the union will cease to exist. Without a union, there is no contract to protect wages, benefits, and job security. Make no mistake: the death of labor unions is the goal of anti-labor groups.

The union saying, “united we bargain, divided we beg” has never been more applicable than today. Lately, much has been written about New Hampshire’s booming economy. But little has been said about why this economic boom doesn’t match the lived experiences of many of New Hampshire’s working people. The governor likes to tout impressive statistics, such as New Hampshire’s low unemployment rates. But a state cannot continue to measure its economic success on what it’s not lacking. It would be akin to a restaurant measuring its success on low incidences of reported food poisoning. It’s a low barometer that says nothing about the quality of the food or experiences of its patrons. Likewise, we need our state’s statistics to match the lived experiences of all Granite Staters.

In the coming months, a group of state employees will be working toward this goal by creating a new state contract. The number of hours required to negotiate a state contract on behalf of their fellow workers is like working a part-time job with no immediate compensation. These volunteers dedicate their time because they want all state employees to win.  Anyone who benefits from a new state contract must support their work by becoming a union member. Anything less is simply unfair to those pulling their weight.

The free-rider dilemma presents an interesting paradox: it allows those who don’t want to contribute to ride off the coattails of others’ efforts. But what happens when people continuously take something for free? It stops being free when it ceases to exist. Just take a look at what happened to the teachers’ union in Wisconsin after their union was gutted in 2011. Teachers’ pay, benefits and pensions took a nosedive and as a result the state began to see a high turnover rate in the profession, especially in rural districts.

As American pause this Labor Day to recall and acknowledge the sacrifices made by those in the labor movement who came before us, we must remember that those sacrifices came with a cost. Workers need to band together now more than ever. Otherwise, they’ll pay later with interest in the form of wages and benefits.  

-President Richard Gulla

 

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