Wave Goodbye

I keep on hearing ’bout the disappearing ozone layer
I keep on hearing ’bout the disappearing Greenland Shelf
I keep hearing all about the disappearing middle class
I figure I’ll be doing some disappearing myself.

Jackson Browne, Leaving Winslow

I don’t now about the first two, but the Supreme Court seems poised to take care of the third by launching another attack on that “disappearing middle class” by eliminating agency fee—that’s the fee non-union members pay to reap the  benefits of union negotiations while trying to get away on the cheap. I guess that’s a prejudicial definition, but let me tell you where it comes from.

Years ago I was pretty active in my local education association. I was even president one year—maybe it was two—the mind has a way of blocking out unpleasant situations. My term (that makes it sound more important than it was) coincided with the Enhancement Act—that time period when teachers traded what little autonomy they had for a salary that came close to a living wage. (I guess that’s another prejudicial definition, but it is my blog.)

That term I served was filled with contentiousness, and I can’t even say it all worked out, because I’m still unhappy with all our negotiating. But if we hadn’t negotiated at all, there’s no telling how far behind we’d be today. Before I became involved in local politics, I’d heard stories of a school board member who began every session by saying “This isn’t the year to ask for a raise.” Without negotiators to tell him it actually was the year, the raises—meager as they may have been—would never have come.

Terminating agency fees will further weaken union negotiations in this country, and though I don’t blindly accept all union positions on all matters, I do know that unionizing, more than any other cause, invigorated the American middle class. The well-publicized and current dichotomy between the very rich and the very poor with seemingly no one in the middle coincides with the degrading of unions in the United States, a trend that began in the 1980s. Some will disagree. Scott Walker won his reputation as a union buster bent on helping the middle class. He claimed unionized state employees were overpaid, but a study conducted by the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, showed the following: on average, counting wages as well as retirement and other benefits, compared to private-sector employees, state and local government employees are undercompensated by 5.6 percent.

Undercompensated. People who have don’t concern themselves much with those who have not. This is more of the same. And those have nots? They used to be the middle class.

I’m no longer part of any union except as a retired member, so I guess I have no dog in this fight. But I kinda like that middle class we used to have and wouldn’t mind seeing it make a bit of a comeback instead of being relegated to something about which people can merely wax nostalgic.



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