Posted by Bob Lord
By all appearances, the Chicago teachers' strike is over. An agreemnent has not been ratified, but the reports are that a framework has been agreed upon and that the heavy lifting is done.
What's too bad is that we won't hear any push back against the union bashing that took place this week. As some, including Rahm Emanuel, would have it, the teachers were irresponsible to strike. All those underprivileged kids would go without math education for, oh my God, one week. The damage to their potential would be irretrievable.
Gimme a break. Ultimately, you get results in any type of negotiation, including collective bargaining, through leverage. If you have no leverage on your side, the other side just says no, and sooner or later you have no choice but to cave. When I negotiate a contested case against the IRS, the leverage I have and the leverage they have is the relative strenghs of our positions. If we each perceive the other to have a fifty percent or so chance of winning in court, it's a pretty safe bet that we'll ultimately settle on my client paying about half the amount the IRS is claiming. If you go to purchase a car and the dealer is the only one in town with that model in stock, he has leverage. If he has 20 of that model and six other dealers also do, you have leverage.
The reality is that the only leverage most unions have is the threat of a strike. That means most of the time they can win concessions without striking, because management doesn't want to risk a strike. But there's a catch. The threat of a strike is meaningful only if a strike actually occurs on a frequent enough basis for the threat to be real. If the pattern develops that a union never strikes, that union has no leverage. Management, by the way, has built in leverage. If a union strikes, it's members lose pay -- lots of it.
So, when Republicans and centrist Democrats inveigh against a union for striking, they're essentially objecting to that union having the leverage to bargain in an effective manner.
Of course, those Republicans and centrist Democrats could address their professed concern about the damage strikes cause. They could pass legislation that gives unions an alternative form of meaningful leverage. If they did, strikes would be a thing of the past. A union with a realistic alternative to striking as a form of leverage would choose that alternative. After all, contrary to what conservatives would have us believe (and what far too many of us are gullible enough to believe), striking isn't fun. And it's really expensive. If the Chicago teachers' union members had a vehicle to achieve a level playing field without standing on a picket line without pay and, yes, having to worry about the impact to their students of not being in class, does anyone doubt they would have used that vehicle rather than calling a strike?
The bottom line is that all the union bashing politicians who deplore the effect strikes have on the public have nobody to blame but themselves. Reform the labor laws such that strikes aren't needed to level the playing field, and strikes will be a thing of the past. Of course, the only impact of strikes that really concerns those union bashing politiicians is the concessions the strikers may win, and the cost of those concessions to shareholders and high income taxpayers. It'd be nice if someone called them on their bullshit.