BY STATE SEN. SAM SLOM – We will be celebrating another Labor Day holiday this Monday. For some it is just a day off. For others, a time of union promotion. And political pontificating.
You’ve already read or heard the partisan political statements of Hawaii’s majority party state and congressional elected officials. They continue to talk but have done little to improve the conditions for the working man and woman.
The holiday, first observed by the Central Labor Union of New York on September 5, 1882, became a federal holiday in 1894, following labor union wars with the federal government.
Of course the international communists have observed May 1 as International Workers Day for many years.
But back to our holiday. Traditionally, the first Monday in September was marked as the end of summer, the closure of amusement parks, back to school and the last day women could appropriately wear white. A lot has changed. The day still marks the start of the NFL season although college football already jumped the gun.
This year, 2011, is especially significant for labor unions. Though they still bluster, attack business, the Tea Party and the free market, and have an economic and political impact, the unions—not workers— are in survival mode. Except for New York and Hawaii, their membership is low and declining. Their political influence is waning. Their demands have resulted in excessive consumer cost increases. They are being challenged for their unsustainable benefits on the backs of all workers and taxpayers. They are forced to accept wage and benefit reductions.
In Wisconsin, the Governor and Legislature stood up against, and were victorious, in changing collective bargaining. This is spreading to other states.
Even in Hawaii, union members are openly critical of the representation of the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) which has failed to secure a new contract and is openly fighting with the pro union new Governor. Other government unions and private unions are hostile to the contract agreed to by the Governor and the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA) that gives the largest government union “most favored nation” status, meaning if any other union negotiates better benefits, the HGEA will automatically get those benefits too.
During the recent 2011 Hawaii State Legislature, the HGEA and other unions wanted a 25% increase in the General Excise Tax to fund their benefits. They failed in this bluest of blue union states. No union contracts were funded this year. Benefits are being scaled back. The union health fund is under funded by at least $8 billion; the state retirement system under funded by at least that amount or according to some estimates, as much as $15 billion.
The unions here, as elsewhere, are in for harder times because of fiscal realities and their decades of excess and avarice and an all too willing government to give them what they want in exchange for votes.
Hawaii has reached a tipping point by several measures. One of them is union domination.
I am not anti-union. Never have been.
But I am anti-compulsion. Government unions, where the growth in membership has taken place, are government-created monopolies that operate on force and compulsion.
Workers should have every right to join a union or any other organization.
But they shouldn’t be forced as they are now.
Every year at the legislature, I introduce a Right to Work bill. It simply says a worker should have choice in joining or not joining a labor organization. More than 22 states have such legislation and they are the most prosperous of the 50 states. Unions hate this legislation.
I also support vouchers to allow parents to choose schools to which they send their children. Government schools or private. It works where tried and creates better schools, better teachers and productive students. Unions hate this legislation too.
Legislation to prevent the use of union dues, without authorization, for political purposes, has been opposed also. But workers forced to pay union dues are questioning the use of their money. And the quality of representation and benefits.
Unions have served an important purpose. They opposed government violence. In the past, they responsibly advocated for worker safety and economic benefits.
But in recent years, unions, or more precisely, several union bosses, have become greedy and all too political leaving workers, taxpayers and our economy behind.
Next session (January, 2012) I will be introducing additional Hawaii legislation to improve the standard of living of all workers, and to allow them more choices.
Included will be a bill to prohibit the state government from collecting dues from workers and handing it over to the government union. That is not a proper function of government.
Collective bargaining is a privilege, not a right. Change is coming.
We should all celebrate Labor Day for the right to work, the acknowledgement that all workers are important, not just the 15% that belong to a compulsory union, and for the support of those measures to create jobs and wealth for everyone who wants to work in our state and nation.
Happy Labor Day!