Unions these days are not the working man's friend. So I heard Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker argue at a recent talk he gave at AEI to publicize his new book, Unintimidated: A Governor's Story and a Nation's Challenge, written with my former White House colleague Marc Thiessen.
In the book, the Governor explains how he first learned years ago, when serving as a county official, how callous the leaders of (tax-exempt) unions could be when economic circumstances endangered the jobs of the working men and women they claim to represent:
the unions would not give an inch during my time as county executive. They were perfectly willing to see hundreds, even thousands, of union workers lose their jobs in order to keep the prerogatives they had amassed for themselves.
So much for "solidarity."
At AEI, Gov. Walker reiterated
how frustrating it was that many times those very leaders who were supposed to be standing up for the solidarity of their coworkers were the very ones encouraging us to just go ahead with the layoffs because they’d rather protect the benefits....
You see, the unions viewed their generous pension and other benefits as sacrosanct, and if some people had to lose their jobs to maintain those lavish benefits, and if other people would never be able to get a job because no money would be left over to hire them, well, those poor schmucks would just have to sacrifice themselves on the altar of the status quo.
Lest you think Gov. Walker is making these things up, consider that just as he was speaking at AEI, further proof was appearing, and this time the story involved a private-sector union, the International Association of Machinists District 751 in Puget Sound, Washington. This group turned down an offer from Boeing that would have guaranteed the workers years of employment, a $10,000 signing bonus, cost of living raises every year plus an additional 1 percent raise every other year, but it would have changed the union's old-style pensions into standard 401(k) accounts with a generous employer match.
Tens of thousands of jobs were at stake, because Boeing made clear it would look to build its new 777X plane elsewhere if a new contract couldn't be negotiated. Governors in other states, including Democrats like Missouri's Jay Nixon, have already begun courting the company, and the union's own national leadership repeatedly urged that Boeing's offer be considered favorably, so the labor movement wouldn't gain yet another black eye like the ones produced by the collapse of union-dominated steel and auto plants.
But no, that would be heresy and sacrilege: "We preserved something sacred by rejecting the Boeing proposal. We've held on to our pensions and that's big," explained the District's president.
The question, of course, is just who is included in that "our." It won't include workers who are laid off long before they reach retirement, and it won't include workers who are never hired in the first place.
Think of it as the royal "We" and imagine a union boss dressed as Queen Victoria; when a new contract is presented to him, he arches his nose upward as if at a bad smell, while regally declaring, "We are not amused."