Union should not force representation

The union does not advocate for my best interests. It defines them.

It would be an exercise in futility to address point-by-point the various criticisms of my opinion piece in Monday’s Daily. In the end, to borrow the union’s fruit-based analogy, we are comparing apples and oranges. They speak of entitlements (apples) and I speak of rights (oranges). Likewise, I could attempt to argue the labor markets for a Big Ten university president and a clerical worker are unique, based on different skill sets and job requirements, and consequently result in different compensation.

However, despite being an analysis based on reason, it would be damned for its lack of emotion, paradoxically something I considered a virtue. Considering the timbre of the newspeak coming from the union and its supporters, evident in the use of ambiguous terms like “social justice” (for who exactly?), I can only assume the phrase “proletariat uprising” will enter the fray sooner or later.

While the union faithful assert that they are proud, voluntary members of AFSCME, I am not. The union, as a part of its strategic aim to throw as many warm, if not willing, bodies at the University each negotiating cycle, has mandated that my position as an executive office and student services specialist be “represented.” Not content with violating my right to self-determination, the union also takes it upon itself to appropriate a portion of my income each pay period, euphemistically referring to it as “dues.” In their eyes, whether I voluntarily support their position or not is immaterial so long as I provide leverage and cash. In a display of true benevolence, however, AFSCME allows me the right to vote on my own contract. Of course that costs extra.

In short, I did not choose to apply for my job based on the promise of union protection. I applied in spite of it.

Some have suggested that those of us who chose to work are cowards because we accept the benefits of union membership without making the sacrifice to secure them. I would respond that I never asked any AFSCME member to make that sacrifice for me, and I do not acknowledge their demands that I do so in return for them. I do not recognize their self-appointed authority to dictate the conditions of the voluntary relationship between the University and me. I do not grant the union or its members sanction over my life or livelihood. In my opinion, there is no benefit to being represented by the union because it does not advocate for my best interests. It defines them. I only feel sadness that it continually demeans the individual spirit and celebrates the collective.

But I am a reasonable person, and if some think that I am a parasite for sitting back while others do the heavy lifting, I offer this pledge: Any wage increase that AFSCME is able to coerce from the University above and beyond what I already voted to accept, I will elect as a voluntary deduction to the United Way during this year’s Community Fund Drive (http://www1.umn.edu/cfd/).

In the meantime, I call upon AFSCME to bring an end to compulsory union membership at the University. I ask that they release any member who refuses to accept their role as an instrument of the union. If it truly represents us, it will grant our request to have our work and its value judged on its own merit, not lumped together with other employees, good and bad. It should be self-evident to the leadership that voluntary membership would only enhance AFSCME’s position. They would be all but guaranteed a constituency that is highly motivated and ideologically consistent with their values. They would move forward with the “one voice” they claim to have now. As a result, when AFSCME strikes in 2009 they would be spared the embarrassment of having the majority of their members report to work.

Patrick Russell is a University employee. Please send comments to [email protected]