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City Life: Unions refuse to change with times

September 20, 2011|By Steve Smith

U.S. banker J.P. Morgan was the perfect bad guy: big, bloated and rarely without a fat Cuban cigar.

In 1902, 140,000 members of the United Mine Workers of America toiling in Pennsylvania's coal mines went on strike for higher wages and better conditions.

The union strategy: focus on a bogeyman, someone on whom they could blame their woes and direct their ire. The target was Morgan, who was so hated that the strikers chanted the words to the then-popular song, "Just Break the News to Mother," but inserted "Morgan" where the word "mother" would usually be sung.

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That was 1902, this is now — unless you are union leadership, then you're stuck in 1902. The Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. (CMCEA) has created not one Morgan, but two: Councilmen Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger.

The union's bogeyman strategy is understandable. Just like any other bureaucracy, unions like the status quo and have a difficult time coping with change.

The primary function of union leadership is to create and preserve the best possible compensation and conditions for its members. No other union task comes close, and no one should be surprised at the lengths to which the CMCEA leadership is going to maintain the status quo for its members. After all, if they cannot succeed at this most important duty, they are not needed.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 17.7 million union members in 1983. Last year, the BLS reported that there were 14.7 million members. The sharp decline in union membership over the years is the result of improved workplace conditions and of the unions' inability to adapt. Unions are still doing the same ol', same ol', hoping it will work yet again, despite a marketplace that is changing rapidly.

Were Costa Mesa the only city in the U.S. facing compensation challenges in order to remain solvent, any law-abiding bogeyman tactics would be understandable, even justifiable.

But Costa Mesa is not alone and eventually the city will win the right to outsource labor and shrink its staff if a council majority so decides, just as the city of Atherton has recently been allowed to do.

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