Monday, February 28, 2011

Steve Gets It

Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez understands the importance of unions, especially in his life. Because his father was a union man, Steve was able to go college. His father earned a decent living and could put away the money so that his child could get the education he never had. Steve Lopez considered his personal history after being offered an honorary doctorate by the public university he attended, and concluded that his life was enriched because his father always earned a fair wage by being a union member.

Now this might come as a shock to some of Steve's readers because he's had some harsh things to say about the Los Angeles Teachers Union (UTLA). He feels justified in doing so because he feels some of their contracts have been outrageous, especially when it comes pension benefits which become available to teachers at age 59. But, he asserts, he most assuredly is not anti-union. In fact, he implies that the only thing standing between workers and complete disaster is the union model, especially in these times.

I think we need to bring public employee unions and pensions into line with economic reality, as I've written many times. But we don't have to make them extinct. Shouldn't there be one last place to make a middle-class living with decent benefits and none of the risks posed by 401(k)s that are tied to shaky markets?

As my colleague George Skelton brilliantly pointed out last week (he's a San Jose State alum, naturally), inflation-adjusted incomes for the top 10% of Californians have gone up 43% in the last 20 years and 81% for the wealthiest 1%.

Income for the lower 60%, meanwhile, dropped by 12%.

Unions aren't responsible for that consolidation of wealth. If anything, the fact that the rich are getting richer is an argument to organize against the disparity. And to quit dismantling institutions like the state university system that has balanced the playing field for low-income and middle-class students by the millions over the decades.

And as to that honorary doctorate from San Jose State?

I think I'm going to accept.

And in my speech, I'm going to say that I grew up at a time when upward mobility was a realistic objective in California rather than a wild dream.

With no college education of their own, my parents were able, through hard work -- and fair pay for that work -- to take me to the doctor when I was sick, to enroll me in public schools that were adequately funded instead of at the bottom of the national rankings, and to send me to a proud state university system that has prepared great battalions of students for what was once a thriving economy.
[Emphasis added]

Well said, Steve. I wish I could be there to hear you deliver that speech.

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Blogger shrimplate said...

"People don't need unions. They should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. If you're not happy with your job, you can improve yourself by going to Harvardm getting C grades, and become president." - -Typical Arizona Republican.

3:24 AM  

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