Unions and the Divorcing of Reward from Merit

The damage wrought by the Left's “self-esteem” movement.

Two headlines, running within a couple of days of each other, caught my attention because they are interrelated.  The first was from the Milwaukee Journal and it made clear that, for the first time in history, the average compensation garnered by the Milwaukee school teacher exceeded $100,000.  The second was found in a variety of places, a statistic coming from no less a source than the Department of Education, which declared that “Two-Thirds of Wisconsin 8th Graders Can’t Read Proficiently.”  The reason for both the exceedingly high pay and the exceedingly low scholarship is due, of course, to the unions.

Oh, there are other causes as well – but they, too, are a reflection of the union because the problem with unions is the same problem with our culture in general – the near-complete divorcing of reward from merit.

If students can’t read, then how did they make it to the eighth grade in the first place?  The answer is that their grades were inflated and thus they were rewarded with grades they did not merit.  They are in the eight grade because they received “social promotions,” rewards given to children obviously not based on their scholastic aptitude but on the Modern Liberal premise that not rewarding them might hurt their self-esteem.  In fact, the entire “self-esteem” movement which began with the Leftist take-over of our culture is predicated on reward (feeling good about yourself) without merit (doing something good.)

The unmerited promotion of the incapable student was delivered to him by those whose union membership ensures that they continue to be employed whether their work merits continued employment or, more likely than not given their failure to educate those eighth graders, it doesn’t.  These same teachers vehemently reject pay based on merit, with raises automatically given on a schedule that has nothing to do with whether or not they have bothered to educate the children.

The very concept of collective bargaining is designed not only to undermine the merit-reward relationship but to invert it.  In a merit-based system, the best and hardest working employee can demand the highest compensation while the laziest and most incompetent is paid the least.  In the collective, however, the best worker must forfeit the most in order to see the least able receive a far higher salary than his work merits.

Of course, only the most superhumanly altruistic worker is going to continue to go above and beyond while being underpaid and compensated at exactly the level he would be paid no matter how lazy and incompetent he or she is, while it is just as unlikely that the lazy and incompetent person who might raise his skills and efforts in order to receive higher compensation is going to do so knowing there’s no more money to be made by doing good work than in continuing to do bad work.

Unions divorce merit from reward even further by, in many states – including Wisconsin – making union membership mandatory.  When a citizen is compelled to do something it is specifically because it is well understood that, unless his freedom is taken away, he would not do what those with the power want him to do.  In this case, the unions are well-aware of the fact that their use of worker’s money for personal aggrandizement (huge salaries, palacial offices, globe-trotting to attend “seminars” and, of course, their redirection of funds to the Democrat Party and other Leftwing causes) would not be very popular with the working people and union membership would plunge just as it has in every location and every profession where the worker is not forced at the point of a gun (or his family’s ability to eat) to do so.  Put simply, the unions know that if membership weren’t compelled, their rewards would suddenly be related to their meriting those rewards and they’d rapidly go out of business.

For these reasons (and others) even the union members should be in favor of taking the gun away from their neighbors’ heads and allowing for union membership to be voluntary.  After all, the better workers are subsidizing their lazy and incompetent colleagues and, with a union that must suddenly base its survival on appealing to the workers rather than forcing them at gunpoint to cough up their wages, the unions would have to work harder to merit membership.

There are powerful arguments against public sector unions in particular.  One is that the government typically takes on jobs specifically because the private sector cannot do it.  If the consumer is unhappy with their cable company, for example, they can turn to the Dish Network.  If a consumer is unhappy with the police force, there’s nowhere for the citizenry to turn. This means that these workers have a monopoly that already acts as a powerful weapon in negotiating their salaries, benefits and working conditions.

The second reason that public sector unions should be outlawed – a point made by the great Dennis Prager on a recent radio show – is that the public sector is the only sector where the employees vote to determine who will be their boss and who they will be negotiating with.  No wonder these teachers are making six-figures with lifetime guarantees while producing children who can’t read – lots of money for very little work is what happens when reward is divorced from merit, unions enforce that arrangement and the people who stand between these workers and their unions and those who will negotiate their contracts are selected by the workers and unions themselves.