Do Democrats or Republicans care more about workers?

Phil: It looks like your union buddies have been pushing hard for a little return on their 2012 campaign investment these days. Democrats have had quite a couple of weeks doing their bidding.

Ethan: You mean doing the bidding of all working people in Maine. Passing a minimum wage increase and defeating (un) “fair share” and “right-to-work” (for less) proposals will all be good for Maine families.

Phil: Please. Let’s take ’em one by one. Increasing minimum wage may just cost us jobs, and the workers you claim to bid for still won’t have a “livable wage.” A fair share bill would give workers the right to choose and put more money in workers’ pockets, and right-to-work legislation would allow more people the opportunity to work. Oh, wait a minute, I just knocked all three out of the park in one swing, like Will Middlebrooks did last week against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Ethan: Knocked out of the park? More like “one, two, three strikes you’re out,” like John Lackey’s elbow! Let’s start with minimum wage. I am not sure what you are seeing, but from my perspective it is pretty tough to live on $7.50 an hour. And while $9 an hour is still brutal, it at least gets a few thousand more dollars in working people’s pockets. Good for Democrats for reminding people who is really fighting for working people to get higher wages.

Phil: You forgot to mention that it wouldn’t happen until 2016 and then would be indexed for inflation. Even if it does become law it won’t come close to the so-called livable wage. Why don’t your colleagues just propose a $15 minimum wage, which would be livable?

Ethan: Are you pushing for a higher minimum wage?!

Phil: Always, through empowering free people to choose who to work for and for how much.

Ethan: Unfortunately, that just doesn’t work for entry level employees. We need to set a floor. From there, let the free market do its thing!

Phil: Meanwhile Republicans seek to raise wages through a robust economy where employers pay more because they need good employees to meet the growing demands of consumers.

Ethan: Yeah, how’s that been working out? The country is still trying to dig out of that robust economy Republicans built from 2000-2008. Now, how about this (un) fair share bill? Why is it that Republicans think employees should get all the benefits the union negotiates (vacation, pension, sick time, health care) without having to pay the union for their work? I thought you were the party that was against free hand-outs.

Phil: Tell us who negotiates the wages and benefits for your non-profit organization? Are your employees a member of a union?

Ethan: Nope, although I did speak to a union representative once. Encouraged him to come in as I thought it would be great to have a rep negotiate on behalf of all our employees, but apparently our staff didn’t feel the need.

Phil: So your employees and mine can choose but not those who work, say, in state government?

Ethan: State government employees can choose to be part of the union or not. That is their right. They just can’t choose to benefit from the union without paying for the benefits received. The American way!

Phil: Perhaps the adage still rings true that bad management breeds big unions. Let’s hit our third topic. Seems to me that all one has to do is look at Michigan — Detroit in particular — to understand why they passed right-to-work legislation. Tell me again why right to work is bad?

Ethan: It allows employers to undermine the agreement they created with their employees. Look at it this way. Assume you made an agreement with all your employees as a group, and part of that agreement was that everyone would be paid a certain wage. But then you found some folks who would work for cheaper, and you started bringing them in and replacing all the ones you had originally agreed to pay more. Would that be fair?

Phil: So, if economic and/or political conditions are such that someone wants to come into Maine and build a business, they can’t decide not to have unions? And if existing institutions — like the University of Southern Maine — must trim expenses, the university can’t make adjustments so everyone can keep their job. Rather, based on seniority, some keep their job, and others are terminated. And why force members to pay dues used to support causes and candidates they don’t? That’s fair?

Ethan: Of course unionized businesses can trim expenses. (Have you noticed how much expense was trimmed when the recession hit?) And the workers of any business across the country have a right to form a union if they so choose. But neither issue has anything to do with right to work. Right to work means an employer gets to undercut his legal agreement with employees by bringing in people who are outside that agreement.

Phil: Perhaps with more choices we’ll attract investment and employers, which will push wages higher, something we surely need. It appears that past practice across the country is for unions to elect Democrats who then vote for pension benefits they didn’t fund, leaving many states and cities on the brink of bankruptcy.

Ethan: Or, past practice across the country is for businesses to elect Republicans who fight minimum wage increases and try to pass legislation that undercuts the strength of workers to negotiate for fairer wages.