My favorite place for pizza in Madison is Ian's. My kids go there in the summer for macaroni and cheese pizza. They order it because it sounds so fun, but then they don't eat it.
Ian's is located right on the Wisconsin State Capitol, where 70,000 people are protesting that Governor Walker is repealing almost all collective bargaining rights of public workers. For the last six days of protests, Ian's has been taking orders from all over the world — Korea, Egypt, New Zealand, and 51 states — to deliver pizzas to the protesters. Ian's keeps track of worldwide pizza support on a blackboard:
It's a nice story. But the issue in Wisconsin is more fundamental than pro-labor or anti-labor. The issue is that the workforce is changing. Some of the groups having the hardest time dealing with this change are the unions, and protesting change is not going to help.
1. Recognize when you're in a dead sector, and shift.
I don't think we need unions anymore. I think they are leftover from a different type of workplace and a different type of economy. I am not revolutionary in saying that we don't need unions.
In general, I'd have to say that the non-union part of the work world is sick of unions wielding insane powers that are anachronistic and unrealistic. Maybe I could understand this if it was 1880 and we had children working in factories. Maybe I could understand this if all government work were as unappealing as being a garbage collector. But in fact, government jobs are so insanely cushy, for their stability, that it's one of Gen Y's favorite sectors to work.
So many people are frantically reacting to a shifting job market — journalists, travel agents, lawyers, all these sectors are changing rapidly right now, and careers are being destroyed. But other opportunities are growing. Instead of lamenting that your job is changing for the worst, find out what new jobs are emerging because of the change, and make a change yourself.
2. Create stability for yourself with new career tools.
A sustainable career today involves constant job changes, lots of career changes, and an entrepreneurial spirit. For example, the average Gen Y-er starts looking for a job on the third day of their current job. Not because they are disloyal, but because they are realistic in that no job lasts forever, and few last even two years. Career changes used to be something saved for mid-life crises, but today, people can expect to change careers five times, which means that the idea of a pension is off the radar. Finally entrepreneurship is so popular today because it's a safety net for an unreliable workplace.
Unions are not part of this equation. Unions trade on their ability to protect peoples' jobs over the long-term. But this assurance is ananchronistic and not appropriate for the reality of today's workforce.
3. Stop focusing on the meta. Just fix your life.
So many people say they can't get a job because it's a bad economy. But you know what? There are enough jobs. You can't get a job because you're bad at job hunting. You're bad at marketing yourself and you're bad at shifting as the economy shifts.
No career was ever saved by blaming someone else for your troubles. So look, it's true that Scott Walker was selective in the unions he's trouncing. He's picking on teachers and leaving police alone. So, yes, it's conniving, but so what? Of course he has to be conniving to disband government unions.
But it doesn't matter, because the demise of government benefits is inevitable. It's inevitable that unions would be killed — either by lack of interest or government action. Their time has come. Stop blaming people and just move on.
4. Stop picking jobs based on long-term benefits.
This is a worldwide problem, not a Wisconsin problem. So if you think it's not gonna happen to you, you're wrong. The era of benefits is over, so stop picking your jobs based on the benefits.
Here's the math: Baby boomers are huge, Gen X is relatively tiny, which means demographically speaking, there are not enough people in this country to support the generation that is retiring.
(I will now quote tons of economist things from my brother, Marc, who has a PhD from University of Chicago in economics and he's smart enough to go into hedge funds instead of teaching, but not so smart that he doesn't stop talking to me even though he thinks every time I write about him on my blog I misquote him.)
Anyway, he says this demographics thing is a worldwide problem, and it is worst for countries like Japan, France, and China, where the birth rate is tiny compared to the earlier generation. (The developed economies that do not have this problem are the Middle East and Israel.
“What? I said to my brother. We don't put Israel in the Middle East?”
“Economist consider Israel's economy to be tied to Europe's.” )
The only way to fix this problem is to renege on the benefits that states have promised government workers. The US economy simply cannot grow enough to solve the problem any other way.
5. Getting fired is a gift.
It is absolutely insane that teachers in unions cannot be fired. One of the first things Michael Bloomberg, mayor of NYC, did when he got control of the public schools is that he started firing teachers who did not perform well. He had a knock-down drag-out fight with the union and he won.
Because how else can schools improve if teachers can't lose their jobs? You know what? Some of those tenured teachers suck. We all know that. And it's not helping anyone — the teachers or the kids — to keep teachers who can't teach. One of the best part of a fluid workforce is that you have to find where you fit well in order to get some security.
Wisconsin public schools are among the lowest performing in the country. So it makes sense to me that this is one of the first teacher's unions to get dissolved. And, this is a great example of how a union has outlasted its usefulness to the community.
6. Change is exciting. It opens new doors.
Look at Ian's. They watched changed and they figured out where they fit in, and they actually did well by embracing change. You can do that, too. Don't blame other people for your problems. Don't try to stop the path of change. Each of us has gifts that we can use in any type of workforce. We just need to be flexible enough to see our own potential.