Advice to Wisconsin protesters (and everyone else): Instead of protesting change, adjust your own career

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.

324 replies
Newer Comments »
    • says:

      Sadly, Matt is an idiot. I’m an economist and someone who works in organizational change and effectiveness, a field I added formally in my fifties because life and job situations have morphed over the years. i also like variety. And though reality often bites and bites hard), it’s still reality.
      Granted it’s scary, but change, like it or not, is also the greatest avenue for opportunity. This kind of change happens to be healthy in the long term, and imperative in the short term.

    • Mike
      Mike says:

      Sadly Karen is an idiot. First off she’s an economist which is nothing more than a gypsy fortune teller in training. She’s a member of the hindsite club.

      Secondly, unions may be bad but they are not worse than greedy business owners. Unions were the result of bad management and are still needed but we are entering into a new era of extreme bad management when it comes to employee working conditions.

      • Merlin Dorfman
        Merlin Dorfman says:

        “But the public isn’t a greedy business owner. You’re confused here.”
        “As if” no boss in the public sector could be abusive, no public employee ever could be asked to work in unsafe working conditions… You don’t have to be in the private sector or even in a profit-making business for your employees to need representation.

  1. Michael
    Michael says:

    This political nonsense finally made me unsub from your blog.

    Attacks on unions by a politician funded by the Koch brothers, who made a crisis up (by new spending *creating* a deficit since taking office), and who are being bussed in via the Tea Party, who’s massively funded by the Koch brothers.

    Nothing’s changing lest we fall asleep and let it.

  2. JC
    JC says:

    I don’t typically comment on posts, but I felt like I should point out how misplaced your advice is.
    While I personally agree that unions currently wield far too much power, the fight at the Capitol is not Unions vs. everyone else. It’s the Governor versus Unions, because he is taking out budget shortfalls on them. Further, he is doing it by union busting, which means he is taking away their benefits and cutting their pay while destroying their First Amendment right to assemble (and subsequently, to bargain as a group).

    Wisconsin is coming up on massive budget deficits in the next two years, and government workers should rightly take SOME of the weight. They have offered to do so. They’ve shown themselves willing to compromise, as long as the governor does not bust their union. CONVERSELY, the Governor gave nice corporate tax breaks to his rich friends, while he is attempting to place austerity measurements on everyone else. Do you see the hypocrisy there? I do. The rich should take a fair share of the burden when it comes to closing Wisconsin’s budget shortfalls, not the middle and lower classes only.

    The people at the Capitol are protesting a government that doesn’t weigh all people equally, but favors those with money over those without. The people at the Capitol are protesting against a government which has shown itself to be unjust. They are NOT protesting the status quo, but protesting for real, measurable and fair change.

    • Kathy
      Kathy says:

      The budget shortfalls are due to tax cuts to corporations.

      And the attack on unions is an attack on the money that their PACs contribute to campaigns. Unions are the only major players on the side of the Democrats in elections, and if these Republican governors can bust the unions, they can essentially destroy the Democratic party.

      Dwight Eisenhower said: “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

      • GE Milelr
        GE Milelr says:

        Penelope – you’re way off track with this one. You don’t understand the inner workings of politics. Kathy is right, without unions, there are no financial backers of democrats. This is not an attack on unions, it’s an attack on democrats by killing their only financial backers.

        Our politicians are bought and sold through political advertising. With lobbies and corporate interests on the side of republicans, they have the lion-share of political ad dollars on their side. AD DOLLARS WIN ELECTIONS.

        This is an attack on working people of all types. Most states are no longer giving pensions or extended health care to their employees. These budget shortfalls are legacy issues and with corporate tax rates lower than what they used to be, states are having trouble keeping up with the legacy costs. Corporate profits are at an all-time high – it’s not time to take it out on public sector workers, who make far less than their private sector counterparts.

        Opinions like yours sound exactly like what the corporate-backed Republican media puppets wants you to believe.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        If the democrats cannot win elections without union backing, then the democrats need a new platform. Politicians that speak to new needs of a new economy and a new demography will be the politicians who deserve to win. Politicians that cannot win without unions probably should not be winning anyway.

        The Republicans are in the process of recallibrating their party. Maybe its time for the Democrats to do that as well.


    • NetWriterM
      NetWriterM says:

      Another Amen.

      The lack of empathy in this post is stunning. Did you not see CBS 60 Minutes on Sunday? About the folks in a small Alabama town who no longer receive pensions despite state law requiring cities to do so?

      A good union prevents that.

      A society and democracy that is about the people first prevents that.

      What is the point of profit or society if it doesn’t serve the people?

      And you are missing the point, there’s no need to kill the union to do what the Governor wants to do; cut wages and save money. So why is he doing it?

      It shouldn’t be ‘oh well we are out of money, we’re killing the union, too bad so sad for you’ it should be ‘how do we take care of each other with limited resources?’

      Hint: Not by lining your rich friends’ pockets.

      These are hard times. I hope society’s character is strong enough to do the right thing. That mayor in Alabama is still collecting a salary, I wonder how he justifies it given that his actions are killing people?

      I know I could never take blood money.

      I am really surprised and disheartened at your anti people stance.


    • JC
      JC says:

      I wanted to clarify a couple things, so that there is no confusion. First, the Unions vs. Governor is entirely political maneuvering. Second, the economy in WI and elsewhere does not hinge on government workers and what their jobs are. Granted, some positions are overpaid, but many are underpaid relative to private sector employment, which is typically made up for by great benefits.

      The post everyone is complaining about misconstrues the protests at the Capitol as purely economic; that is, the workers don’t want to lose their jobs because they are maladapted to change. Not so, this is a political problem, not an economic one. The governor is attempted to union bust.

      To the recent response about Democrats needed to market better if they want to win, since they shouldn’t rely on Unions only for support: the whole discussion is specious. Obviously Democrats receive support from many unions, inner city residents, and pretty much the entire academic scene. Whereas Republicans get much of the uber rich people, and the uneducated (or religious) white people. Marketing works differently in different groups. The Republicans ARE changing their image: from one of a group of screw-ups to one who touts fiscal and moral conservatism with Constitutional backing. That’s the image they want to cultivate, though that has nothing to do with what they actually are doing (pro-corporate, anti-citizen legislation). Make sure you can decouple their claimed image from what they actually do.

  3. Dan Strayer
    Dan Strayer says:

    I usually agree with what you post, but the above comments pretty much reflect what I was going to write.

  4. dan mangan
    dan mangan says:


    You will get a lot of flack for your comments from the privileged class of government workers, but thank you for your insightful take on the issue. Your analysis refreshes my soul after reading Paul Krugman, et al.


    • Chris M.
      Chris M. says:


      And also with what Penelope said here:

      “Politicians that cannot win without unions probably should not be winning anyway.”

      (Extremely well said in my opinion.)

      • davednh
        davednh says:

        I agree – this probably has a foundation of trying to cut the money to Dems from Unions (it always frustrated me as a teacher that the union took my dues and then contributed it without my consent). So, I would support stopping this – however, the flip side is that you have to stop corporation contributions as well. It would be unfair to stop one without stopping the other.

  5. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Great post, Penelope. But forget demographics – that’s not the real reason why unions and entitlements aren’t relevant anymore.

    The industrial era is over, and unions are (were?) part of the industrial era. There are no lifetime jobs anymore, no factories, no corporations that last forever. While I love all that unions accomplished in the 20th century, their role doesn’t make sense today.

    The oil economy is also over. Oil will reach $200/barrel very soon. The entire economy worldwide will have to shift drastically to reinvent itself as that happens. Everything’s going to change.

    So we’re in the transition to a post-industrial, post-oil economy, and we don’t know what it’s going to be like. We have to loosen things up, let things move where they need to go. Otherwise, we’re chained to an old economy.

    I feel sorry for the teachers being first under fire. The other unions will follow. So will farm subsidies, quotas, marketing boards, etc.

    So much of what has been familiar is now gone. We have to face that and move on.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Great point about post-oil, Nancy. It’s a new way of looking at things. The shift will be huge.

      One thing I could not fit into the post, but really struck me, is that my brother explained that the states are in way more debt than they are actually reporting. He says states are allowed to use different accounting principles for pension plans than companies do. But if you apply the same logic and accounting principles to states that you do to companies then roughly speaking, the states are $3 – €“ 6 trillion short in their pensions instead of what they acknowledge, which is a shortage of $1 trillion.

      It just really drives home to me that the changes are going to be huge. Way bigger than what we are talking about here, with unions.


  6. Shaun
    Shaun says:

    “6. Change is exciting. It opens new doors.
    Look at Ian's”

    Yes, quit your job and you too could be delivering pizzas a week later

      • Irving Podolsky
        Irving Podolsky says:

        This isn’t the only error you came up with. Your entire premise for this essay is just plain wrong. Penelope, you are sadly way out of touch with the real world. And I couldn’t begin to enlighten you about the economic greed and political underpinnings of what is breaking down our way of life, our spirits, our sense of optimism, confidence and hope. Thankfully some of your responders are trying to do that with details. But I’ll take the time to say this: there are NOT enough jobs in this country. And even if there were, the American education system is so broken, we wouldn’t have enough hi-tech workers to fill those positions. And even we DID have an educated population, our labor force wouldn’t be cheap enough to compete with China and India. But this is not a problem of unions or benefits. (Check out Germany.) This is result of big business greed, the concentration of wealth at the top and the dismantling of the middle class, all highly complex issues, which you unfortunately do not understand. I can’t believe you are part of the delusional group that is protesting its own life support. I am so surprised about this.


      • Mike
        Mike says:


        Penelope is right and you are wrong. Nobody cares about your problems or your whining. Deal with it. Learn how to compete in the new global marketplace, or fall by the wayside.

      • Spencer Tipping
        Spencer Tipping says:

        Irving, “there are not enough jobs” is equivalent to saying “nobody is willing to pay me what I want to charge”, which implies that “I am not capable enough to be as useful as the money I want.” The worker holds all the power — provide utility, get paid for it. Corporations exist only as a means to facilitate this.

        Why unions are unnecessary: Suppose you are unhappy with your job. You always have the freedom to leave (in today’s world, not necessarily in the past). And once you’ve left, you can apply elsewhere to receive adequate compensation/benefits. Suppose you look everywhere and can’t find a decent job. You could conclude that corporations are all looking to underpay you, but statistically that is unlikely. More likely is that you’re just not worth what you’re asking for, as is often the case when the economy is rapidly changing.

        Incidentally, I’m a high-tech worker who was homeschooled until I was 16, dropped out of college, almost never reads books, and have more work than I can do. We have Wikipedia — why do we even need educational institutions anymore?

  7. Deborah
    Deborah says:

    Stick to what you know. Your ignorance of the deeper issues in Wisconsin is breathtaking.

    JC has it right.

  8. Stray__Cat
    Stray__Cat says:

    While I agree on the general view, I strongly disagree on the matter of the unions being useless in modern working environment.

    Unions are necessary to make sure that teachers are fired only upon proven incompetency and not because they’re old, high paid, or just in unfriendly terms to some director.

    Unions are necessary to help those workers who do not have anything more valuable than their arms to sell on the job market, to smoothly transition from a job to another.

    Unions are necessary for those workers who cannot identify the new opportunities because they do not have the culture and the knowledge to do so.

    • Salty
      Salty says:

      So are you saying that unions are necessary to protect those who lack knowledge and culture because they were taught by those incompetent teachers unions are also protecting?

      • Stray__Cat
        Stray__Cat says:

        They have nothing to sell because they grew up where criminality was the norm. They have nothing to sell because they are 3rd world emigrants who did not get a possibility. They’ve nothing to sell because they have health issues or they have slight mental retard etc.

        I’m not thinking to myself, I’m thinking to the weaker.

      • Stray__Cat
        Stray__Cat says:

        I’m talking unions in general, not this specific case. Penelope says that unions are a remnant of the past. I do not agree, they have the function I described above: guarantee fair rules for everyone and help those who are not strong enough to protect themselves.

      • Lisa
        Lisa says:

        Wow — is Ayn Rand writing from the grave here?

        You really must acknowledge that there are systemic issues at work here, partly related to the tax code, that give management an outsize power and that reduce worker rights to a small, bad place. It’s not simply a matter of “be really good at what you do and someone will pay you,” because without unions (which all middle class workers benefit from, whether or not they are unionized) you will be paid less and less. No one is irreplaceable, and there WILL be someone just as talented AND willing to work for less than you. This is called “The Race to the Bottom.” First one there is a rotten egg.

        I love the protest sign, “United We Bargain, Divided We Beg,” because that’s where we’re headed. See you on the fiefdom, fellow serfs.

  9. LKeenan
    LKeenan says:


    Your comments will not be popular, but many of us out here are thinking the same thing and are afraid to say so to our liberal friends. Something’s broken and it needs fixing.

    • Annemarie Donnelly
      Annemarie Donnelly says:

      Personally, I am just about as liberal as they come, but I echo the thought that unions are simply not relevant anymore. It’s amazing to see the ire this post has wrought with the unionites….democrats and liberals will only survive is they accept the changing world and the changing needs (or elimination of) collective bargaining.

  10. WorstProfEver
    WorstProfEver says:

    I agree, inasmuch as I think teaching is a terrible career choice. It’s high-stress, low pay, and I actively warn people away from it because it feeds on youthful idealism and doesn’t reward actual excellence.

    So, if everybody listens, leaves, and gets non-teaching jobs, problem solved — right?

  11. Judy
    Judy says:

    I am also stopping my subscription to your emails. If this is your real belief, you lack heart. You need to get down and dirty, rub elbows with the working class, and study the history of unions in America. It was not easy winning those rights! There will always be a class of people wanting to makes slaves of the rest of us.

      • Elle
        Elle says:

        Teachers also do not work the entire year, whereas the others you compare them to likely do. Are you saying that teachers should be paid as much as everyone else and STILL take 2 months off? Where do I sign??

      • Rob
        Rob says:

        Elle seems to have completely fallen off the point. It’s fine if you don’t think a teacher who has two months off but in exchange has to deal with, oh 1st-thru-12th graders five days a week, is worth $48k a year.

        Just as long as you understand that you get what you pay for… and if you don’t really feel like education is worth it to you, you might as well go ahead and say it. Whether teachers are unionized or not.

      • Lisa
        Lisa says:

        Everyone not in the top 1% is working class in this country. Do you live off what you earn, not counting dividends? You’re working class.

        The reason union-busting and other anti-labor tactics work is because so many Americans think they’re living their aspirations rather than their actual lives. The wealth disparity in this country is the greatest it’s ever been, and that includes the Gilded Age. That’s not the free market, that’s tax policy purposely skewed to serve the rich.

  12. Amy
    Amy says:

    Hi Penelope:

    I work in a non-union job. My family also owns a small business which was very hard-hit by the recession. We’ve gone through awful financial times these last years. I guess I am supposed to be angry at or jealous of union workers, but I’m not going to improve my own situation by wishing worse for others. I believe in a middle class, and no matter what you think of unions – people who have union jobs are middle class Americans.

    Union workers I know are family, and friends, and neighbors, not some evil group.

    Governmental entities have always had the chance to make government workers pay more for benefits or to have smaller salaries. Schools have always had the process to fire teachers. I see that these groups are blaming unions for jobs they simply didn’t do. It’s easy to blame the unions instead of doing their own jobs. Negotiate. Document, fire people. There are processes in place for that, but the entities just complain instead of working on them.

    I respect your right to say whatever you want, but I just think it’s wrong to take away peoples’ rights. It isn’t just about money or benefits, it’s about peoples’ right to join collectively in their work-place.

    I support workers in Wisconsin!


    • Brad
      Brad says:

      Struggling as in bankruptcy, parental abuse, broken marriage, evictions, inability to tell left from right, Asperger’s, discalculia, eating disorders, arrest warrants?

      If P is an expert on anything, it’s struggling.

  13. Roberta Warshaw
    Roberta Warshaw says:

    I am afraid I must disagree with you on this one. We abso-fucking-lutely need unions.

    They were put into place for a reason.

    It is like saying we no longer need childhood vaccines since most of those diseases have been eradicated.

    • Belinda Gomez
      Belinda Gomez says:

      So explain that comparison. Unions for teachers and the workers at the DMV? What does that have to do with measles and mumps?

    • Annie
      Annie says:

      There’s a lot of small and large companies that are not union that seem to get by pretty well….

  14. Robyn R.
    Robyn R. says:

    I was not aware of this story at all, being in the Great White North, so thank you for this update. While I don’t agree with the approach of targeting entire sectors and victimizing thousands of people’s livelihoods and lives to score political points, I do think that the economic reality is such that we can’t have it all – we can’t have protected jobs and great benefits, career advancement and challenge, access to services and commerce and all the comforts of a first world nation and expect “the government” to pay for it all with little cost to ourselves. 1) the government is funded by the people, and so the money for all those services and things like roads and infrastructure and police officers have to come from us and 2) the government is made up of people, who do what they can within the rules and limits of the system and yes, occasionally screw-up.

    Another point to consider is that today’s union is not the dedicated band of workers coming together for the betterment of their fellow worker. Today’s unions are corporations in and of themselves, with their own self-interest – their continued existence – motivating their work as much if not more than their interest in the workers. Not that Governor Walker’s approach to dealing with them is correct, but it is reasonable and perhaps timely to revisit the role and responsibility of unions in the workplace, and reframe it in the context of the new economic and social realities.

    • Lisa
      Lisa says:

      Huh? Government is *us*. We pay for it. We can choose to use our collective treasure to wage wars or take care of people, which includes educating them, pulling them from burning buildings, finding cures for what ails them, and reaching out a helping hand when they’ve fallen. However we choose to spend it, we should choose to treat the people who carry out these important works with compassion and fairness. So much depends on them — including private industry.

  15. Jeff Lovingood
    Jeff Lovingood says:

    Absolutely L-O-V-E this post!

    America was built through innovation and hard work. Sadly, union’s cannot provide either. Technology and global economic growth, along with the unwillingness of unions to adapt, have made unions a negative force.

    And, I love the comment about people still looking for jobs not being good at self-promotion. What makes me an entrepreneur is the thought that if I’m good enough for an employer to hire and pay me, then I’m good enough to have the customer pay me instead of the company!

    • Josh
      Josh says:

      Completely agree!

      Long time reader and I have to say the reactions are very interesting in calling unions a right.

  16. Brad
    Brad says:

    I’ve been reading you for years, and I believe this is the first time you’ve ever sided with the right.

    Just noting the occasion.

  17. bigcarrot
    bigcarrot says:

    A commenter in one of the other blogs I read wondered out loud about the effect of public employment on small business growth in the same location. He commented that where he lives many of the bars are owned by people married to civil servants. It certainly makes sense that, in the US, if your spouse has a “job for life” with gold plated health insurance etc you would have more scope to take a risk and start a coffee shop or a daycare or whatever.

    Personally I think we’re better off figuring out how we in our department/company/profession/town/etc can get some of what public servants have, in terms of better benefits and some form of job security etc, than stamping our little feet and calling ’em lucky, or lazy, or whining that they have toooo muuuuuch. Apparently I’m in the minority there which baffles me.

  18. Danielle
    Danielle says:

    I disagree about unions. I work for the biggest HMO in California, one of the healthcare models that is being looked to by the current administration for quality and efficiency (because we are the service provider and the insurance company at the same time). I am a neuropsychologist. A few years ago, the psychologists petitioned to join one of the very many unions that exist in the healthcare field, because they were tired of not getting raises. I, very unexpectedly, became a member of a union when I took the job 3 years ago. I have FREE health insurance for my whole family, will have health insurance for life if I work there for 15 years (which will be very easy to do, no changing job or career every 5 years here), I have a 401K AND a protected pension. My salary has gone up 6% a year for the last two years, and we are scheduled to have a 15% raise over the next two years. I have nothing but good things to say about the union I am in. Then again, I’m in one of the few industries that has continued to grow during the recession.
    My colleagues who are in private practice have seen their reimbursements go way down in this era of managed care…I have a fully benefited job with a salary, and I am so happy I didn’t follow the path of what looked like “easy money” just a few years ago.

    • Rachel
      Rachel says:

      They did the same thing for the American car companies. That turned out great didn’t it. Benefits are great until you have to cut half the workforce to maintain them.

    • mysticaltyger
      mysticaltyger says:

      This is how it always stsrts out the first few years. Look down the line a decade or two and the HMO you work for will be on the verge of bankruptcy and the unions will be stubbornly unwilling to make any concessions. The US already blows more money on health care than any other country with poor results, so I don’t think you’ll have to wait 20 (maybe not even 10) years to see this play out.

  19. jim
    jim says:

    So 100, 200 years ago, when most Americans farmed, it was important to figure out what worked and do it doggedly, or your family would starve. So doing the same thing over and over was linked to security.

    I think this mentality leaked into the early industrial age. It was codified by the unions. Workers just had to show up every day and do the same thing over and over. Then after they’d put in their however many years, they retired and were taken care of until they died. See? Security.

    In both situations, work was less about the work and more about finding security.

    In this postindustrial age, this kind of security has become a myth. Societally, we probably won’t get over it until the last of the boomers are gone.

  20. .Bryan
    .Bryan says:

    There is always good and bad in most things. I don’t like the idea of allowing someone to trample on people’s rights. And I don’t much like a Mayor who is acting unfairly. But I also believe that Unions demands on some things are Unrealistic….Noone should have say over tenure concerning their jobs. It’s not realistic. Economic climates change and businesses need to be able to change their payrolls as needed to adapt to the changes. And of course, I agree with Penelope that not all people are right for the jobs they apply for and hence it’s good for both parties to be able to see this, and make changes that will help improve both situations. I think situations like that in Michigan need to be dealt with on an individual basis. The one thing that bothers me so far is the Mayors’ unwillingness to even talk. Using force is not a government’s right except to protect it’s country. This alone would make me side with Unions…in spite of the fact that many of them in my experience create more inefficient workplaces…

  21. csts
    csts says:

    Penelope, this is thought provoking (as usual!). This time, though, it doesn’t ring completely true to me. You may have confounded a few things here. I’m trying to separate the main arguments from the emotion and the politics.

    First, I think you’re spot on that all of us need to go where we can maximize our value in the work force. Change IS good, and people with confidence in themselves and their abilities to adapt can maximize their value in any environment. Furthermore, as you frequently describe compellingly, learning new things and succeeding in new circumstances are both inherently rewarding.

    Let me point out, though, that change is also frightening. When you want to advocate change this strongly, it can help to address that fear up front. People sometimes tune out when facing arguments, however valid, that they should do something they’re terrified of doing. Here I don’t suggest separating from the emotion: I’d fully incorporate it. First try meeting people in that very fear; acknowledge it, and provide support (here’s what people can do even when they’re afraid, here’s a way to begin, etc.), so that you help people lay their own groundwork for being convinced of something that shakes their very core.

    Second, I think you’re also spot on that the cost to the economy of people who don’t change when the world does is staggeringly high.
    It’s true that people who can’t change become a burden, not an asset. It’s also true that people who aren’t assets drag down our country and its economy. But telling this to the people doing the dragging requires special techniques to accomplish anything. No one wants to believe they themselves are the problem. Again, I think you need to deal with their emotion first before hoping to convince them.

    Finally, I think you may be carried away in your own emotion or political convictions when you talk about unions. Since when have unions been the ONLY source of the problem? What about people on Wall Street who have made (and continue to make) $$billions by selling the nation’s economy down the hole? (No, of course, I have no emotion either!)

    I’m not sure picking on unions is fair. Unions have always served a different purpose: to try to equalize the power between the employer and the employed. If individual employees have no voice, then employers are free to abuse them without penalty. Power wins. Fairness goes by the board. And this can happen in today’s economy, too; it’s not an unheard-of relic of the early industrial age.

    But if individual employees band together, they start to approximate the power of the employer. Thus both sides can engage in a legitimate give and take over their issues, without either taking an unfair advantage. Domination over the workforce is replaced by a true marketplace of willing buyer and willing seller, employee and employer both able to respect themselves and each other.

    Perhaps you’d do better by blaming employers. The presence of unions is not a free ticket to abandon management responsibility. Unions are supposed to equalize power, not reverse it. Why should management ever concede more than employees are actually worth? (Why should management get more than THEY’re worth, either??) If management doesn’t do its job of sanity-checking its own performance, unions are hardly to blame. If unions end up wielding an unfair advantage, who let them do so?

    I think the larger issue here is that we’d all love a free ride. Who wouldn’t want to be paid billions for showing up in a 3 piece suit, sitting in a fancy office, playing with a computer, and convincing colleagues that money drips from his or her mouth? Who says executives are worth thousands of times more than the laborers who produce the product? Why wouldn’t the working class want the giveaways that they see others receiving? The human animal is programmed to try to survive, and more resources to help ensure survival will always seem like a good thing at first blush. People would love to have their survival assured, so that they can pursue whatever they find interesting, without worrying about consequences. So more pay will always look good at least in some respects.

    If we’re going to insist on merit pay (what a extraordinary idea!), let’s do so across the board. And let’s not blame unions for trying to get for their members what executives have long secured for themselves. Let’s blame executives for giving anyone — government workers, CEOs, or Wall Street movers and shakers — more than they’re truly worth. And then, YES, let’s remind ourselves to keep moving to the upcoming sector where we can be worth more.

    • HighC
      HighC says:

      > Who says executives are worth thousands of times more than the laborers who produce the product?

      The (job) market does.

      Union workers invest in low risk job choices when they begin their career. The value of their earnings portfolio increases at a slow, constant pace.

      Executives invested in higher risk job choices when they began their career. The value of their earning portfolio increased at a much greater rate because they took greater risk.

      Don’t fool yourself, the ground is littered with would-be executives who took the risk and failed. For every high paid exec there are hundreds (or thousands) of exec wannabes.

      • csts
        csts says:

        Hmmm… does the presence of failed executive wannabes justify the high price paid to executives who do win a cushy spot?

        What are those executives providing in value to their companies today? Shouldn’t THAT be the criterion?

      • HighC
        HighC says:

        >does the presence of failed executive wannabes justify the high price paid to executives who do win a cushy spot?

        No. It shows that many who take risks don’t reap huge rewards.

        >What are those executives providing in value to their companies today? Shouldn’t THAT be the criterion?

        That is the point. That is the criterion. Perform or get out. The better you perform and the more value you bring to the organization the more you get paid, etc.

      • davednh
        davednh says:

        In general I agree but be careful with taking your argument to it’s logical conclusion – there are also many people in lower paid jobs who did not have the education, family structure or connections to get a chance at the higher paid jobs but who otherwise would be perfectly capable with training and experience. I would argue that the pay gap is *far* too wide.

    • Robert
      Robert says:

      High C,

      It’s not the job market that demands that CEO”s get paid 1000’s more than their workers (see other countries for their pay, see earlier decades, etc.). It is compensation boards, using other CEO’s pay as baselines, stocked with other CEO’s who don’t want to see their pay decreased, who are responsible for the exorbinant increase in CEO salaries.

      And do you have studies that show these 1000’s of failed executives who were broke? I’ll start off with an anecdote of Robert Nardelli…ran Home Depot and Chrysler into the ground. Still made hundreds of millions of dollars. Or Mr Countrywide himself…partially responsible for running our economy into the ground, still made out with hundreds of millions.

      There is no risk today for the modern CEO…they love Capitalism when the economy is running good, but show a few losses (hello Banking Industry) and they are all running for government support.

      Much like, ahem, farmers and acrigultural subsidies. Most are Republicans but they always want to keep the handouts coming!

      So HighC, please enter the real world…we are not a capitalistic country…unions are all that’s left protecting the middle class from the ones with no risk. If they go, the middle class goes…and we become just another banana republic. And all risk goes on the least able to accept it.

      Amazing how compassion has bled out of this so-called “Christian” country. I guess everyone forgot to read the New Testament on their Kindles or IPads…

  22. Matt Bingham
    Matt Bingham says:

    I don’t think the premise of this post is on unions and if they are or are not needed. I think the bigger ticket item on this post is the fact that we need to stop looking for jobs with long term benefits – that’s a brilliant statement P! It takes a lot of work to stay employed and keep navigating your career; and I tend to agree that the long term employment era is coming to an end. People in the private sector are not staying with companies for 30+ years anymore. Companies shift too fast and too often mainly because of the speed that information is available in my opinion. In the 70’s it took a long time for markets to shift…now, it doesn’t take long at all and we all have better avenues to make decisions now. I remember when I first started my career companies had one and five year plans…I don’t see five year plans anymore – that has to be a clue that shits happen fast and often.

  23. Nate
    Nate says:

    You utterly neglect to mention that this fight is primarily about future campaign donation potential, and not about $137 million (which is, ultimately a drop in the bucket, even for a state like Wisconsin).

    If these unions are broken, that will effectively end their ability to donate to political causes. Frankly, I’d prefer publicly-funded elections (with both union money and corporate money out of the equation altogether), but given that following the Citizens United decision 7 of 10 of the top donors to political campaigns were corporations and wealthy PACs, then I think the unions might just be the only major donors out there who are not giving money to Republican causes. Only 3 of the top 10 donors in 2010 were unions, and if the unions go bye-bye, then so too does any semblance of balance in political spending. Until we have serious campaign finance reform, I don’t see this changing.

    The bottom line is that if you see this as purely about the union’s ability to collectively bargain, you’re dead wrong.

  24. Chris Gonzalves
    Chris Gonzalves says:

    This is about Democrats and Republicans. End of story.

    The unions were, until 2008 (#1, #2, #3), the largest political fundraisers and contributors to political campaigns. Now, it is Karl Rove and the top conservative PACs (#1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #7, #8, #10). Once the unions are broken then there will essentially be no fund-raising parity. It will all be right wing.

    The Wisconsin governor is breaking up the unions as a broader conservative power play.

    My sister kept sending your messages Penelope but I can not fathom my being at all interested in your views anymore. Think bigger!

  25. Michael Fontaine
    Michael Fontaine says:

    Much of the problem here is that we want teachers to all be heroes (they aren’t) and we want Tea Party governors to all be villains (they are, but not all the time). It’s more complicated than a morality play, but no one wants to listen.

  26. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Unions are the voice of the middle class in the political process. Politics is a dirty nasty business where money yields power. So while I may not be 100% in favor of everything ever done by a union, I certainly am not willing to negate their importance in the political landscape.
    It is horribly flip to recommend people just find other jobs. When public teachers all leave for different jobs, what does public education look like? It is gone and people will be required to pay for education which means the wealthy will get a great education and the poor….well it’s their fault they are in that predicament anyway, right?
    Also, this “bill” allows the current administration to gut Medicaid without any discussion. That means that health benefits for the poor, disable, and elderly can disappear in the blink of an eye.
    This is such a poorly thought thru post that will get you hits as it is “hot”, but it is has no value or substance. Way to sell your soul yet again.

    • Burritos-in-union-speedos
      Burritos-in-union-speedos says:

      God forbid the government gt out of education. Then there would be competition, which unions and government despise. Good teahers could excel while others get fired. Just like almost all other jobs.

  27. davednh
    davednh says:

    Any “thin on depth of understanding of the issues” arguments are complete fair here (as many of P’s posts in recent months have shown) but there is an important point here that shouldn’t be ignored – specifically that there is no way to pay for some of the entitlements that have been committed to by governments as a result of historic contracts.
    While some may see this issue as being about union busting, I agree with the position that it is impossible to cut the state budget, shift responsibilities to the local municipalities but not give them the capabilities to adjust the size of their local governments. If union contracts are trying to protect jobs (understandable) that we can no longer afford then the only other choice is to leave the “size” of government basically alone but cut into the benefits of all.
    Whether at the federal, state or local level, we are collectively “facing the music” for decades of overspending and failure to reduce the size of government to force innovation in cost reductions. We are going to be here for a decade or more and eventually be faced with the diminishing stature of our nation’s economy on the world stage. We must seriously dig into the cost of healthcare and the “entitlement society” or we will not make it.
    With this in mind, I think the advice here to “get over it” is sound. So is the advice to figure out how to better market yourself.
    On a personal note, I left the teaching profession in 1985 because I saw how unions protected jobs and raised salaries of undeserving teachers while the dedicated hard-working teachers were not able to be rewarded because of guaranteed wage scales. What’s the effect? Some of the best teachers I know left the profession to move into private industry where they could be rewarded for their effort instead of being “protected”. I’ve been in teacher’s strikes and I’ve been in private industry and while they are well intentioned, I don’t think union leadership “gets it” that the world is changed and they have to change or perish. If they had been adjusting and making tough decisions over time, they would not be under attack today. (I expect to be flamed for my soapbox so apologies in advance to any I’ve offended)

  28. b
    b says:

    OOOF – I think you’ve just written what most people don’t want to hear.

    You’ve written a lot of things I’ve disagreed with, but I keep coming back. As a thoughtful person, I try to consider opinions differing than mine.

    I’m a new teacher who has been trying to get tenured over the last three years and am looking at getting cut for the second time. I love teaching. I love my students, but my heart breaks every time I get cut. I was just thinking – “Penelope Trunk would tell me it’s time to find a new career.”

    It’s tough to face, but the writing is on the wall.

    • davednh
      davednh says:

      This happened to me (and most non-tenured teachers) every year until I got tenure. But, I saw this as a problem with the union forcing the school board to take this step because if they didn’t and then got stuck needed to reduce forces later, they couldn’t do it because of union protection. If there was not the union “protection” of this issue, I would have never been pink-slipped (assuming your’s is the same color…b-)
      If you love teaching, I hope you stay with it. The students you impact do matter. I miss teaching still 25 years later – good luck. I hope this works out for you.

  29. Jason
    Jason says:

    I’ve read this article a few times and I am torn. First off, I’m a bit jaded on behalf of each side. My grandfather started and ran one of the largest unions for state workers in Wisconsin in the 50’s thru the 70’s from what was formerly a depression resolving program called the CCC. His life was union. Mine was not.

    First, I’ll start with your views on career change. You make is seem like it’s as easy as deciding what’s for lunch. Want something different for lunch the next day? Sure, pick something different. I was in structured finance and the Great Recession destroyed it. Problem being, I was good at what I did. I became a specialist. Specialists get paid, generalists don’t. Problem with being a specialist, is that when your area gets vaporized, so do you. If you need to earn a living, I would challenge you to see just how far “plenty of jobs are out there” gets you.

    This is a buyers market for employers. It used to be that if they saw raw talent, they would invest in you and mold you into what they want to be. Now they can wait until that person that checks off 11 of their 10 required boxes for immediate hire are found. Try selecting that off your job of the day lunch menu career selection.

    I was told by more than one employer, even though I had 15 years experience in institutional finance, running trading desks, structured asset class, team management… “you’ve been laid off for 3 months (or 7 months, or a year) and things are different now. You’re too out of practice to be hired”. I used quote marks because I WAS TOLD THIS.

    *By the way, if I saw an employee looking for a new job three days after being hired, I would pay them two months salary and fire them on the spot*

    That being said, I started my own business because I knew that structured finance was dead… or at least dead to me.

    On to WI and unions. Walker is following a script. If it was about just the budget, he would do what all prudent management does. The would come to the table and negotiate. The state unions in WI gave up numerous days of unpaid furlough when they were approached in the last couple of years. Unions have stated that they would accept the monetary cuts Walker said was necessary. Walker’s moves are out of a nationalized play book that is being distributed in NJ, OH and many other states. You see the same talking points. You hear the same language. It’s not about the money here. If it was, he’d raise a $1B by raising taxes AND renegotiating contracts. He is not doing either.

    You seem to be successful and you are a good writer. So I challenge you to do this. Forget about your six figure book deal. Pretend writing is dead and is no longer available to you as a career. The world needs plenty of good teachers, so start there.

    Just don’t join the union.

    • Ed Kelly
      Ed Kelly says:

      I agree with you entirely, and you’ve said it with a grace and an elegance I cannot muster.

      This is one of the most disheartening and heartless blogs I’ve read. I have found many of Penelope’s blogs refreshing, humorous, unusually candid (e.g., her child abuse), some tasteless, but this blog is so far from even the shadow of the truth, I an unsub-ing.

      I taught school for over 35 years in public and private schools, public and private universities and believe me, being unionized offered at least a small measure of protection that private schools and universities would never in a million years give.

      Penelope, I thought better of you.

      Ed Kelly

      • rb
        rb says:

        Ed, I have an earnest question for you. I am a liberal and I try to support unions, but like other commenters, I regard unions as a necessary protection for manual laborers, not an educated work class.

        So when I see my own children’s teachers going on strike, primarily focused on these issues:

        1) fewer classroom hours and days with the children – more ‘in service’ days with no children

        2) no pay for performance. no possibility of being fired for poor performance.

        3) refusal to pay any health insurance premium (like the rest of us do)

        4) demanding pay increases when the rest of us are taking cuts

        It makes it hard for me to side with them. I have the same four year college degree, and I have never ever had a job with the protections teachers have. I can’t even imagine going in to my boss and demanding LESS time doing my job for MORE pay. I’d be looking for a new job by that afternoon.

        I feel like the union thing is so ingrained in teacher culture that it creates an artificial us vs. them culture that is not focused on excellence, but rather is focused on protecting the teachers, not the students.

        My kids have had some excellent teachers, and a couple of really, really bad ones. It absolutely kills me that the excellent teachers and the really, really bad ones have exactly the same career outlook in our district.

        I am interested to hear your thoughts. Really.

        By the way, I know this is not the exact issue in Wisconsin.

    • Vicky
      Vicky says:

      Thank you Jason!!!

      I too was unemployed (10 1/2 months) and no matter what I chose to pursue I was being ignored. The last few times I was unemployed, I could pick and choose my place of employment, all within days. Now, there wasn’t anything to take. I finally found something, but many, many other friends have not. These are all hardworking people with mortgages to pay. Should they all uproot their families, leave their loved ones and become vagabonds across the US? I don’t know P, most people do not make 150K per year.

  30. Jen B
    Jen B says:

    Penelope – I enjoy reading your blog and I typically don’t agree with your opinions, but this time, I 100% agree. Thanks for having some balls to put it out there.

  31. patrick winters
    patrick winters says:

    That may be the single most idiotic thing I have read about this bill.
    I have never been a fan of your inarticulate, self-aggrandizing ramblings, but this piece is so wrong-headed, ignorant and arrogant, that my jaw is on the floor.

  32. Burritos-in-union-speedos
    Burritos-in-union-speedos says:

    Great article P. Amazing what unions did for us in the past, but they have absolutely outworn their welcome.

    Government unions’ ability to collectively bargain is a complete scham because no one is there to represent the people. It is the union heads looking to get rich and the politicians looking to get elected. No representation of the people paying the taxes that pay thei benefits of the unions.

  33. beth
    beth says:

    I say bravo…at the end of the day, we must rely upon ourselves and we must be willing to adapt to change, which is inevitable.
    I don’t see this as political, I see it as common sense.
    I also don’t read your blog expecting to agree with everything you write. A different perspective allows me to consider alternatives and solutions. It’s also what this country is all about.

    • davednh
      davednh says:

      Agree complete! It’s only logical that in the future we will all be single person “companies”, probably organized as LLCs and working on multiple projects and for multiple companies virtually – depending on where/when our unique skills are needed.
      The people who figure this out earliest will be the big winners.

  34. Kristy
    Kristy says:

    My concern is if the great teachers “recognize the writing on the wall” and change careers, what happens then? I live in Texas and am lucky to have fantastic public schools for my children. We have great schools but are also going through a budget crisis and each year endure more cuts. I’d hate to see our strong teachers up and leave b/c they are afraid they will be cut during the next round of budget cuts. I don’t know what the answer is.

    In general, I’m not a huge supporter of unions. I am a believer in taking personal responsibility for your actions, your career, your choices, your lot in life, etc. Why should unions get special protections the rest of us don’t?


    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Great journalist are leaving newspapers because there are no jobs left. Great doctors are quitting medicine because they’re sick of the paperwork. It happens all the time that industries switch, people leave and new people, who like the new order, join.

      If we have a shortage of teachers, then the pay will go up. The red tape will go down. Maybe if we have a shortage of teachers we’ll have an expansion of Teach for America. Maybe if we have a shortage of teachers we’ll have to do something totally different. How bad can that be? The way things are now in public schools, almost everything needs vast improvement.


      • Meg Flynn
        Meg Flynn says:

        That’s what I’m waiting for. I’d love to teach, but the system doesn’t work and I don’t want to deal with it. So I’m either going to try and fix it form the outside, or pay attention and then contribute when the system works.

      • Rebecca
        Rebecca says:

        Teach For America has a horrible track record, just FYI. Although to the founder’s credit, she is trying to make it better and is very open and honest about it.

      • NetWriterM
        NetWriterM says:

        You think there are enough teachers? I know kindergarten classes of 60 with 1 teacher.

        That is not good.

        You need to do more research on this entire topic.


      • Vicky
        Vicky says:

        Please tell me a time when union busting was a good thing.

        It only benefits the rich.

        And believe me, there’s a shortage of teachers now, but no one is hiring the ones who are unemployed. My daughter was in a class of 20 4th graders and 20 5th graders all with one teacher. All to save a buck. No one could care less about what was good for the students. Except the parents, but oh with a good chunk of them unemployed, they were too busy looking for jobs to complain. And don’t talk to me about crappy homeschooling. That crap doesn’t pay the bills.

      • davednh
        davednh says:

        We have had a shortage of teachers for a long time. I taught in NJ and after 6 years experience and tenure I was making $22K/yr. Most teacher shortages stem from historically poor pay. So here we are 25 yrs later and while pay has gone up but I have seen nothing to indicate that red tape, education efficiencies, or teaching effectiveness has (or will) improved. Why? Because the unions want to resist any fundamental changes or allow fundamental new educational alternatives (real competition). I am a fan of Public Education but I also see it as held hostage to the Union that was originally there to improve pay/conditions/training but who now are trying too long to maintain the status quo.
        Also, as aside: to anyone who wants to get up on the “teachers have two months off” soapbox – shut up and go try teaching before you open your mouth. Any good teacher I ever knew was working through that so-called vacation on behalf of their students, summer programs, coaching, activities, or self-improvement.

      • Mark F
        Mark F says:

        I’m sorry but we do not live a pure Adam Smith economy.

        If there is a shortage of teachers, we consolidate classes and raise the number of students per classroom. Why? Because the interested consumer doesn’t make the choices. In a typical city, those most interested in the education of their children opt for private education. Many teachers choose lower pay and benefits to work for these schools because of discounts afforded to their children or choose to be in an environment that expresses their religious beliefs, or like working in an environment where the administration will summarily dismiss a child from the school (unless the child of a better connected partent). The private school increases capacity if it makes financial sense and fits the vision of the organization.

        Over on the public side, if there is a job boom in the region and the population increases, the school has no choice but accomodate each student that lives within its service area that doesn’t opt for private school or home school. For the most part that increase in demand is not addressed with increased revenue. While some government aid will increase most funding comes from property taxes that often do no rise immediately or in an economy such as the current, fall because property values are lower and landowners challenge assessments.

        If there are more teaching spots than applicants, schools have little ability to raise salaries to attract applicants. The school has no new income source to pay the increased salary.

        The public has to approve much of the funding of public schools. Those without children or school-age children have little incentive to raise their taxes to fund the system. Those with school age children in private school or home school have no incentive to vote to raise their taxes.

        The funding model is not equipped to handle the situation of meeting rising needs and certainly is not equipped to address shortages of teachers in key fields nor to meet increasing technology needs.

      • Ben
        Ben says:

        Penelope has a good point there in that, when industries become saturated with prospective employees, they adapt, and, in the end, it often results in higher pay and higher-quality employees. Overall, it results in improvement.
        Perhaps the “improvement” we’ll see in education is smaller class sizes but less-powerful unions and slightly lower pay for teachers. Would this be good or bad? I really can’t say, and I don’t think that many people here can.
        In the end, public education is a public good. Good public schools don’t directly create wealth. That’s why the people with power in this country don’t value them, and that’s what Walker’s attacks are about. If the people in power in this country cared about the public good, there are a whole lot of other ways that they could better take care of it. The dangerous thing about the original post is its reactionary, defeatist tone, and its implication that victims should not attempt to change the systems that damage them, but merely “adapt to a changing world.”

  35. Amy Nicholson
    Amy Nicholson says:

    Only 5 states do not have collective bargaining for educators and have deemed it illegal. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores are as follows: South Carolina -50th, North Carolina -49th, Georgia -48th, Texas -47th, Virginia -44th (By the way, Wisconsin is #2.) Scary-interesting!

  36. Elizabeth M.
    Elizabeth M. says:

    I agree completely, Penelope. I love your blog . . . the voice of reason! People are afraid and their reaction is to protest against change. Job security is a myth as is security of any kind; there are no guarantees in life. The people who except this adapt and overcome difficulties. The people who don’t get left behind. It’s a choice.

    And if I hear one more time about executives getting paid too much . . . I left a finance job back in August (yes, I quit my job in this economy) after receiving a promotion a few months before. One of the reasons I left was that with getting paid more comes a boatload of more work, more worries and more accountability. I don’t disagree at all with that formula; more money should equal all those things. It just wasn’t how I wanted to live my life. I wasn’t that high up but I worked with a lot of higher ups and one of the reasons they get paid so much is that they shoulder huge amounts of responsibility. If they don’t produce or if something goes wrong on their watch they take the heat, not the lower workers.

  37. wendy
    wendy says:

    You clearly come from a place of someone who starts up companies. So there is no surprise here. But, I suspect you are taking an opportunity to get hits on your blog on the back of this fight, which is in keeping with your spirit of self promotion. Gotta keep’em reading, right? Good thing here is that most folks have already formed their opinions on this and won’t make decisions based on this post.And what a GREAT topic (unions) to jack folks up – runs neck and neck with the abortion posts.

    • Julie
      Julie says:

      Exactly. It’s all about traffic, even at the expense of spreading misinformation and lost integrity. No wonder Penelope is unhappy.

      • Jennifer
        Jennifer says:

        I think she does believe the half-truths she writes are brilliant.
        At least she is not writing about Egypt.

  38. Brian King
    Brian King says:

    Penelope this fantastic. A harsh reality but an accurate one. I worked as a traditional therapist until about a year ago when I realized I was working with a disatrous (insurance based) business model that was doing little more than overworking me for insurance company handouts while I launched face first into impending burnout.

    So I reinvented my service offerings, I now work from home and work with clients nationwide over the Phone and Skype. IT CAN BE DONE.

    • ream
      ream says:

      does anyone else find it slightly hilarious that the traditionally conservative republicans are the ones advocating change, while the ‘progressives’, are against measures that would encourage workforce change? (entrepreneurship). Maybe its just language and labels that are laughable.

      • Jennifer
        Jennifer says:

        @ Rem: Conservatives want a backwards change. Progressives want (duh!) a forward change.
        It’s that easy :-)

      • davednh
        davednh says:

        It’s not surprising when you see who gets funded by which groups. Unfortunately, the “we need to spend more” solution will no longer work – welcome to the breaking point.

  39. Chris
    Chris says:

    Whew. I worked in a union environment for fifteen years. I experienced first hand how discouraging it is to work side by side with people who basically are on the public dole as employees. There is little accountability in the union environments that I have been exposed to. The performance of the lowest common denominator is the bar. Some union worker invariably slows the pace with their chronic complaints that somehow work as a great deflection from their sorry performance. Then most of the others jump on board and work isn’t getting done. My belief is that unions may be okay, but only if some real performance measurements are put in place. There should be some expectation of performance for the pensions, paid holidays, and automatic raises etc.

    • davednh
      davednh says:

      Completely agree – this is the fundamental issue that drove me out of teaching in 1985. It wasn’t the low pay but instead it was the fact that I saw teachers who left early, didn’t care but got paid more because they had been there longer. I couldn’t turn into that kind of teacher so I left the profession. If the union had been more aggressive a couple of decades ago about getting rid of bad teachers and finding a way to embrace performance-based pay more teachers (like me and many others) would still be there and it would not be necessary to keep pushing the pay scale up in order to attract teachers to fill the shortages.

  40. fdx
    fdx says:

    I can’t comment on the situation in Wisconsin and fully agree that careers and expectations must change, but unions are not just unions of public workers or industrial workers. Their sole purpose is not to protect individual jobs and benefits over the long-term. They can provide vital support beyond collective bargaining – for things such as re-training and protection for individuals within specific career paths when faced with industry change, unjust dismissals, prosecutions that could set a precedent for employees in that industry (journalism for instance), etc. I see unions very much having a value in the future, but they do need reform (at least where I live).

  41. Jessica
    Jessica says:


    You really just don’t understand. These people have FAMILIES! They have health care, which if the Mayor dissolves the union, the government and schools would stop paying for! People would DIE… My husband is a government worker and without the unions to stabilize the shaky ground that our county was on, he would have lost his job and health care, and because I have AML (leukemia) I would have DIED! Because even if he found another job, NO health care system would cover a pre-existing condition… that means NO chemo, NO life saving stem cell bone marrow transplant, NO meds to keep me healthy and stay in remission!

    So yeah thanks, I see how you REALLY care about people other than yourself and your inner circle of people… care about someone else besides yourself once and a while. It might make you feel like a human being!

    • Mike
      Mike says:

      Look, Jessica, nobody cares about you or your problems. Deal with it. Either pull yourself up by your bootstraps, or fall by the wayside. But don’t expect the rest of us to pay for it in perpetuity.

      • NetWriterM
        NetWriterM says:


        Someday you will be sick. Really sick. Illness comes for us all.

        I hope you are treated exactly the way you seem to treat others.

        May your pension be gone when you need it. Your insurance canceled on the cusp of life saving surgery. May your government destroy your livelihood in the name of ‘fiscal responsibility’.


      • Mike
        Mike says:


        I have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. I have had skin cancer (basil cell carcinoma) and will probably have a reoccurrence. My daughter had autism. My son was a micro preemie, born at 28 weeks gestation. So what’s your point? Unlike you, Jessica, and other mealy mouthed liberals, I DEAL WITH IT rather than waste everybody’s time with incessant whining and asking everybody for a handout.

      • Mark
        Mark says:

        Mike you are still benefiting from living in a system. You drive on federal highways, you don’t do your own cancer research, you are being paid for as well, whether you realize it or not, and you are actually more like the people you are taking shots at, than you are different from them.

    • Vicky
      Vicky says:

      Yes Jessica, people would die.

      I was unemployed, but could not get health care. My kids could (from the state), but as my father in law said, they don’t need it you do!

  42. Kim
    Kim says:

    There’s probably a useful conversation to be had on how unions could/should function in a changing economy with changing priorities, but this post — with you being in Wisconsin no less — is stunningly misinformed and narrow minded.

  43. Terell
    Terell says:

    Oh, Penelope. I love you so dearly, but you are so clearly one who has not had the experience of struggle. I believe that at least 3 years of serious hardship should be a pre-requisite for anyone considering a move into a place of power over others. Unfortunately, our Mayor Bloomberg over here does not fit this bill.

    Your exclamation that young people are thrilled about this economy and their career opportunities are mis-founded. I’m guessing that you collected your data solely from college graduates from well-to-do families who were given every drop of monetary assistance to take on brutal unpaid internships that their little privileged hearts desired. I’m also guessing that you missed the statistic that there are 4 people for every one job available and that most companies have accustomed themselves to having a smaller workforce semi-permanently.

    I happen to bye a young person who isn’t excited about this economy and has had to struggle immensely since graduating despite having a stellar resume and work experience. Please cast your net wider (as in, to the margins of society that have gotten bigger and bigger each year) when collecting data.

    • Spencer Tipping
      Spencer Tipping says:

      Terell, n = 1, but I’m a young person who is quite excited about even the current supposedly horrible economy. No connections, inherited money, internships of any kind, college degree (!). I worked during college (and then dropped out) making barely above Missouri minimum wage, which was $5.15/hr at the time.

      None of that matters of course. The reason I’m successful in my career is that I recognize one invariant of the free market: Employers worth working for will always hire the most useful person. So I’ve worked hard to become that useful person, and so far done okay.

      So perhaps Penelope did collect her data solely from rich, elite, highly-connected college graduates, but had I been thrown into the mix her conclusions wouldn’t be any different :)

      BTW, there’s no way there are so few jobs. McDonald’s and Wal-Mart have been hiring for ages.

    • Pamzella
      Pamzella says:

      15 years out of college, 6 job changes later, only one of them by choice… nearly 90 post-BA units and unemployable… I’m not optimistic about anything financial, employment, retirement, or healthwise. I graduated from college a pragmatist, but now I’m a full-on pessimist. I’m about to become a 99er.

  44. Ron C.
    Ron C. says:

    I love it when self-anointed experts get it all wrong.
    Only 5 states do not have collective bargaining for educators and have deemed it illegal. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores are as follows: South Carolina -50th, North Carolina -49th, Georgia -48th, Texas -47th, Virginia -44th (By the way, Wisconsin is #2.) For the best explanation of what’s really behind the motives of this and similar moves to drag down the middle class, read this:

      • Pen
        Pen says:

        I’m really sorry about the typo in your name in my comment just above. I saw it at the last second and then couldn’t stop the post from going through.

        If you are interested to know more about the numbers and how they were arrived at, there is some good data in the link I posted between your post and the prior one. It sheds some light on how the other figures were arrived at and what some better-calculated figures are (even tho’ they don’t make as good a “sound bite”).

  45. BradyDale
    BradyDale says:

    Please close this stupid site and shut up forever, you awful, awful link chaser.

    The worst part about this incredibly stupid piece is this: looking at you, I know you’re middle class. If you are middle class, somewhere in your family’s past, there was a Union member. Your family would never have stopped being middle class if not for the unions. Maybe he worked a factory. Maybe he worked the Government. Maybe your mom was a seamstress. I don’t know…

    but there was a Union member in there. And his union brothers and sisters won him enough money that maybe his kid went to a trade school, and that kid’s kid went to college and now you’ve gone to college and maybe it’s enough generations back that your family has forgotten the memory of it.

    But that’s how it worked here.

    I used to live in Madison. It wouldn’t be the cushy little feelgood place it is if people hadn’t fought so hard to quit being screwed out of real wages.

    Unions did that.

    See how more and more people are getting screwed all over this country?
    And unions are gone.

    Correlated? Probably. Maybe even causal. Get a clue. Shut up. Stay home. Quit talking. You’re awful.

Newer Comments »

Comments are closed.