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
« Older CommentsNewer Comments »
  1. Debbie Botham
    Debbie Botham says:

    Finally a voice of reason. I have worked in public schools, in print media, and in the private sector for a non-union shop. The work of our trades was sabotaged by union employees frequently and intimidation and threats of violence not uncommon.

    Your comments are spot on. It’s always struck me as curious that one chooses a profession, knowing the hours and pay, and then protests vehemently when that’s exactly what they get.

    It’s akin to the couple in my state who bought a house within spitting distance of a pig farm and then tried to have the pig farm shut down because it smells.

    Thanks for having the guts to post them.

    • Aurian
      Aurian says:

      “It’s always struck me as curious that one chooses a profession, knowing the hours and pay, and then protests vehemently when that’s exactly what they get.”

      Well said, Debbie.

      After working briefly for a (non-govt) union where extra effort was ignored and seniority was the trump card for opportunities and pay, I chose my profession specifically so that my skills could adapt to the changing employment landscape.

      While I believe that some unions are effective at providing protection for their employees, I also believe that the entitled, corporation-like entities described in many of the comments above are the norm. A good, performance-based regime seems to be the only way to produce the results and work environment that are advantageous (for both the public consumers and the other company employees).

    • Pen
      Pen says:

      That seems like kind of a broad brush, Cathy. I can see some less-than-wonderful posts coming from both sides. And also some well-reasoned, thoughtful ones.

  2. Caitlin McCabe
    Caitlin McCabe says:

    Bravo for this Penelope. As a business owner that pays 100% of my benefits, 100% of my 401K, and gets fired if I under-perform I can barely comprehend a world where this isn’t the norm.
    Things are changing, unions aren’t needed, couldn’t have said it better.
    Also, kudos to Ian’s and their ingenuity!

    • BradyDale
      BradyDale says:

      No surprise that as a boss you don’t think Unions are needed.

      People are still getting screwed, all the time. Union workers don’t get screwed, because they don’t have unions.

      People with skills are somewhat less likely to get screwed, because they are hard to replace, but if there were no labor movement in this country you can be sure they would be screwed.

      Anyone who thinks the screwing of workers is over, is a fool.

      Anyone who thinks it wouldn’t get vastly worse, again, if Labor completely disappeared, is a fool.

      Anyone who thinks that they don’t benefit from unions, even if they aren’t in one, is a fool.

      Every worker should be in a Union. If they have a good boss, the Union won’t have to do much, but someday managment will change and then they will

      And anyone who thinks that workers are kept to the deal they strike with the boss when they are hired (especially without the threat of collective action), is a big, big fool.

  3. Shane
    Shane says:

    Think things through a little here, Penelope. It seems to me that the events in Madison and your governor and his supports prove res ipsa loquitur that unions are necessary. That comment is glib and short-sighted. It seems to me that someone offering advice on “work and life” would understand that.

    But on a different level — I apologize now, I don’t know you — I find this post offensive. I am not a union memember and I am not a public worker, however it upsets me that public workers get so little respect in our country today. Photos of tea party counter-protesters in Madison are frequently offensive and vile…and you have elected leaders thanking them for the support they bring. Come on! What is wrong with a career in public service? What kind of skill and talent do we think will be drawn to public jobs when so-called leaders are vilifying people in those jobs today?

    I suggest a LITTLE more thought and study about unions and labor markets before blithefully advice people to dump unions and become entrepreneurs…or whatever it is you suggest. Unions are not about fighting child labor today…well, sometimes they are (do you know who picked your lettuce?)…but they are about fighting injustice and ignorance, and it appears that we still have a fair amount of that in our country.

  4. James Fowlkes
    James Fowlkes says:

    All of you pro-union commenters above, keep drinking the Kool-Aid. Remember Jim Jones? Your brainwashing is scary. Unions are no longer needed. This is 100% simple fact. There is no need for them anymore other than keeping the poorest performing members employed. End of story.

  5. sophie
    sophie says:

    Great topic to bring on conversation and debate. As a Wisconsinite, I’ll agree this is the only thing on our mind these days.

    No matter what your viewpoint is, I do want to share this…I spent a day last week at the capitol and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so proud to be an American as that day. The democratic system we have is truly a blessed thing. That we should all be able to assemble and voice our opinion, no matter what it is, is such a gift.

    I also was SO proud of us as human beings. These are massive crowds of people – tens of thousands of people. Everyone has been so nice to each other, so peaceful even when Walker supporters showed up. When I was there the square was amazingly clean in spite of the crowds. People’s attitudes were also clean – I saw one, only one, inappropriate sign that showed a middle finger with Walker’s face over it. I saw no vulgarity. There were so many children there with their parents – it was truly a family affair.

    That said, I also have an opinion on the unions.

    I agree the workforce is changing. The number of union members is actually declining, not because of lack of support but because there just aren’t as many people working the skilled trades.

    However, there is a great demand for such labor. Tool & die, machinists, welders, etc – these are all jobs we still require but not enough young people are filling the need as baby boomers retire. Here’s a Michigan business that, in spite of the state’s extremely poor economy, can’t find needed employees: I’ve seen similar ads in Wisconsin as well.

    Secondly, things go in ebbs and flows. True, unions may not be needed in the same way now. And we may even dissolve them. But there will always be the ideal of profit over people and working conditions, no matter what the job, will once again become unfair. Someday a joining together to object will again have to occur.

  6. JoyfulA
    JoyfulA says:

    The author apparently hasn’t noticed that a bill has been introduced in the Missouri state legislature to eliminate child labor laws.

  7. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    When employees at a private company unionize, they run the risk that they will ask for too much and kill their own golden goose. Regardless of what they want, they won’t get ANYTHING if the company they work for goes out of business. The laws of supply and demand are still allowed to work.

    When government employees unionize, what kind of ceiling is there when they ask for too much? The state either goes into debt, makes cuts elsewhere in the budget, or gives the taxpayers the shaft. This is precisely what everyone is sick of, and why they elected these people in Wisconsin.

    I don’t believe government workers should even be allowed to unionize, and my only gripe with the bill is that it only targets teachers and doesn’t go after ALL government employees. The protesters make me sick. What a bunch of entitlement-minded, self-important deadbeats, who have such a weak case to stand on, they have to bus in 70,000 other deadbeats from outside their state to help them out.

  8. justamouse
    justamouse says:

    I just went from loving you, to flat out adoring you.

    I cannot stand unions and I think they need to go the way of the dinosaur, as they also are. They are crippling those of us on the other side of the fence who are middle class and paying them, while we go without ourselves so they can have.

  9. Angela
    Angela says:

    How glib of you to liken teachers and health care workers to a pizza joint. And ironic that both of your children, with their premature birth(s) and special learning needs, benefit from the extra measure these very employees give. These are not fields in which employees can expect a year end bonus or compensation if the company does well: very unlike your lifestyle as you try to figure out the next scam to continue your six figure income that you are always bragging about.

    Think about the public services you use (and use and use) and think about if these employees deserve the protection a union offers.

    And don’t embarrass yourself by likening their work to serving pizzas.

  10. Jiggs
    Jiggs says:

    In other news, racism and sexism have also been solved. Thank god we live in this utopia where we’re all treated fairly.

  11. John Auston
    John Auston says:

    I’m starting to think that, unknown to me, ‘adjectives’ have somehow become so valuable that people, especially those on the Left, have begun hoarding them.

    I mean, what else explains their constant use of the general term ‘collective bargaining’, when what they mean is “public sector collective bargaining”. Those two necessary adjectives make all the difference in the discussion.

    For a Union is not appropriate in all times and places. We all know that, don’t we? Private sector? Absolutely. Go for it. But how about in the Military? Should we have Officers versus unionized soldiers? I don’t think so. How about the Public sector? Well, perhaps somewhere in between those two extremes….
    THAT is the debate. How MUCH of a Union is appropriate for the Public Sector. None? Just wages? Everything? It is a legitimate debate. It is NOT a slam dunk for one side, like both sides probably think. A Union does not = a Union, no matter WHERE it is. It MATTERS where it is.

    So when you say “collective bargaining”, you need to use adjectives to indicate WHERE the collective bargaining is being asked for. Private sector collective bargaining, military services collective bargaining, public sector collective bargaining — all similar, but crucially different things.

    One can’t just say “I’m for collective bargaining”. It is too general a term.

    As Socrates said, “If you would discourse with me, first define your terms.” Good advice then, even more so, now.

  12. Russ
    Russ says:

    First, I could not agree with this post more. This post has renewed my interest in your blog.

    Second, cutting the unions down to size by a little bit does not mean there will be no large organizations to donate political money to Democratic candidates.

    This is 2011. If your causes speak to people then you can always get them to donate money. (Honestly they might have more to donate if they did not have to also pay their union bosses through dues.)

  13. mmsilva
    mmsilva says:

    Nothing like starting a fire with a bunch of garbage- don't you know that such a fire just smokes and never finishes. So— in agreement with others who said this is far too complicated for cute quips and catchy phrases but then that is why much of the public believes as you do that unions don't need to exist. What they forget is that unions gave you most of your rights as an employee like- 8 hour days, overtime, minimum wage, no child labor, worker's compensation, weekends, workplace safety and more. If you think you couldn't lose that just look at the last congressional debate to not raise the minimum wage.
    To work backwards – €“ about change and learning. I was on a school board for over a dozen years. We made it our district's mission to make sure students knew that they needed lifelong learning any way they could get it. We wanted our students to be employable at any job where there was training because we agreed that jobs would change 4-7 times in a lifetime. However your Republican business buddies decided that students should be taught to take tests – €“ not learn anything or be open to learning past the test. Teachers are required to teach the district and state curriculum- but get their students to pass the test. And btw- guess who approves these state curriculums – €“elected and appointed board members – €“ that in Florida couldn't pass the test themselves.
    About firing employees – you are right employees that are not competent need to move on. As a school board member we did that. However what we found was the root cause was principals and supervisors who hired people who were not competent in the first place and who then did not do correct reviews and subsequent training to bring those employees up to par. We had some sups that had no idea how to do a decent review.
    This doesn't just happen in schools – €“ on the other side of the table I was a union rep. for state employees. After sitting down with the new Warden for a state prison on a monthly basis- the topic of an employee who was seen as below standard was raised. As it happened the person worked for a Deputy Warden and I knew the situation. I asked the warden to get copies of the person's reviews by his Deputy. Hmmm- turned out the Deputy had been giving glowing written (as well as verbal) reviews to this person. Other union members were unhappy about this but unable to comment although they were required often to do this person's work over again. The same prison hired someone who was not suitable over the phone and then tried to fire the person later without trying to rectify their mistake.
    Management and elected officials have to start doing what they are paid to do- administer and make decisions that are informed and can be trusted to based on more than the current political whim.
    As for bargaining I have been in all of the shoes- elected official (a 30 M budget and 1200 employees), an employee (mid-management which is not allowed to be union) and a union rep. When I was a school board member we had a superintendent, finance person, labor negotiator , and attorney- all of whom lied at the bargaining table – €“ in big ways- claiming were about to go under when we hade over 17% reserve in one district and 15% reserve in another). We found they lied to the board as well- they no longer work there. We changed our bargaining style after that – €“ it took several years. We went from the old industrial model – €“ bargaining is just passing each other's proposals to each other to interest based bargaining- which requires trust. It means that money is on the table- what exists and what doesn't exist. It means that working conditions are talked about – €“ not ignored. It means there can be honest disagreement about what to spend the money on but it also means that if there isn't money there isn't money. It also means both sides treat each other as people not a cog in the wheel. It makes working a whole lot better. With respect to benefits- we were paying an arm and a leg being part of a county system – €“ the union did research which administrators looked at. In the end we changed- went to a bigger pool and reduced current and future rates (something Wisconsin could easily choose to do).
    This is what happens when people are thoughtful and don't do arbitrary cuts. We looked at positions that could stay unfilled and/or needed to be redefined because of how learning was changing. We did it together. Hasn't any one of you who are anti-union wished that for once in your working career you were told- heck involved in- why a major change occurred? W had a strategic plan that involved over 1,000 people in a district with 6,000 students. We wanted people invested- students, parents, teachers, and admin. , business, vendors etc. – €“ and they were/are. That plan said students came first but we were partners in acting on that. And if students come first don't teachers provide the basis for that.
    About unions- they are not going away. Most people that are anti-unions – €“ wished they had union representation. The downward spiral has been the unions' fault- lack of organizing. But that is going away and will continue to do so. SEIU has been showing the way as well as the little old Laborers Union. Look at the rate for janitors and nurses unionizing- credit SEIU. There will be more not less. We can all hope that they work with Democrats to show how real bargaining can occur.
    Put those elected officials feet to the fire. No more coming to a board meeting without having read the material. No more making decisions based on putting their finger in the wind. No more arbitrary cuts to budgets without looking at what program and who they are killing. No more giving tax breaks to their buddies.
    If we want less welfare – €“ then that needs to include corporate welfare – €“ if businesses can't exist without tax breaks, incentives (like those given for sports stadiums), and special exemptions then maybe they shouldn't exist. For once maybe business should be subject to the free market and the vagaries that provides. Survival of the fittest – €“ let's start with business and those CEOS that make a 1000x what their workers make and then see what happens. If those perks go away let's see who is left. And oh — by the way let's see what happens when capital gains basis has to start being reported – €“ truthfully.
    Whether it's Governor Walker or Governor Scott in FL who is trying the same mantra – €“ these fools need to watch their back. The reality is – €“ about teachers- that the majority of parents love their child's teachers- it's the other teachers who must be bad—- and they will remind you next election day.

    • John Auston
      John Auston says:

      You must not have read my post first. Your long post is missing multiple critically important ‘adjectives’, as thus simply obfuscates the issue.

      E.g., you frequently use the word “union’ when you should have written “public sector union”. But we’re not stupid. We all know WHY you are leaving out those adjectives. When they are in there, they seriously weaken your case, no?

  14. mmsilva
    mmsilva says:

    Sorry John- wasn’t responding to you at all- I was writing – not reading your post. I apply all of what I said to all unions not just public employee unions- it is just that they are under fire for now. It will be all unions that are as someone I suspect you admire greatly – Sarah Palin says – will be in the crosshairs of the Republican Tea Party.

    • John Auston
      John Auston says:

      Sorry John- wasn’t responding to you at all- I was writing – €“ not reading your post. I apply all of what I said to all unions not just public employee unions- it is just that they are under fire for now. It will be all unions that are as someone I suspect you admire greatly – €“ Sarah Palin says – €“ will be in the crosshairs of the Republican Tea Party.

      Posted by mmsilva on February 21, 2011 at 12:46 pm |

      Ah! The slippery slope argument. I wondered when that would be brought up. Didn’t take long. Ok, let’s talk slippery slope. Bet you are Pro Choice ( I am too, btw – you were wrong about the Palin speculation ), but I bet you don’t worry for a second that Pro Choice starts us down the slippery slope of cheapening all life, so that soon all life, just not pre-natal life, will be under assault. Am I right – that you don’t worry about that?

      Well, don’t you worry either that curtailing PUBLIC SECTOR unions will slippery slope into the private sector. Apples and ornages.

      But, nice try.

  15. lisa
    lisa says:

    I had to clarify your comment regarding government jobs are cushy. My Father worked for the FAA, it was NOT a cushy job. He maintained electrical operations in an airport. He climbed towers and worked outside in the Michigan summer humidity and cold winters. In his mid-50s he transferred to Alaska. Working outside in -60 temperatures with polar bears lurking around is far from cushy. But he kept the runway lights operating. And he wasn’t overpaid, underpaid. He was also a member of the union, thank goodness.

  16. Jen
    Jen says:

    Normally, I don’t comment on here either. But, Penelope is right about her comment at the top. If Democrats can’t win elections without the unions, then that is a serious issue within their party and speaks volumes to the candidates as individuals. And, if Wisconsin is the poorest performing school system, then where is the ACCOUNTABILITY for the teachers WITHIN that school system? If most people don’t perform well at their jobs, they get let go. They don’t get to continue receiving benefits, pay, and rewards for a job poorly done. Put down the signs and get back to work.

    • Jen
      Jen says:

      Furthermore, if people can raise $50K here in Detroit in just merely SIX days for something as ludacris as an effing RoboCop statue….then the Democratic Party SURELY can find a way to better fund their campaigns.

  17. Betsy
    Betsy says:

    I usually really like this blog, but this has given me some pause. It’s just very shallow advice, and at some points even hurtful. Not to mention that it’s poorly researched, poorly informed, and poorly thought out.

  18. Abbe
    Abbe says:

    Penelope – I read everything I can regarding careers and job markets…and your blog is my favorite. Even when I don’t agree with you, I value and consider your unique insight. I think you right on in this case. Your blog is consistently bold and brilliant!

  19. Jeff Curtis
    Jeff Curtis says:

    This has nothing to do with the right or wrong of unions. This, like the unjust destruction of ACORN, is entirely political. If Republicans can break the public sector labor movement, it will virtually wipe out the labor movement in the United States. For years, the public sector has been the lifeblood of the union movement and is the only big player that the Democrats have in the race for campaign cash.

    Moneyed interests have often tried to blame the working class for problems that they, themselves created. Wall Street invested state public employee’s pension funds in worthless sub-prime mortgages, the states lost all of that money, now the states have to pay into the pension funds directly precisely because they lost all of that money on bad investments, the states are broke and can’t afford the pension fund payments, and now – this is the best part – it is the public employee’s fault that the states are broke.

    Companies used to use goons with baseball bats to break up unions. Now they fund trojan horses disguised as “The Tea Party” and “Freedom Works” to do their bidding.

  20. Olivier
    Olivier says:

    My goodness, so many things wrong with this post. I’ll cherry-pick a few, trying not to repeat what has already been said by other commentators.
    1. About those new jobs [which] are emerging because of the change; sadly BLS statistics on job creation are eloquent: the only growth sectors are low-pay service jobs, esp. health care jobs (i.e., think nursing home assistants, not surgeons). On a personal level it is a positive attribute to want to take charge but it can cloud your judgment of collective situations.
    2. Unions are anachronistic. This is an interesting point because you got it both right and wrong. Globalisation has radically altered the balance of power in that in many sectors employers no longer have to meet the local workforce halfway: they can simply up and leave, not just the county but the country. In such sectors I am willing to believe unions are now ineffective and therefore anachronistic. However there are still plenty of sectors where, by their very nature, the jobs must be performed locally by local workers and where working conditions are positively victorian: think for instance of gas station staff, janitorial staff (the condition of room cleaning staff at some of the ritziest hotels in the US is a scandal), WalMart clerks etc. In those sectors unions still make eminent sense but bizarrely they are also among those with the lowest unionization rates. So you are right that present-day unions are anachronistic but for the wrong reason. Unions are not an anachronism in and of themselves, rather their anachronism is a consequence of the mismatch of their distribution with present-day workplaces: they are strongest (a legacy of the industrial past) where they are no longer effective while sectors which are crying for unionization are still under-unionized.
    3. Another reason why unions are not anachronistic is that the rich disagree. Their own unions are called lobbying bodies, think tanks, chambers of commerce etc and they are firing on all cylinders. Why should the working and middle classes unilaterally disarm? This would be especially detrimental in a country where the blueprint for social relations is adversarial and people are supposed to look after themselves and not after the general interest.
    4. Demographic collapse. No arguments here but please get your facts straight (your brother, too): France actually has some the best demographics in Europe. If you want examples of Japan-style demographic collapse in Europe you should look toward Italy, Germany and Russia.

  21. Chris McLaughlin
    Chris McLaughlin says:

    Agree or disagree, this is not the “voice of reason.” It’s the voice of opinion, maybe the voice of prophecy, maybe some other voice entirely.

    If the sector of public service (the kind of union we’re talking about mainly) is dead, it’s because we decided to kill it, not because it was dying.

  22. Kacy
    Kacy says:

    I check in on this blog just to see what kind of train wreck is currently happening (kind of the NASCAR syndrome, it guess). This post, however, makes no sense either economically or sociologically. Stick with what you know, which is how to really screw up a personal life and make money writing about it.

    And, not to put too fine a point on it, the geniuses out of the University of Chicago are the same ones that have been dominant in advising Mideast countries and Wall Street for years. That turned out really well for all involved.

  23. Siobhan
    Siobhan says:

    Wow! Really disappointed that you can’t see how fundamentally undemocratic it is to legislate against unions and collective bargaining. There are two different issues here; the accountability within the union movement – there is definitely room for change but that is an entirely different discussion – and, the attacks against the one defense working people have against the radical forces of the free market which has no sense of responsibility or care towards the labour force. Without the unions there is only exploitation of the young, the poor, women, the under-educated, immigrants and the unemployed, no minimum wages, no health and safety legislation and the continued erosion of democratic rights. Do some reading Penelope and educate yourself on why unions matter so much.

    Am really proud to see that your protestors are being supported in pizza by Australians. We are union and proud!

  24. Siobhan
    Siobhan says:

    P.S. Penelope, there are still children working in factories. Those children and those factories are in countries where there are no unions. There are places in the world where people don’t have the right to vote. Those places have no unions either. There are places in the world where people are legally discriminated against because of race, gender, religion, political persuasion and sexuality. Those places also legislate against unions. Connect the dots Penelope.

  25. BLC
    BLC says:

    Your advice and observations have been heeded to foe centuries. Israel, Rome, Reconstruction Era Southern States, Holocaust Era Europe, war-torn Asia, Iraq, earthquake-ravaged California, Hurricane-Katrina Gulf Coast, BP oil-polluted Gulf Coast, recession-rocked America and the African/Middle East uprising regions, etc… ALL HAVE or WILL NEED TO REFLECT, RECONSIDER, RECOMMIT, and READJUST,…if they want to SUCCESSFULLY REBUILD,

  26. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    Guys, if you think this post is brilliant, you would be inspired by that book. Check it out. Very deep, indeed.

  27. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    PS – By the way, WHO MOVED MY CHEESE? is the book most distributed to corporate drones in US just before any lay-offs/redundancy; so talk about “Brazen Careerist”.

  28. Big Jay
    Big Jay says:

    Who moved my cheese?

    1. Change is the only constant.
    2. Life isn’t fair.
    3. You can’t push on a rope.

  29. finance girl
    finance girl says:

    Go Penelope Go!! One of your best right here, and I hope it’s not only because I wholeheartedly agree with it.

    BTW I have a huge career decision to make. Would you be interested in hearing about it? If so email me, I’d love to get as much advice as possible from those I respect.

  30. chris Keller
    chris Keller says:

    Let me see if I get this straight–

    unions have no other purpose except to right the wrongs of the early industrial era–i.e., child labor;

    collective bargaining, which is the ONLY point that the protesters seem to be holding out for in Wisconsin, means that there is strength/power in numbers, commensurate to the power of the employer–and this is not useful, to have the power to negotiate;

    Scott Walker’s attempts to pass the budget remedy bill, with no input from the common people (who may also be union members) whose jobs are vastly altered by the bill, is okay . . . We all know how to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, after all. The survival of the fittest, after all.

    No, sorry, call it what you will, but the new administration of Scott Walker in Wisconsin, is trying to make all these problems acceptable by saying that we in Wisconsin are broke and we need to pump some money into the Wisconsin budget. Balancing the budget, Walker says, is the only talking point. No again. It is NOT the only talking point. There are many issues, as many as the replies submitted to P’s post.

    Penelope, the unions may indeed become dinosaurs if the playing field can be leveled in other ways.
    Until then, some entity is needed to insist on bargaining. Call it a union. Call it mediation. A newly elected governor cannot simply say “I was elected by the majority–therefore, what I say is law”. That kind of thing flies in the face of our notions of democracy and representative government

    • Mike
      Mike says:

      So at the end of your post you say a governor cannot say I won so what I say is law. This is true it needs to pass the senate and assembly then the governor can say that. In this case the votes are clearly there to make this happen so what exactly is your point?

  31. qed
    qed says:

    Interesting post. This advice applies just as well to people getting fired due to racism or sexual harassment.

    5. Getting fired is a gift.
    6. Change is exciting. It opens new doors.
    Tell it!

    Perhaps you could also rejigger this post for Bernie Madoff’s victims as well?

    • Ben
      Ben says:

      Very good way of looking at it. Take a look at this interview with Madoff himself.
      If only he’d taken Penelope’s advice and just adapted to the market… oh wait a minute, that’s EXACTLY what he did in the late ’80s, when he started running a Ponzi scheme in order to adapt to the decline of his legitimate business.

  32. Reality Check
    Reality Check says:

    Penelope, here’s a tip–do not leave chirpy advice for people who are vilified for working public-sector jobs. Also, that chirpy advice rings pretty hollow when you’ve done everything you can possibly do and are going on a year or more of being unemployed.

  33. Natasha
    Natasha says:

    Right on Penelope. Unionized public-sector workers enjoy obscene benefits that their private-sector counterparts do without, especially in tough economic times. And yet, we are expected to subsidize these pensions, these sick-days, this jobs-for-life mentality? The public sector is suppose to serve the public, but for too long it has been the other way around.

    • Mark F
      Mark F says:

      The talking heads will tell you government employees make double private sector counter-parts. That isn’t true.

      The government unions will tell you government employees make 20% less than private sector matching job to job. That isn’t true either.

      If you match job to job and include the value of benefits, public sector employees make 7% less than private sector.

      Government leaders figured out long ago that a public that is mostly not educated past high school will not willingly accept the government paying private sector style wages to attract quality applicants. To avoid that political problem they have offered job stability and benefits to make up some of the difference, it also allows government to delay paying those costs to another day.

      The bill is coming due but the simple question posed is do you really want to increase government wages on the order of 15% to get public and private sector wages to a compatible level to get quality applicants and retain good workers.

      You don’t get the luxury of having it both ways. If you don’t want to pay for the benefits or better than private sector security, then you have to increase wages to get them in line with the private sector.

      • Diana
        Diana says:

        Thank you Mark for stating the obvious to those who haven’t heard it yet. Very well put. I bet most people have no idea that public jobs pay such low wages and have fixed top-outs that prevent you from keeping up with the cost of living much less getting ahead (yes, we get COLAs most years but they are tiny and many years there are none). You can even get a reduction in salary, a negative COLA. Also, public sector fills jobs with units (not people) that get paid based on a fixed payscale, no matter how good you are at your job. That makes you feel like crap. Public jobs are all about security over salary. I admit I chose security (small town, no jobs) with two kids to raise on my own. But don’t envy me, or curse me, for having had employee negotiations. There is no pot of gold in the public sector.

  34. Robert Frolick
    Robert Frolick says:

    I don’t see the harm in having unions. Business and governments negotiate all the time with collective interests: specifically shareholders, other governments, voters, industry groups (PACs, enforcement groups, etc.) and the general public. So why can’t they negotiate with employees? To me, it seems a whole lot easier than generally less than stellar HR review efforts that go own among “at-will” employees–Either you are doing your job or you are not. Wouldn’t that be great to know what your labor costs were going to be for the next year or even five years?

    So as at will employees, could you imagine a teacher in, let’s say November, walking in to his or her principal’s office and demanding a raise or he/she will quit? If the principal says no, how will that help those students? Do you shuffle classes to increase the number of students in the other classes? Do you tell the parents, “Sorry. I don’t have a teacher so your students can no longer attend classes?”

    And of course the marketing ploy of firing your worst customer. Should we do the same for our students? “Mary cannot attend classes. I know she’s only twelve, but we’ve decided that the system is spending too much effort on her for too little return. Please find another place for your daughter to go to school.”

    On another issue, public employees trade higher salaries for long-term commitment in job security and benefits. Overall, I’m sure if you looked at the numbers the total salary would still be less than private employees.

    Just some thoughts and no answers.

  35. sarah
    sarah says:

    Governments are now being forced to look at the same issues the private sector has been dealing with for decades. The fact that only 6.9% of the private workforce is unionized says enough about how employees feel about unionization — paying someone’s administrative fees in exchange for rights you already have just isn’t an equation that adds up to 93.1% of private sector workers. Businesses close and move. Jobs are lost. Benefits have to change — either in time to save a business or following bankruptcy and new CBAs — because the legacy entitlement costs are crippling. They have to change for government workers too because with every job that is lost, every year with fewer workers ready to be in the workforce, and every retirement that doesn’t have a GenY replacement is money that states aren’t getting to pay the wages and benefits of their employees.

    I am very liberal — so liberal that I would never trust a union rep to speak for me to my employers. Who the hell has MY best interests in mind? The people fighting to fund their unfunded pensions and keep their cushy benefits or just me with my mortgage?

    • Mark F
      Mark F says:

      I am in a public sector union and I have the opposite stance of my union on most issues. They worry too much about things that won’t do diddly to improve how I do my job and currently advocate some changes I think are bad.

      But I am still a member because I know only to well that there are people who have gotten cross-wise with managers for refusing to ignore our statutory mandate and be the one to place their signature on an improper act. The union has successfully defended them and forced the rogue managers out (usually reassigned to some backwater position).

      Right now the single biggest problem facing government is that no one (unions included) give a rip about innovations that front-line people would push hard for that could cut costs dramatically. Government is managed top down. The board (ie. legislative body and chief executive) pass down their agenda, the managers shape it as they see fit and the workers implement. Those who have to deal with the flaws have no way to push things back up the ladder. It’s GM on steroids.

  36. qed
    qed says:

    For the record, I have mixed feelings on unions, and public sector unions in particular – but your advice was astonishingly misplaced.

    “Change is exciting. It opens new doors.”
    What does this have to do with the right of government employees to organize? What does this have to do Governor Walker’s artificially created budget deficit?

    “Create stability for yourself with new career tools.” What does this have to do with the right (or lack thereof) of government employees to organize? Why were only the Democratic-leaning unions targeted, and the police and fire dept unions spared?

    etc, etc.

  37. Mark
    Mark says:

    Hmm, I just saw a statistic quoted that Wisconisn schools are second in SAT scores? Why are there always facts on both sides to counter each other and prevent progress. I was wondering when you might write about this, and then what you wrote is unsatisfying. Oversimplifying the complexity is beneath you.

    Just because things are being handled poorly, a lot, isn’t a reason to tell everyone to accept it as the new normal. Why can’t handling change well, in a healthy way, be normal? If the governor did indeed provide an unfunded tax break and caused revenue to fall below the budget, causing the the unmet need and removing a budget surplus, and then attempted to make up the shortfall by taking too much away from people who don’t have a lot and didn’t do anything wrong – why not say that that is what it is? Why chalk it up to global economic theory? Maybe it is more complicated than that. Maybe a lot of bad or not smart choices are being made too, and it is affecting a lot of people, and maybe because they don’t know what is really going on, because they are being told it is just global economics? Have you looked at studies that say that the costs to society and the wealthy of these moves into pure capitalist state is actually greater than the supposed welfare state that being dismantled? Yeah, I don’t know all the answers either, but then that’s why I’m not telling everyone to stop whining and just go be smart and rich like a normal person, because it is just that simple and than easy, and hurry up because I’m tired of hearing about you on the news.

  38. GeneratonXpert
    GeneratonXpert says:

    You are 100% right. That fact that it pissed off so many people proves it. My husband left a print journalism career less than a year ago and has more than doubled his income working in a 21st Century growth sector as a consultant. He also left behind all the deuches who work in that field. When he left last May, a bunch of his old colleagues poo-pooed him. Now they are asking him for a job.

  39. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    This post – along with a good 99% of the comments on it, and 99% of the media coverage on Wisconsin, shows breathtaking ignorance of the fact that the flare-up in Wisconsin has literally NOTHING to do with pensions or “entitlement programs”. This is about Walker firing a shot across the bow of labor in general, not just unions and not just teachers. In the same vein as EVERYTHING EVERY OTHER NEWLY ELECTED REPUBLICAN is doing across the country, Walker is playing politics the way it has literally always been played: making an incredibly extreme proposal right off the bat and then allowing it to be bargained down to something less extreme, but still WAY bigger than if you had made a normal, sensible proposal in the beginning.

    See also: the effort to totally de-fund HUD, Americorps, etc. Obviously there is no way you can eliminate entire governmental departments and multi-billion dollar programs, but you can use them as a political football to accomplish what you REALLY want. It’s just too bad that Walker has chosen to use public employees as his football and steadfastly refuses to reveal his motives or make any remotely sane or workable compromise.

    • mysticaltyger
      mysticaltyger says:

      It seems to me this approach of making extreme proposals and then bargaining it down is pretty normal and not unique to Republicans.

  40. Alison
    Alison says:

    My husband was bullied, manipulated and abused by his last two employers. Thankfully, next week he begins a job where he will be in a union and we can’t be happier. Unions sometimes do become overblown and ridiculous, but we still need them to protect workers. There is a reason they exist and it’s not just children that are abused in their jobs, especially in this economy. My husband’s last boss told his employees that they had to suck it up and do as he said because how would they ever find other jobs?

  41. Tom Meitner
    Tom Meitner says:

    Just a quick note amongst the bashing to say that this is a great post, and regardless of its political nature, it actually quite un-political. You are talking about careers and changes in the way we are living and approaching work – and you didn’t pick a side in the battle. I think it’s a smart post and has a lot that needed to be said.

    I have lots of very close friends who work for the City of Milwaukee and are very upset about all of this and the loss of their collective bargaining rights, but the fact is that unions were established to protect workers from terrible working environments. Labor laws pretty much fixed most of those. People say they want to negotiate benefits, but I can’t think of a single job outside the government sector where you’re allowed to do that. Why do they get to be different?

  42. T
    T says:

    The disconnect here is that unions draw membership from different demographics than the readership of this blog. Average readers of Penelope’s, even one’s arguing the unions’ side, are more educated and more intellectually malleable than people who depend on union membership for wages, security, etc. Realistically, most people have neither the intellectual tools, nor the emotional resilience that Penelope and we take for granted, and it is they who are perfect candidates for unionization. Unions act as a counterbalance to the corporate bargaining power for workers whose skills and capacity for skill development is lower than P’s readership’s. They provide stability and security we think no longer afforded to us. In reality, because of education, attitude, or whatever, our security and wages are superior because of education, networking, risk-taking, etc. Traits that lead us to this blog.

    Penelope’s error in today’s post is one of optimism. It is excusable.

    Krugman’s column today is brilliant and addresses all I wish I had the skill and patience to say in union’s favor.

  43. Erin McJ
    Erin McJ says:

    A tangent, but an important one:

    The benefit that matters isn’t retirement funds — it’s health insurance. It’s possible to invest for retirement on your own. In contrast, you can’t purchase meaningful health insurance as an individual (see: the entirety of public policy debate in 2009 and 2010). I will believe that we as a nation have solved this problem when the law has been stable for ten years and we’ve had a chance to see what happens when it’s violated (e.g.: does implementation hinge on making the person with skin cancer file suit before s/he can get treatment? then it’s not a solution).

    Freelancing and entrepreneurship are great — but if you’re self-insured, you’re reckless. To avoid financial disaster in America, the only insurance policy worth a dime is a legal marriage where one person has a job with a very large employer, and both have careers that facilitate getting hired on by a new, very large employer.

« Older CommentsNewer Comments »

Comments are closed.