A Mural in Maine: Unions as the New Scapegoat

Within the last week news has broken that the Republican Governor of Maine, Paul LePage, ordered the removal of a mural from the state's Labor Department building's lobby. Adrienne Bennett, Press Secretary for the governor, said that the mural was in storage awaiting a more appropriate venue for it to be displayed. But, what's the problem with a mural in a building? Lots of big government buildings have art in them by artists from that state. It's great for state pride, morale, and it helps support the arts. All good things, right?

Well, if you haven't noticed recently the Republican party seems to be waging a war against organized labor - or unions. Right now a simple Google News search for the word 'Union' will pop up nearly 39,000 articles on the subject. Sure, they're not all current and relevant, but it's major news and has been for the past couple of months. In states where Republican legislatures seem to rule (like Ohio, Idaho, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Michigan, just to name a few), those governments have decided - arbitrarily it seems - that 2011 is the year of the Great Union Bust. State and local governments are running out of scapegoats for reasons why the economies of their respective areas of rule are still in disrepair, so they're turning to a tried and true Republican talking point.

Now, both on the blog and on the show, I have made it clear that my views on Unions range from neutral to slightly negative. However, I can say with pretty much no level of uncertainty that unions are not the cause for states verging on bankruptcy. (To learn a bit about Unions in America, click here. I warn you: there are numbers and math and charts and other tools of torture.) Union workers make up only 12.4% of the total workforce. While I am sure we could pull our Economic Disparity charts out and show the unfair distribution of wealth between rich folks and the rest of us, most folks in a union aren't rich. They're teachers and plumbers and police officers and firefighters and manual laborers and folks working in jobs that are so low on the totem pole they wouldn't normally make very much money at all if not for labor unions. They're workers. Sure, there are problems with unions - like keeping bad employees far too long once they've received membership - but the folks in these unions do hard work and deserve better than we give.

Let's take Wisconsin for example. The big battle up there is over teacher's union rights. The governor made demands, saying he wouldn't proceed with union busting legislation if the unions agreed to lower fees, lower wages, lower a whole bunch of stuff. The union did, and the governor just said, "Never mind. Screw you," and decided to proceed anyways. That's not fair play in my book. It's also kind of exposing the truth behind much of this union busting ideology: it's not about the economy. If it were, then lowering all those fees and costs and wages and things would be the big bartering chip. Apparently, they're not.

This is not a case of economic collapse caused by unions that if they would just lower their fees and rates and other financials would be solved. If it were, then the governor of Wisconsin wouldn't have backed out of his deal with the unions and proceeded with his cause. If it were, then we would be seeing officials and union representatives meeting to discuss these matters and come to some sort of arrangement. When the infrastructure is in disrepair and costing too much money, you don't just blow up the roads and go back to wagons. You find a way to fix the problem. So...I'm having a hard time believing that, with all the faults of unions, they are the evil scapegoat.

And that brings us back to Maine, just the most recent state to grab headlines for their administration's ridiculous ideas about unions. So ludicrous that merely having a mural in their Labor Department depicting organized labor is salacious enough to have the entire thing removed. This is at best censorship and at worse it's an attempt at psychological warfare by removing images of the enemy idea.

What do you think of this Union Busting business? Sure, there are pro's and cons about unions, but how do you feel about the manner various state governments are going about addressing these issues? Do you agree that the mural should have been taken down?

Administration officials in Maine said the change was needed to reflect a new image for the department, one not tilted toward organized labor. They said visitors to the lobby had complained that the mural is anti-business. Because, you know, if labor unionizes and asks to be paid fairly...that's bad for business.

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte


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  2. As a Mainer, I'm pissed. I did not vote for this man. He has been a disgrace to all Mainers since before he even took office. He has absolutely no filter on his mouth and my 3 year old nephew has better manners than Governor "Flintstone". He wasn't supposed to remove the mural until Portland voted on where it was going and he changed his mind and did it behind everyone's backs on the weekend. He is shady and a pure asshole. He actually said he would "laugh in the faces" of anyone who tried to stop him from removing the mural and said he "doesn't care about popularity" (which means he has apparently forgotten he is an ELECTED official.)

    I am so tired of hearing that welfare recipients and union workers are to blame for the economy. That's like saying that the guy on the corner who bummed a quarter off of you is the reason you are broke. It's a big load of bullshit. There are definite issues with unions, but I can't believe this is anything less than corporate bullshit being fed into politicians minds. This is a plan to hide the money being handed to corporations and eliminate the middle class.

  3. If I'm not mistaken, didn't he only get 38% of the vote...

    In a 3-person race?

    I mean, 1/3 of voters thought you were ok isn't anywhere close to a majority. What that means is that 62% of voters wanted ANYBODY ELSE!

  4. Exactly! His fiercest competitor was less than 2% behind him.

    "Paula" has proven very quickly that he doesn't actually care about what the CITIZENS of Maine want. Only about what he wants. He's been on a power trip since he took office. A week before the election he said that if he took office he would tell Obama to "Go to hell." He has said a few times he doesn't care if he's popular. He said the NAACP could "Kiss my butt" because he refused to be influenced by "special interest groups" (unless of course it's HIS special interest group...) And he said he wouldn't regulate BPA because "What's the worst that can happen? Increased estrogen so some of our women grow beards?" Apparently he doesn't know the difference between estrogen and testosterone?

    Honestly, I didn't like that he was removing the mural, but I wasn't infuriated by it until he did it in such a sneaky manner. Which basically means he knew people didn't like it and did what he wanted anyway. It was a big "Fuck you" to the citizens of Maine and the artist.

    Part of my job takes me near his house and the state house quite often... I keep hoping to run into him...

  5. Hi Fire Lyte,

    As a human resources professional, I support unions. This is quite unusual as many HR people feel that they are the enemy and this attitude is part of their training in how to avoid unionization. This has also filtered to the general public especially younger people through the media. To the point now that organized labor no longer is part of the dialogue.

    Much of the bad attitude is because people believe that "unions keep people" too long. Well, much of my work in HR is explaining to managers that they are in fact managers. That is it their job to manage worker performance, not the unions. The union must by law defend workers accused of wrong doing and poor performance. I know of no collective agreement where poor performance is specified as OK.

    Mangers get intimidated by unions and the collective agreement. They fail to read it. It is their friend because it lays out exactly how an employee is to be fired. Gives detailed instructions.

    Demographics are an important factor as well. Employees who are older are vulnerable, they are fired and let go at much higher rates than employees between 30 and 45. Being below 30 or over 45 puts an employee into the risk category. Unions can be helpful to this. My advise to those who are in a union is to get involved, try to understand why your union is the way it is and let them know what you don't like. Many people avoid getting involved with the terrible union and fail to make their voices heard.

    For demographics as well, the large lump of boomers has created a well of resentment in the gen X group because they have had to cool their heels in university waiting for the plumiest jobs to free up. This makes it especially difficult for your generation as well, gen Y. (My sons are in this group and have had a long haul to find their place in the working world even with many years of post secondary. Crappy economy and no entry level jobs seems to be radicalizing them as well. They are less "establishment" friendly than the gen X's are, who are now the majority in many companies.)

    My belief is that unions can be an effective partner with management when companies accept their existence and work effectively with them. The union staff find really bad employees distasteful as well. Even HR people say that "companies get the kind of unions they deserve".

    My final thought is that the breaking of unions in the US is not a positive trend for America's greater social good. Where there are unions it increases management awareness of safety, benefits and pay. Employers try to keep up to ensure no labor organization drives take place.

    Part of the right wing radicalization is to demonize diversity of opinion. In the 20th century many people literally died fighting for worker's rights to things like lunch and bathroom breaks, a full day off per week, and safety measures to prevent death in the workplace.

    People are not very aware of labor history and the campaign against working people has been going on for decades.

    For an interesting scholarly, research based take on current political conditions read this PDF book about right wing authoritarianism put together by a professor of sociology. http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/ I thought you would be interested as this relates to your field.

    It is a page turner and quite scary. Has made me more interested in getting politically involved as I move into retirement.


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