It seems like only yesterday, but it was in the 1980’s that squeegee men had their heyday, particularly in New York City. These were young men who would approach cars stopped in traffic. Without asking, they would start “cleaning” the victim’s windshield – often using just a dirty rag. It was usually evident to the driver that a generous gratuity would be a good idea, as a smashed windshield would be a distinct headache.
As a lecturer at San Jose State University, I am victimized each month by a group of “squeegee men” known as the California Faculty Association. A certain sum is extracted out of my paycheck and handed over to these gangsters so they can continue pressing their statist demands. “Membership” in the union remains optional at extra cost, notwithstanding a recent dirty trick in the form of an announcement that everyone would be enrolled as a “member” unless they sent a letter to the union asking to be excluded.
What benefits do these squeegee men confer on me? The pay I get for teaching one class is trivial so whether it rises or falls makes little difference to me. I have other motives for teaching. The benefits were pretty good, but having voluntarily cut back to one class, I no longer get benefits. I see no return at all from the money that the union extracts from me.
A couple of years ago there was talk of a strike. I had fond hopes that it would come to pass because I have long wished for an opportunity to cross a picket line. That would have been great fun. Alas, it’s unlikely, as budget woes have taken the steam out of such threats.
But wait, wasn’t the union legitimized by a vote of the faculty? Yes, a vote was taken a few years before I got there. In no way does that excuse the theft of my money. It does exemplify the basic social malady of our time, which is social democracy – the idea that voting can legitimize acts that trample minority rights.
Unions have been taking it on the chin lately. Most recently the Michigan legislature passed, and the governor signed, a “right to work law.” Such laws, now on the books of some 24 states, make payment of union dues of any kind optional. The primary argument against these laws is that they enable “free riders,” non-payers who supposedly benefit from union activities, like motorists who drive off without paying the squeegee men. This problem could be solved by excluding non-payers from union-negotiated settlements.
While it’s great fun to watch the unions getting pummeled, I must add a note of opposition to right-to-work laws. If employers want to make union membership a condition of employment, and are able to find good workers willing to accept that condition, the law should not prohibit such arrangements. The proper place of the law in labor relations is the prevention and punishment of criminal acts, principally violence and intimidation, and nothing more. Any union that conducts its business in a peaceful manner – without threats against either employers or holdout workers – should not be molested.