Unions exist to look after their members, nobody else

On Tuesday, Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Players Association — the players’ union — spent 17 hours trying, and failing, to negotiate an end to the four-month MLB lockout. The New York Post reports:

Top negotiators for both sides met several times in midtown trying to hammer out a deal, with the sides butting heads over several key areas, including the competitive balance tax, the pre-arbitration pool and minimum salary.

Progress had been made late Monday, when MLB raised its proposal for the first CBT tier from $220 million to $228 million, still short of the union’s request of $238 million.

They came closer on Tuesday, with the league proposing a deal that included a threshold beginning at $230 million, which would rise to $242 million, a source confirmed after the numbers first reported by The Athletic.

The players have been at $238 million to start, with the threshold moving to $263 million over the length of the deal.

And MLB also wants a fourth tier of penalty when it comes to the CBT, in the hopes of cutting back at what the league calls “runaway spending.”

The league also is interested in introducing an international draft, long considered a non-starter by the union.

The owners also increased their offer for the pre-arbitration pool to $40 million per season, still short of the $80 million the players have sought. And the minimum salary in the owner’s proposal would go from $700,000 next season to $770,000 by the end of the CBA.

Nobody pretends that any of these demands are being made on behalf of baseball fans. More money for players, a restriction on players from abroad who might compete with domestic players: the Players Association is simply looking out for the best interests of its members. And why shouldn’t it? That is what it exists to do.

The same goes for the teachers union, the nurses union, the police union, or any other union. They exist to look after the interests of their members; everything else is secondary. They often find it useful to hide this fact.

The Minneapolis teachers union went on strike yesterday. All classes pre-K through 12th grade are off until further notice. This is wreaking havoc on children who have already lost a significant amount of irreplaceable learning over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kare 11 reports:

The gates are open at Emerson Spanish Immersion Learning Center in Minneapolis, but school’s closed for now.

While a strike is ongoing, parents here are helping other parents search for childcare options.

“I am a mom of two children,” said Elena Espinoza — as Molly Dengal helps translate her words from Spanish to English.

“There’s a continuous lack of information,” said Espinoza. “One parent will say, ‘why are we striking?’ And also today buses ran their schedules and we had students who were dropped off at school who didn’t know they were the only ones there. Their teachers weren’t there, and we have families who think tomorrow it will be okay.”

Both Espinoza and Dengal say, in the meantime, a neighboring church has offered space for emergency childcare services.

“So we don’t know if we can count on buses for children who need emergency childcare to access it, so today we have parents who don’t have transport who are just trying to get connected, so Elena is going to pick up a child tomorrow,” said Dengal.

While Elena says her main focus is to make sure her children are still getting the academic resources during the strike, she’s lending a helping hand to parents in need.

“…I know kids who have more needs and they need to be heard,” she said.

Why are people like Mrs. Espinoza and her children being subjected to this? MPR News reports that the teachers union is “seeking caps on class sizes, higher wages for paraprofessionals, and more mental health support for students.” So, in large part, the Minneapolis teachers union is striking for more money for its members, just like baseball’s Players Association. The difference is that the baseball players do not pretend they are doing this for any greater good. From MPR News:

“Nobody wants to go on strike. None of the teachers do. None of the staff wants to,” said Ruth Krider, a second-grade teacher in St. Paul. “But for the kids, and for the students, and for their learning environment, it just needs to happen. We can bend, but we won’t break.”

Tell that to Mrs. Espinoza and her children. At least the baseball players spare us this sanctimonious, self-serving guff.

On Monday, the Minnesota Senate voted to have the state join the Nurses Licensure Compact (NLC). This is a measure we have long supported. As the Minnesota Board of Nursing describes it:

The Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) allows a nurse (RN and LPN/VN) to have one compact license in the nurse’s primary state of residence (the home state) with authority to practice in person or via telehealth in other compact states (remote states). The nurse must follow the nurse practice act of each state. The mission of the Nurse Licensure Compact is: The Nurse Licensure Compact advances public protection and access to care through the mutual recognition of one state-based license that is enforced locally and recognized nationally.

In April 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Walz signed an Executive Order allowing healthcare workers licensed in other states to work in Minnesota, effectively entering us into the NLC. If it was a good idea then, why not now?

Yet the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) opposes this bill. The Pioneer Press reports that the MNA believes that joining the NLC would “result in poorer quality of care at the bedside,” but it didn’t when COVID-19 hit. The real reason for their opposition is that “the bill would threaten the jobs of Minnesota nurses.”

There is no reason to believe it would, especially with the state facing an acute shortage of healthcare professionals. But notice that in wanting to exclude people from coming to Minnesota to offer their services, the MNA is after exactly the same thing as the baseball Players Association when it argues against an international draft. The MNA is looking out for its members, as any union does, just like the baseball union. Once again, the difference is that the baseball player’s union spares us the guff about “poorer quality” for the consumer.

This is not to attack unions: to attack a union for looking after its members is like attacking water for being wet. Prioritizing their members’ interests is what they exist to do.

But the rest of us must remain clear-eyed. We should not allow ourselves to be fooled by rhetoric about students’ interests or patients’ interests any more than we would allow ourselves to be fooled if the Players Association said it was striking for a better deal for baseball fans.