Unions Exist to Look After Their Members, Baseball edition

By:

  John Phelan

Baseball is back, but it was in doubt for a while. It was only on March 13 that the second longest work stoppage in baseball history – 99 days – came to an end when the MLB and the MLB Players’ Association – the baseball players’ union – struck a deal.

The Players Association was pushing for a number of things. One was more money: they wanted the Competitive Balance Tax – which is effectively an upper limit on spending – raised. They were also resisting the introduction of an international draft, something the MLB has long favored but which the Player’s Association opposes because it will increase the competition faced by its members.

Nobody pretended that the Player’s Association was acting in the interests of anyone but its members. There was no pretense that higher salaries for players and less competition for their places would benefit the average baseball fan nor anyone else. And why should there be? A union exists to look after its members after all, nobody else.

In Minnesota, while the Player’s Association was striking for more money, the government school teachers of Minneapolis were doing the same thing. On March 8, the city’s teachers began a strike which lasted for three weeks and affected 30,000 students already struggling to make up schooling lost during COVID-19 shutdowns. MPR News reported that the teacher’s union was seeking, among other things, “higher wages for paraprofessionals.” More money then, just like the baseball players.

But there was a big difference between how these two strikes were presented by their respective unions. MPR News quoted one teacher saying: “Nobody wants to go on strike. None of the teachers do. None of the staff wants to…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.”

No baseball player ever said their strike was “for the fans.” Just like the Player’s Association, the teacher’s union represents its members, quite rightly, but unlike the Player’s Association, the teacher’s union pretends it is acting in the interests of some additional stakeholders.

It is the same with Minnesota’s nurse’s union. This session, there is a bill in the state legislature which would sign it up the Nurse Licensure Compact. According to the Minnesota Board of Nursing:

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.

Currently 34 states are members of the compact. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated very clearly the benefits the NLC offers of being able to tap a larger workforce. Indeed, at the height of the pandemic in April 2020, Governor Walz signed an Executive Order allowing healthcare workers licensed in other states to work in Minnesota, effectively entering the state into the NLC.

Despite being sensible policy, the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) opposed this bill. According to the Pioneer Press, the MNA believes that joining the NLC would “result in poorer quality of care at the bedside.” The real reason for the MNA’s opposition is that “the bill would threaten the jobs of Minnesota nurses.”

So, just like the Player’s Association resisting an international draft, the nurse’s union wants to protect its members from competition. Again, acting in its member’s interests is what you should expect a union to be doing, but again, no baseball player ever pretended they were resisting this competition in the interests of a “poorer quality of baseball pitch side.”

Strikes work by one party to a dispute imposing harm on some other party in the hope that the counterparty to the dispute will find this harm unbearable and give in. When baseball players strike, who is harmed? The fans, maybe, though not to any great degree. The owners certainly, and to a potentially significant degree.

Who is harmed by teacher’s strikes and nurse’s strikes? Kids and patients, and they aren’t even the counterparty in the dispute. That explains why these strikes – which are essentially identical – are presented in such different ways. In all three cases the union is looking after its member’s interests, nobody else’s, exactly as it exists to.


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