January 14, 2003


SMALL TYRANNIES: The antiwar resolution wasn't the only thing of interest at last night's Evanston City Council meeting. The Daily Northwestern write-up mentions the city workers' union issue; it says "about 10 employees and residents" spoke on the movement by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to unionize all remaining non-union city employees. I'm pretty sure it was more than that; my recollection was that the Mayor said 16 people were speaking on the non-agenda item (it wasn't up for a vote; the City Manager was simply reporting on the progress of the deal that night); only a few were gone by the time their names were called. (It's possible I misheard the Mayor, of course, and I wasn't taking notes.)

Against the throng of workers pushing voluntary recognition of the union without a vote of employees, two brave souls objected. One city employee, Sunshine Voelker, said the union leaders had used misleading statements to convince employees; a union leader had said that someone from the city was threatening to cut X number of jobs, when in fact-- Ms. Voelker had been in the meeting in question-- what had really been said was that they needed to cut Y number of dollars from the budget, which equalled X number of jobs, so they'd better trim the fat to avoid firing people. It's no surprise that the union bosses are dishonest charlatans, no doubt operating under the belief that city workers are best served by lies to promote the greater good.

Racial demagoguery, too, was the order of the evening; the AFSCME representatives waxed sanctimoniously about how "it was AFSCME in Memphis" at the garbage strike where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. What this had to do with Evanston workers 35 years later was never quite clear; many of the pro-union workers happened to be black, but invoking King's memory every time black people are affected seems, shall we say, a rather roundabout way to achieve the dream of a colorblind society.

The Daily Northwestern, by the way, quotes Voelker as saying "If the union is passed, the city is a closed shop," but doesn't explain what that means. News reporters are supposed to explain jargon when it pops up; this might be an oversight on the part of a reporter so comfortable with union debates she thinks everyone understands them, but from the context I'd say it's a better bet that the reporter doesn't really understand the term, perhaps thinking its a hyperbole for the productivity the city stands to lose. (It means that no non-union workers will be allowed to work for the city, and thus city workers will have to pay union dues whether they like it or not.) Okay, so it's a college paper and it isn't nice to pick on them, but I do hope someone points it out; at The Ithacan, our faculty advisor would do a (woefully little-read) mark-up of every issue.

The small tyranny of the closed shop (which looks to be coming sooner or later, vote or no vote) was coupled with the smaller tyranny of a bicycle helmet ordinance aimed at kids under 18, which a few doctors and busybodies had come to advocate during the citizens' comment time. Alderman Stephen B. Engelman made a libertarian case against the government substituting for parents (you can imagine the way that one of the busybodies looked at me when I clapped for it), and several others questioned the ordinance's wisdom, especially its design-- it requires that if a child is ticketed, he (or his parents) would have to display a helmet (to prove "compliance," i.e. ownership of a helmet) before an adjudicator at 1:30 in the afternoon on a weekday. Alderman Edmund Moran wondered aloud about state consitutional issues (the Illinois State Supreme Court has struck down a helmet law), and Alderman Joe Kent questioned whether police stopping children and ticketing them would foster a good police-community relationship. Amusingly, only Engelman voted against the ordinance, proving once again how difficult it is to keep politicians from doing things, especially things that are For The ChildrenTM.

Posted by John Tabin at January 14, 2003 10:03 PM