A teacher’s union in Michigan is fighting to get a $10,000 severance package for a convicted child molester whose case drew outrage earlier this year when his former school colleagues pleaded with a judge to sentence him lightly (source: Fox News).

Neal EricksonI am not surprised by this. Nor do I fault the union. The union is doing exactly what I expect it to.

It is protecting the the interests of its members.

Unions do not exist to protect the interests of their members’ customers. They never have. Going on strike stops production of the product or service their members’ customers want. The customer hurts and through the market passes that pain onto the corporation.

It is that power over a corporation that is the union’s bargaining tool.

Teachers Unions have convinced the public they exist for the good of the students. They have become overly powerful in part due to the public’s ignorance. They are protecting the interests of their members by capitalizing on that ignorance.

There is an old Indian fable that provides a lesson we can use to help us understand unions and how to handle them.

Often times young boys were sent from the village in search of a vision. This was the case of one particular young native boy.

He started to go up to the top of a mountain in search of his vision. And as he climbed up the mountain, the air got cooler and cooler. And he came upon a snake laying in the path. The snake was shivering, and said to the boy. “Please help me. I can’t move, I am so cold that I can no longer make it any further down the mountain.”

The boy said to the snake “No way! You’re a snake, if I pick you up, you’ll bite me!” The snake replied. “No, no I won’t, I promise I won’t bite you if you’ll only pick me up and help get me down the mountain.”

So the young boy picked up the snake, put him in his shirt, and continued climbing to the top of the mountain in search of his vision. When he got back down to the bottom of the mountain, he reached in, took out the snake, and the snake bit the young boy.

The boy replied to the snake “Hey! You bit me, you said that if I’d help you out, that you wouldn’t bite me!”

The snake replied “But you knew what I was when you picked me up!” (source: FirstPeople.us)

Snakes serve a purpose.  They kill rodents who spread disease. They are a very important part of our ecosystem.

Unions also serve a purpose. They are a way for workers to voluntarily form groups that collectively protect their interests. They are an important part of any free market system.

Snakes and humans have existed together for thousands of years. Unions and the free market can as well. We just have to recognize neither belong in our shirt.