Tuesday, March 01, 2011


"It would be odd indeed if public bureaucrats and their unions did not invest in this kind of reverse control—and there is ample evidence that they do."
-Terry Moe

SEIU Motivator
In all the debate about requiring union members to contribute more to their benefits, face cuts, and deal with the economic crises that so many states are facing, there is a specter looming behind it all: should we have public sector unions at all? The concept of government workers being unionized was so alien to the American mind and so disliked that even AFL-CIO president George Meany said in the 1960s that it was "impossible to bargain collectively with the government." In 1959, the AFL-CIO Executive Council had previously said “government workers have no right [to collectively bargain] beyond the authority to petition Congress—a right available to every citizen.”

In 1965, labor lawyer Ida Klaus stated that "the subject of labor relations in public employment could not have meant less to more people, both in and out of government."

Even the New York Times agreed, as A. H. Raskin wrote:
The community cannot tolerate the notion that it is defenseless at the hands of organized workers to whom it has entrusted responsibility for essential services.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt earlier said that it wasn't just impossible to do so, but immoral and improper to even try:
The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place [in the public sector]. A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government.
The point was well stated by both: a union is only able to actually do its job if it has some leverage over its employers. Unions measure their power by their ability to shut down the business its workers are employed at, which in this case is local, state, or federal government. Allowing workers to shut down government for better pay or benefits is something that no rational person can consider permissible or reasonable. Striking police officers were colorfully depicted in the film Robocop.

However, by 1958, the idea had taken hold in American consciences, and Mayor Wagner of New York City signed an executive order allowing city workers to unionize. Other cities and states soon followed, seeing that this had given the mayor thousands of new voters and greatly strengthened the Democratic Party in the city. By 1962, President Kennedy extended the same privilege to federal workers.

During this time, private sector unions were scandalized by the changes. They generally were opposed to the very idea of public sector unions for a basic reason. The point behind unions was to give workers power to better their plight, to avoid abuse and exploitation by employers, and to get them more reasonable working hours, pay, and benefits. When the union leadership and members looked at government workers they saw people who were in no conceivable way being abused, ill treated, paid poorly, or exploited. They saw people who were doing pretty well.

Its true that on average, most government workers got paid slightly less than people in private businesses for the same work. That was always understood to be a reasonable exchange; government jobs had much greater security and were thought of as public service, while private sector jobs were under pressures of competition to get the best workers and had less job security. Bob's widgets might go out of business or close when the owner retires; the government never will. So the private sector unions thought public unions weren't just impractical but unnecessary.

While a private sector union is merely trying to increase the share of the profits it helps produce, a private sector has no profits, only taxpayer money. The basic idea of unions is to increase union member share of the profits it helps produce. But the private sector has no profits, only taxpayer money, and thus the share of profits is inapplicable. Government unions are trying to increase their share of taxpayer revenues, the money taken from citizens in the form of taxes under the penalty of law. They can't be exploited by their employers by getting too small a share of the riches they help produce because they produce no riches.

Private Sector unions use collective bargaining, the ability to bargain with the business owners as a group through a representative or representatives who work for better working conditions or better compensation. Government employees work in civil service, which has the pay and working conditions set out by law determined by representatives. Should they seek better conditions or compensation, they already have representatives in place which they can contact and attempt to address their concerns.

There are no usual market pressures in a government union to control the growth of employee benefits and pay; a business can only pay as much as it can afford or collapse, something which will not happen to governments. Businesses can only earn a given amount based on what the market will bear and how well that company takes advantage of the market. Government earning is limited only by a theoretical maximum of total earnings of every citizen under it. There's always more taxes, and in the case of federal government money can always be printed and borrowed well beyond even the possible limits of taxation.

In 1943, a New York Supreme Court judge put it this way:
To tolerate or recognize any combination of civil service employees of the government as a labor organization or union is not only incompatible with the spirit of democracy, but inconsistent with every principle upon which our government is founded. Nothing is more dangerous to public welfare than to admit that hired servants of the State can dictate to the government the hours, the wages and conditions under which they will carry on essential services vital to the welfare, safety, and security of the citizen.
That means private unions can continue to get more and more from their employers without any limit beyond what they can win in arbitration and bargaining. And that limit is influenced by the very existence of the unions.

This brings us to the biggest problem with government unions: that they turn the concept of representative government on its head. The principle of Republican Democracy is that citizens elect people who are accountable and represent their voters. Government unions, however, make these representatives accountable to other government employees by creating a powerful, rich, and influential special interest group that influences elections.

By using their money and power to help friendly politicians get elected, they then can benefit from these politicians -- who are now beholden to them -- to gain ever greater pay and benefits. The result is that there is almost no theoretical limit to the maximum gain for public employee benefits beyond action from legislators and governors to pull back on this ever-gaining largess. Now, public employees enjoy far less average unemployment and greater pay on average than those in their field privately, and end up costing their employers far more as well. This is not merely theory, it is an outcome which we are seeing the results of in states across America and sociologists have found ample evidence of.

And when that happens, well we can see every day in the news how the unions respond and how the Democratic Party, who has benefited greatly from this system, react. The concept of public employee unions is what led us to this place, when logic, history, and the entire principle of organizing workers is in opposition to government unions to begin with.

There's another significant concern with unions that is related to the problem of conflict of interest and influence. In Wisconsin, the police department is unionized. They were told to usher the union protesters out of the capitol building, and some of them refused. They did not cite constitutional free speech concerns, they did not believe this was an unlawful or immoral order, they simply did not care to act in a manner that would oppose their union brothers and sisters. They marched in and joined the protesters. For these police officers, union trumped law, orders, and their sworn duty. The fact that the police are more interested in union solidarity than their jobs should make anyone sit up in concern, and it is in a small way a demonstration of the dangers with public sector unions.

Where else will and do unionized government workers ignore their jobs, what they are told to do, and the law in favor of what their union wants? It doesn't just have to be the police; fire departments, even bureaucrats filling out paperwork can all cause damage to the system in order to support their union or harm its enemies.

Public employee unions should never have been allowed in the first place, have never been necessary for the workers, and have been shown to be destructive to government and public treasury. They should be ended immediately.

No comments: