The Trouble with Public Sector Unions

In an absolute must read article at National Affairs, author Daniel DiSalvo presents the history of the public labor union movement: The Trouble with Public Sector Unions . Far from supporting the union protesters in Madison, the historical record shows a long understanding of the conflict of interest and danger public employee unions represent. As OB&B has previously shown, even the Icon of the Left, FDR, opposed the unionization of the public sector:

Even President Franklin Roosevelt, a friend of private-sector unionism, drew a line when it came to government workers: “Meticulous attention,” the president insisted in 1937, “should be paid to the special relations and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government….The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.” The reason? F.D.R. believed that “[a] strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to obstruct the operations of government until their demands are satisfied. Such action looking toward the paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it is unthinkable and intolerable.” Roosevelt was hardly alone in holding these views, even among the champions of organized labor. Indeed, the first president of the AFL-CIO, George Meany, believed it was “impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”

There you have it. Not even the leader of the AFL-CIO thought this was a good idea. The courts likewise agreed, outlining the very real problem public unions posed:

Courts across the nation also generally held that collective bargaining by government workers should be forbidden on the legal grounds of sovereign immunity and unconstitutional delegation of government powers. In 1943, a New York Supreme Court judge held:

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. To admit as true that government employees have power to halt or check the functions of government unless their demands are satisfied, is to transfer to them all legislative, executive and judicial power. Nothing would be more ridiculous.

These arguments are not new to OB&B, as we’ve been discussing this very real problem for months. On November 6, 2010 I wrote Your Taxes Support Democrats, noting the largest contributor to political campaigns in the 2010 election was the public unions. DiSalvo takes this theme and elaborates on it more:

When it comes to advancing their interests, public-sector unions have significant advantages over traditional unions. For one thing, using the political process, they can exert far greater influence over their members’ employers — that is, government — than private-sector unions can. Through their extensive political activity, these government-workers’ unions help elect the very politicians who will act as “management” in their contract negotiations — in effect handpicking those who will sit across the bargaining table from them, in a way that workers in a private corporation (like, say, American Airlines or the Washington Post Company) cannot. Such power led Victor Gotbaum, the leader of District Council 37 of the AFSCME in New York City, to brag in 1975: “We have the ability, in a sense, to elect our own boss.”

For a case study in how public-sector unions manipulate both supply and demand, consider the example of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, the CCPOA lobbied the state government to increase California’s prison facilities — since more prisons would obviously mean more jobs for corrections officers. And between 1980 and 2000, the Golden State constructed 22 new prisons for adults (before 1980, California had only 12 such facilities). The CCPOA also pushed for the 1994 “three strikes” sentencing law, which imposed stiff penalties on repeat offenders. The prison population exploded — and, as intended, the new prisoners required more guards. The CCPOA has been no less successful in increasing members’ compensation: In 2006, the average union member made $70,000 a year, and more than $100,000 with overtime. Corrections officers can also retire with 90% of their salaries as early as age 50. Today, an amazing 11% of the state budget — more than what is spent on higher education — goes to the penal system [again, as OB&B has shown -ed.]. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger now proposes privatizing portions of the prison system to escape the unions’ grip — though his proposal has so far met with predictable (union supported) political opposition.

“At some point,” New Jersey governor Chris Christie said in a February speech to his state’s mayors, “there has to be parity between what is happening in the real world and what is happening in the public-sector world.”

How long until American youth mirror their French counterparts in longing for a government job?

This is just a taste, so please – read the whole thing.

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This entry was posted in Economics, Politics, Public Unions and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Trouble with Public Sector Unions

  1. roopost says:

    Drae,

    The Economist had an interesting article on this very subject:
    http://www.economist.com/node/17849199?story_id=17849199

    It seems that Public Sector Unions are a drain in more than just the US. Sadly, my country has and even more entrenched public sector union presence.

    Kind regards,

  2. Pingback: Union…Should we be United? | Citizen Jack

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