Skip to comments.The End Nears for a 50-Year Mistake (public sector unions)
Posted on 06/10/2012 5:39:15 PM PDT by smoothsailing
June 10, 2012
In retrospect, there were two conspicuous giveaways that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was headed for victory in last week's recall election.
One was that the Democrats' campaign against him wound up focusing on just about everything but Walker's law limiting collective bargaining rights for government workers. Sixteen months ago, the Capitol building in Madison was besieged by rioting protesters hell-bent on blocking the changes by any means necessary. Union members and their supporters, incandescent with rage, likened Walker to Adolf Hitler and cheered as Democratic lawmakers fled the state in a bid to force the legislature to a standstill. Once the bill passed, unions and Democrats vowed revenge, and amassed a million signatures on recall petitions.
But the more voters saw of the law's effects, the more they liked it. Dozens of school districts reported millions in savings, most without resorting to layoffs. Property taxes fell. A $3.6 billion state budget deficit turned into a $154 million projected surplus. Walker's measures proved a tonic for the economy, and support for restoring the status quo ante faded -- even among Wisconsin Democrats. Long before Election Day, Democratic challenger Tom Barrett had all but dropped the issue of public-sector collective bargaining from his campaign to replace Walker.
The second harbinger was the plunge in public-employee union membership. The most important of Walker's reforms, the change Big Labor had fought most bitterly, was ending the automatic withholding of union dues. That made union membership a matter of choice, not compulsion -- and tens of thousands of government workers chose to toss their union cards. More than one-third of the American Federation of Teachers Wisconsin membership quit, reported The Wall Street Journal. At the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, one of the state's largest unions, the hemorrhaging was worse: AFSCME's Wisconsin rolls shrank by more than 34,000 over the past year, a 55 percent nose-dive.
Did government workers tear up their union cards solely because the union had lost its right to bargain collectively on their behalf? That's doubtful: Even under the new law, unions still negotiate over salaries. More likely, public-sector employees ditched their unions for the same reasons so many employees in the private sector -- which is now less than 7 percent unionized -- have done so. Many never wanted to join a union in the first place. Others were repelled by the authoritarian, belligerent, and left-wing political culture that entrenched unionism so often embodies.
Even before the votes in Wisconsin were cast, observed Michael Barone last week, Democrats and public-employee unions "had already lost the battle of ideas over the issue that sparked the recall." Their tantrums and slanders didn't just fail to intimidate Walker and Wisconsin lawmakers from reining in public-sector collective bargaining. They also gave the public a good hard look at what government unionism is apt to descend to. The past 16 months amounted to an extended seminar on the danger of combining collective bargaining with government jobs. Voters watched -- and learned.
There was a time when pro-labor political leaders like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Fiorello LaGuardia regarded it as obvious that collective bargaining was incompatible with public employment. Even the legendary AFL-CIO leader George Meany once took it for granted that there could be no "right" to bargain collectively with the government.
When unions bargain with management in the private sector, both sides are contending for a share of the private profits that labor helps produce -- and both sides are constrained by the pressures of market discipline. Managers can't ignore the company's bottom line. Unions know that if they demand too much they may cost the company its competitive edge.
But when labor and management bargain in the public sector, they are divvying up public funds, not private profits. Government bureaucrats don't have to worry about losing business to their competitors; state agencies can't relocate to another part of the country. There is little incentive to hold down wages and benefits, since the taxpayers who will be picking up the tab have no seat at the table. On the other hand, government managers have a powerful motivation to yield to government unions: Union members vote, and their votes can be deployed to reward politicians who give them what they want -- or punish those who don't.
In 1959, when Wisconsin became the first state to enact a public-sector collective-bargaining law, it wasn't widely understood what the distorted incentives of government unionism would lead to. Five decades later, the wreckage is all around us. The privileges that come with government work -- hefty automatic pay raises, Cadillac pension plans, iron-clad job security, ultra-deluxe health insurance -- have in many cases grown outlandish and staggeringly unaffordable. What Keith Geiger, the former head of the National Education Association, once referred to as "our sledgehammer, the collective bargaining process," has wreaked havoc on state and municipal budgets nationwide.
Now, at long last, the pendulum has reversed. The 50-year mistake of public-sector unions is being corrected. Walker's victory is a heartening reminder that in a democracy, even the most entrenched bad ideas can sometimes be unentrenched. On, Wisconsin!
Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for Townhall.com.
We can only hope.
We can only hope.
We can only hope.
When it happens across the North East I’ll believe it.
I do hope it will
Probably the best article I have read about public employee unions and the Wisconsin recall.
I have always felt that when a public union organizes they are organizing against the taxpayer, and IMO since they are making a labor contract in which the taxpayer has no say, it must be contrary to the Constitution. Where am I going wrong?
You might like this one, about public sector unions, from Feb 2011.
Government Employees are the largest Lobby Group in the USA.
We need to bring this Special Interest to its knees.
Currently, our elected officials are scared to death to take on the Government Employee Special Interest.
We need to attact the Government Employee Lobby Group at all levels.
At the local level vote in rules to prohibit union employees in your city, school, and county government.
Do not rely upon someone else to do it for you. You need to start at the local level and then work up.
LOL. You’re my kind of cynic.
I'd support a small fee for employees to have an organization to represent them on grievances and to protect employee rights granted by law but limit it and get the organization representing them out of the political scene.
I think a contract between government and union is not the same as a contract between GM and the UAW, for example. As I understand it, a government contract is an act of the legislature and can be rescinded at any time.
Great article. Thanks.
This might be something to hit Obama over the head with in November.
Well, the Constitution has nothing to say on the subject one way or another. Not all bad ideas are unconstitutional.
In particular, the Constitution does not and should not prohibit a state from doing something stupid.
And, of course, the taxpayers DO have a say on the subject, whenever they choose to exercise it. Which they finally did last week.
The whole public employee union issue is sort of the ultimate example of "regulatory capture," where an entity set up to control something is instead taken over by it.
As an example, consider barber licensure. The boards have public meetings, but nobody from the general public ever shows up. Why should they? Nobody cares enough to take time out of their lives.
But of course the decisions of the board are critical to barbers. So the only pressure or input the board ever gets is from barbers and their organizations. Over time, the board operates more and more in the interests of barbers and less and less in the interests of the consumer, whom it was originally set up to protect.
In the case of public employee unions, the regulatory capture was of state and local governments, which they operated in their own interests rather than in that of the citizens. Until the citizens begin to pay attention and swat them down.
Caught that, did ya! :o)
I wonder how long until the teachers and others refusing to pay dues are browbeaten and harassed into doing so again.
You just know this will happen as the unions turn inward now to police their ranks.
Nothing like threats of physical violence to de-escalate the tone of public discourse. There is probably an old law on the books in Michigan that covers threats to the legislature.
What really brought the danger of public unions home to me was when Jenny Granholm started importing prison inmates from other states so union guards wouldn’t get laid off.
Not grievances, it turns into a legal hassle. I think that the teachers could form professional organizations and get benefits like the NRA has.