Public Employee Unions: The Bottom Line

With all the absurd verbiage flying around from union leaders and politicos lately, you’d think the sky has fallen. Take the emotion-charged responses of the unions over last week’s passage of the Wisconsin bill restricting collective bargaining rights.  It “jeopardizes fundamental American values”, is “an abuse of power”, a “slap in the face to the middle class” and a pretense to “fix a phony budget crisis”. Phony? Really? These people probably started the rumor that the moon landing took place in a TV studio.

The orchestrated union hysteria aside, what is the real issue in the high-profile debate over busting public unions? Make no mistake, many want the public unions put out of our collective misery. There’s not a fiscally troubled state in the Country that can pay off its unfunded public liabilities. Unless, of course, they impose devastating tax increases and/or take a serious axe to services. The wolf has finally blown the door down and stands drooling over every morsel we’ve got.

So, it seems that the pubic union debate must be focused on the economic value of government workers. There’s no other rational way to assess their spiraling cost to taxpayers. The growing wages. The sky-rocketing benefits. The expanding employment rolls. Someone, somewhere decided years ago that government workers have a great value to the Country. The debate today should be about whether that decision is justified.

Back in the day, before unionization hit government, public workers were paid less than their private sector counterparts. But, it was also difficult to fire them and job security was a pretty good tradeoff for a slightly smaller paycheck. Plus, the public guys had decent benefits and the shortest, fulltime workweek around. If you didn’t want to devote your life to your work, a government job was a good way to go. And, you still made a decent living for your family. I know because we have more than one proud former state employee under our roof.

But, in 1958, not that long ago really, public employees began bellying up to the union bar. Public unions were the brain child of a NYC politician who needed help at the polls. He started throwing power to public employees and they kept him in office. The model spread like political wildfire across the Country. In 1959, Wisconsin was the first state to allow public employees to unionize. The Feds soon followed suit. Today, three-quarters of our states have public unions within their borders. Occasionally, their members raise the solidarity fist with their unionized brethren in construction and manufacturing. But, they have as much in common with them as they would have with a union of silver spooners.

In a short fifty years, public unions have grown to include more than half of all unionized workers in the Country. In last November’s elections, they donated more than $200 million to favored candidates nationally. That’s some very serious political pull. No wonder they’ve skipped several chapters in How Things Really Work. They live in fairy tale land.

Here on Planet Earth, reward is based on the value of your work to those it benefits. Public employees work for, and owe their service to, the public. To taxpayers, not to politicians. It’s time they started acting like it. Instead of reaching even deeper into our pockets, they should start thinking about what public service means. Not sacrifice, but not blind selfishness, either. It’s time to return to the good old days when compensation was a measure of fairness and not political payback.

Some predict that the Wisconsin bill is merely the first anti-union domino to fall in a long line of them. It can’t happen soon enough.

See you on the left-side.