Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Future of Public Sector Unions ... As Always Has Been the Case, Watch Wisconsin

The future of public sector unions in America is the topic du jour. And it's a most important one, with Wisconsin's Governor at the eye of the storm.

So get ready for an expensive name calling and mud slinging political contest in Wisconsin as we await the verdict of the good people of Wisconsin. How important is this? Some say it's only surpassed by the 2012 presidential race.

Wisconsin Recall Realigns Campaign Spending says this about the unions' recall effort in Wisconsin:

"Unions and conservative groups have turned Wisconsin's battle over labor rights into a national, multimillion-dollar war that will reverberate through the presidential and congressional races this fall.

The unions began an effort last year to recall the recently elected GOP governor, Scott Walker, and several state senators after they pushed through legislation restricting the collective-bargaining and organizing powers of workers belonging to government-employee unions.

All told, the two sides spent some $44 million last year for or against the recall efforts there . . . and that may be a low estimate . . . . This year, recall spending could reach $60 million, according to people on both sides of the fight.

Interest groups, many from outside the state, now account for six of every seven traceable dollars spent on the recalls.

"Wisconsin is a pawn on a very large chessboard," . . . .

Several union officials called a win in Wisconsin crucial. "This is ground zero," said Bruce Colburn, a Wisconsin native with the Service Employees International Union. He said Republicans want to divide private and public unions to create national "voter resentment of government workers' unions.". . .

Opponents of the recall effort say they will spend what they must to defeat it. Eric O'Keefe, a director of the Wisconsin Club for Growth, a local chapter of the conservative Washington group, said, "We think this is the most important race this year besides president, more important than the Senate or House races," because a victory would signal that politicians can't be intimidated."

Discussion and Background

Unions have no legitimate place in the public sector. In fact, I doubt their appropriateness in the private sector today, but we'll save that discussion for another time.

First, let's review some background on public sector unions. Perhaps the biggest ever proponent of private sector collective bargaining rights in America, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, opposed public sector unions.

FDR's Ghost Is Smiling on Wisconsin's Governor sets forth President Roosevelt's expressed views at the height of the Great Depression concerning bargaining rights for private sector employees compared to government workers:

"Roosevelt's reign certainly was the bright dawn of modern unionism. The legal and administrative paths that led to 35% of the nation's workforce eventually unionizing by a mid-1950s peak were laid by Roosevelt.

But only for the private sector. Roosevelt openly opposed bargaining rights for government unions.

"The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service," Roosevelt wrote in 1937 to the National Federation of Federal Employees. Yes, public workers may demand fair treatment, wrote Roosevelt. But, he wrote, "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.". . .

Roosevelt wasn't alone. It was orthodoxy among Democrats through the '50s that unions didn't belong in government work. Things began changing when, in 1959, Wisconsin's then-Gov. Gaylord Nelson signed collective bargaining into law for state workers. Other states followed, and gradually, municipal workers and teachers were unionized, too.

Even as that happened, the future was visible. Frank Zeidler, Milwaukee's mayor in the 1950s and the last card-carrying Socialist to head a major U.S. city, supported labor. But in 1969, the progressive icon wrote that rise of unions in government work put a competing power in charge of public business next to elected officials. Government unions "can mean considerable loss of control over the budget, and hence over tax rates," he warned."

Analysis and Summing Up

What was said by FDR and the Milwaukee mayor so long ago remains true in 2012. Public sector unions are harmful rather than helpful to the public interest.

We the People shouldn't have to bargain with monopolistic unions over the cost of government, including local, state and federal employees' working conditions, compensation and retiree benefits. It simply makes no sense to limit taxpayer rights when it comes to the costs we choose to undertake in a self governing society.

In the private sector, unions have lost power as global markets have become ultra-competitive. Since companies must remain competitive to keep afloat and people employed, global competition keeps everybody engaged to the fullest as world markets are in control.

And if some companies and their employees don't stay fully engaged and viable, the companies go out of business and the employees lose their jobs.

Simply put, old style private sector unions are becoming an anachronism in today's global business environment. If the unions don't help enable companies to compete, they help put companies out of business. There's no in-between.

Not so in the monopolistic public sector, however. The competition factor is missing, and that makes a profound difference.

But things are changing on "easy street," and a somewhat competitive atmosphere is developing there as well. That's because public sector compensation dollars now must compete with public sector community services for limited taxpayer dollars.

Accordingly, the taxpayer is being forced to choose between paying higher taxes, receiving fewer public services or providing reduced compensation and benefits for public workers. And taxpayers feel as if they're not getting their money's worth in many cases.

They rightly have concluded that in many cases public employee compensation levels are much too high in relation to the private sector. In other words, taxpayers often don't like what they see when they take the time to look squarely at the facts. And increasingly they're doing just that.

For example, today many cities and states have huge unfunded pension and retiree health care liabilities. As a result, government officials are being called to account by taxpayers.

And in many other cases, private sector employees are being laid off while public sector workers not only keep their jobs but are paid more as well, in addition to enjoying better health and retirement plan benefits. Monopolistic practices don't last forever.

So in the end, the unions won't win at the expense of We the People. That said, I'm reminded of what legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said about winning games. He said his team never played in one that it couldn't win but that some didn't last long enough.

Thus, we know who will win when the game ends, We the People, but we can't say exactly when the game will end. Hopefully, soon.

And why won't the unions win? Because they shouldn't even be allowed to play. You see, it's really not a game. It's actually very serious business.

The country can't afford all this wasted time and money associated with dealing with public sector unions, and neither can the states or cities involved.

On a related matter, right-to-work legislation in the states is gaining speed, and the Wisconsin recall vote may tell us whether the trend continues or comes to a screeching halt.

Regarding Wisconsin this year and the unions' attempt to get rid of Governor Walker, I'm betting on the people choosing wisely and the unions suffering an important defeat. Walker will stay in office, and that will be a big win for We the People.

In any event, we shall soon see and hope that the "game doesn't go into overtime."

But even if it does, We the People will prevail when it ends.

Thanks. Bob.

No comments:

Post a Comment