Public Sector Unions - Reflections of a Common Man

The debate in Wisconsin over public sector unions and their effect on struggling state budgets stirred much passion in the hearts and minds of people across this nation. Following is an article I received from a Texas Conservative, Ned Piedmont of Houston, Texas. This article is part of his monthly series titled "Reflections of a Common Man". 

The political situation in Wisconsin has gotten my mind hard at work (on a pro bono basis of course) on the business of unions in America today.  Don't know if it matters much to you, but I believe that it is important enough that we should at least take a look at the issue of unions in America today. 

The budgetary battle in Wisconsin  provides a good example of the budget-busting demands of government employee unions across the rest of the nation. As we all know, this is about more than the situation up there. It is about the financial health of the states and indeed the entire country. It is also about the role that public sector unions have played in bringing the nation to the brink of bankruptcy. 

It is time to face the fact that the financial day of reckoning has arrived. The overspending and borrowing can has been kicked to the end of the road. A few elected officials are now standing up and telling the truth about this. They do so at the risk not only of election defeat but also of threats of violence to them and to their families as well. No need here to rehash the history of union violence.  We all know that it is a bloody fact that their first recourse is always to violence.  All we have to do is look at the events in Wisconsin to see how readily unions resort to harassment, intimidation, and violence to get what they want. 

Here’s a small sample from up there…an email sent to Senator Dan Kapanke on March 9 stated, “We will hunt you down.  We will slit your throats.  We will drink your blood.  I will have your decapitated head on a pike in the Madison town square.  This is your last warning.”  How about that?  On March 10 death threats were emailed to 15 Republican senators stating that “you and your Republican dictators have to die” and additionally threatening their families.  Further, someone slipped a note under the door of WI GOP senator Glen Grothman’s office that read “THE ONLY GOOD Republican is a DEAD Republican.”  And I have not seen any of this reported in the major national media so far. 

Had we listened to unions and the guilds before them, we would not have a printing press, an automated loom, a sewing machine,  or electronic telephone switching.  Unions opposed each and every one of these inventions.  If the unions had control, we would still be riding around in wagons drawn by horses.  They have opposed every advance in technological or automated manufacturing in history with the same tired excuse that it will “cost jobs”.   History demonstrates time and again that this is simply not true.  Their Luddite opposition to progress invariably fails to account for the new industries sprung up and the millions of new jobs created by invention, innovation, and automation.  This intransigence is historic.  They have to be dragged kicking and screaming into progress at every turn. 

There was a time when unions served a good, even a noble purpose. They protected workers from abuse, exploitation, and danger. Workers needed protection from the dangers of mining and manufacturing and from exploitation by cruel and greedy bosses. Not so any longer. The unions have long since outlived their usefulness and have now replaced the greedy business owners with a greed of their own. This is especially true in the case of public sector unions. 

From whom or what do workers need protection in government or public service jobs today?  They are hardly in any danger on the job any more. They do not work for “greedy, selfish capitalists.”  They work for the government and public school systems. Just who is it in the public sector that is exploiting or abusing these workers?  And why do they need further benefits in addition to Civil Service? What they now negotiate with government entities are salaries and benefits out of all proportion to their skills and contributions. If you doubt this, just take a look at the money spent in Washington D.C. or New York City on ‘education’ and compare it with any reasonable measure of what the kids are learning. What they now engage in more resembles collective extortion than collective bargaining. 

Private sector unions have been declining for decades as many industries have been practically destroyed by unreasonable union demands not only in the area of pay and benefits but also in costly and restrictive work rules which undermine efficiency and profitability. Every union-dominated industry today is in financial trouble.  Our auto industry was almost destroyed by the unions.  The steel industry is gone altogether.  Practically all other manufacturing has been driven overseas where these onerous demands and rules do not artificially inflate costs. 

Thomas Sowell recently wrote, “The biggest myth is that unions are for workers.  Unions are for unions.” Nowhere is this more true than in the public sector. They are no longer about ‘collective bargaining.’ They are now about accumulating political power..the power to elect the very officials who will give in to their outrageous demands. 

In a recent column Jonah Goldberg wrote, “Private sector unions fight with management over an equitable distribution of profits.  Government unions negotiate with friendly politicians over taxpayer money, putting the public interest at odds with union interests…exploding the cost of government. California’s pension costs soared 22,000 per cent in a decade thanks to unions.” Is there any unbiased person out there who thinks this is reasonable or sustainable? 

The ruinously expensive wealth transfers from the private sector to public sector unions have created unfunded liabilities estimated today to be as high as THREE TRILLION DOLLARS.  And these kinds of unfunded obligations are NOT COUNTED as part of our national debt! Can America continue on this financial path. 

Collective bargaining is not a God-given right.  It is nowhere in our Constitution. It is a privilege no matter what some union boss says. And we can, and are now obliged to, put some reasonable restrictions on it. 

In a recent column in Front Page Magazine Matthew Vadum says, “But the way the left tells the story, the collective bargaining “rights” that both private and public labor unions enjoy today were engraved on the stone tablets Moses carried down from Mt. Sinai. This rhetoric…is based on a fraud.”  The fraud referred to is known as “group rights.”  “It is the idea that when a group of people get together they somehow magically gain rights that supersede the rights they hold as individuals.” 

Honest collective bargaining begins with a union joined voluntarily by workers without force or coercion. It involves worker representatives meeting with management to come to agreement on issues of pay and benefits. There has to be a certain amount of ‘give and take’ to agree on what is considered fair to both parties.  And the company must also have the financial wherewithal to deliver the benefits agreed upon. Any added benefits given to workers must come from the company’s ability to increase the sales of the company to cover the additional costs for pay and benefits.  Management cannot make promises that it cannot afford to keep.  And finally, both parties have a stake in the outcome, “skin in the game,” so to speak.  This model does not apply to public sector negotiations. 

Unlike in the private sector, government workers do not help in generating profits.  They simply negotiate for more tax money.  It more resembles extortion than collective bargaining.  Unions sit down with public officials  and negotiate pay and benefits which will be paid for by the public, who, by the way, is not represented at the table.  The Heritage Foundation calls public sector unions “anti-democratic, tax-devouring scams.”  It seems that I am in good company in my personal opposition to government employee unions. 

JFK Signs Postal Union AgreementIn the past it was against the  law for Federal workers to join a union for just that reason.  With the stroke of a pen President Kennedy’s Executive Order effectively wiped out the law in 1962.  Even then government workers were making good salaries and had the benefits provided by Civil Service regulations.  So I ask again.  What evil masters are the government unions protecting the workers from?   I can’t think of any.  But I can see the benefits which accrue to one political party when it has the ability to create its own constituency by promoting and protecting public sector unions. 

In 1975 Victor Gotbaum, a leader in the New York City chapter of the AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees), boasted, “We have the ability, in a sense, to elect our own boss.”  In 2009 Bob Chanin, former legal counsel to the NEA said in answer to the question why are the NEA and its affiliates so effective, “Despite what some among us would like to believe, it is not because of our creative ideas.  It is not because of the merit of our positions.  It is not because we care about children.  And it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child.  NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power.  And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing (forced maybe?) to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year.” 

The Democratic party has had its own constituency for over three decades.  And we are now reaping the whirlwind.  Public sector union salaries and benefits are bankrupting the states and the nation.  The game is now over, and we must put a stop to it.  The unions know it and are responding in traditional fashion, with intimidation, threats of violence, and of recall elections.  As usual, they are in total denial of the problem.  The entitlement mentality is strong…and dangerous.  It has to be brought under control. 

I seem to also remember a time when unions were forbidden to use dues money collected from the members for any purpose other than collective bargaining.  I can see why.  Michael Barone wrote in a recent column, “In effect, public-employee unions are a mechanism by which every taxpayer is forced to fund the Democratic Party.” 

John Edwards, in his campaign for the presidency (boy, that seems so long ago), declared his belief that there were two Americas.  By golly, I now believe that he was right.  We have one America comprised of government bureaucrats, elected officials, and union members.  Then there is the other America, made up of citizens whose lives and fortunes are being held hostage to pay for the outrageous salaries and benefit plans of the former.  The time has come to change that.  This is the kind of change I’d like to see. 

Governor Christie, of New Jersey, says that we can no longer have two classes of citizens – one that receives rich health and pension benefits and all the rest who are left to pay for them.  It is also not simply that we can no longer afford it.  There is a matter of morality in all this, which, as usual is left out of the discussion.  It is never right to do wrong.  And it is certainly not right to take what does not belong to you, or, in other words, to spend   money which rightfully belongs to the next generation of Americans.If we are going to survive as a country, this immoral borrowing to pay for things we want but cannot afford has to stop.  I am confident that it will.  After all, as I said last time…with God all things are possible.

Note about the Author:  

 Ned Peidmont is an independent businessman who has lived in Houston, Texas for 35 years. He is a VaTech graduate and a veteran of the US Army Signal Corp. For the past three years Ned has been writing a monthly essay titled "Reflections of a Common Man" on a variety of topics including Bumper Sticker Philosophy, Language and How Politicians Abuse it for Self-Interest Purposes and America is More Than Just a Piece of Ground. I am happy to have the opportunity to share his work with you.  I hope you enjoyed it. 



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People that complain about unions need to remember that public sector workers are the largest surviving sector of unionized labor in the United States. Only 7% of private workers are unionized. Since the 1970s, even before Reagan, business has been aggressively anti-union in the workplace and the government colluded. Violations of the NLRA skyrocketed in the 80s, but nothing was done. Because American workers depend on companies to protect their health and retirement (unlike in Canada and Europe) unionized sector companies experienced slower growth. This caused even more business resistance to unions and anti-union aggression that was not countered by the government (again, unlike in Canada and Europe). This is probably why in the United States the amount of money that CEOs make is 2x that of CEOs in other rich nations and executives extract money even from the shareholders that they are supposed to serve. And why in the United State's wealth is hyperconcentrated in the bank accounts of 1% of the population.

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