With the high profile debate going on between Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the public employee unions, I thought I should weigh in with what ultimately is the issue at stake here.
Beyond the budget cuts, which the unions are now agreeing to, the big divide between Gov. Walker and the protesters is over the role of public employee unions in state government. The big debate is over whether public employees should be able to bargain collectively, and I come down firmly on the no side of that debate.
Some might say not allowing a group of workers to unionize is clearly against the idea of workers’ rights, and a move backwards for the country. Beyond such inflamed rhetoric, let’s look at why unions need to exist in the first place.
In the private sector, unions exist to allow workers a seat at the table when the company is making large decisions that will impact the workforce, such as layoffs and pay raises/cuts. Workers need the ability to have a unified front in the private sector because otherwise they can be pushed around by management looking to get as cheap labor as possible. With no unions in the private sector, you might see management attempting to cut pay and benefits drastically in order to compete with companies who employ labor in China or India. A unified front would be able to push back, threatening strikes and other tactics meant to showcase the necessity of the workers to the company’s mission. On the other side of the coin, if the company doesn’t like the workers’ demands, they can shutter the factory or close the store until the workers come back to the table.
That’s all fine and dandy for the private sector. If GM had a major strike, many cars wouldn’t be produced, but nothing catastrophic would occur. Workers also have it in their best interest to see the company succeed, as it allows them to continue to be employed. Private companies can go out of business, forcing both sides to come to a compromise at some point that allows the company to stay in business.
Additionally, workers have no choice in the management, and thus are forced to negotiate with whomever the company leadership chooses.
This is the fundamental difference with public employee unions. They spend millions of dollars every election cycle helping determine who their negotiating partner will be. If you don’t think Democrats are indebted to the teachers union for spending over $40 million and the AFSCME for spending $87 million last cycle, you’re crazy. For the unions, those amounts were investments they expect to return themselves via better salary and benefits in negotiations with the new government. I can’t blame Democrats – they’d be crazy not to scratch the unions back for the obscene sums spent on their behalf.
The problem is that the returned debt is racked up in taxpayers’ name. For years, this tit-for-tat relationship has existed, except now we can’t afford to pay such an exorbitant cost. We’re broke.
That’s the second fundamental difference with the private sector. Public sector unions have no shown little to no interest in the fiscal stability of the governments they are paid by. While companies can’t raise revenue through taxes, unions expect governments to just tax more to make up the shortfalls in their budgets. There is virtually no chance of governments collapsing in this country, so unions can continue to push for unaffordable pay and benefits – damage be damned.
Perhaps most importantly is that government services produced by public employees are essential services that should not be threatened by strikes. If GM doesn’t make cars the world doesn’t come to an end, but if teachers stop showing up serious damage is done to the education of our children. In NYC the transit workers held a strike a few years ago, virtually shutting down the city. It caused hundreds of millions in lost business and made life hell for the poorer people who have to commute into Manhattan from the outer boroughs. That cannot be allowed to happen.
In the end, unions exist to provide rights that exist already for public sector employees. In fact, they have more rights in the public sector because no private sector union spends over $100 million lobbying for their next leadership choice. Public sector unions do no have the same prevailing forces on them to act fairly as private sectors unions do. And most importantly, the main strength of unions – strikes – are simply untenable in the public sector for the damage it causes to all citizens. These three reasons are fundamental to why public sector workers should not be able to unionize.