Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Public Sector Unions Don't Make Sense

“It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.” -George Meany, former president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O, 1955 (Source here.)

“Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relations and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government…. The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.” The reason? F.D.R. believed that “[a] strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to obstruct the operations of government until their demands are satisfied. Such action looking toward the paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it is unthinkable and intolerable.” -FDR, 1937 (Source here.)

The distinction between private sector and public sector unions is one many people never make, especially in California and Wisconsin, but it's an incredibly important distinction.  Jonah Goldberg makes good points about the distinction and public sector unions here. 

Let me present a much shorter argument.  Private sector unions make some sense.  They have been effective in improving intolerable working conditions, and fighting for the rights of workers.  Competition might have accomplished the same goals if given enough time, unions got the job done quickly.  Private sector unions must follow the first law of all parasites:  don't kill the host.

Public sector unions are another matter.  There is no way to kill the host.  Some argue state governments can't even declare bankruptcy as towns like Vallejo, CA did.  When union demands made by union people usually to other union people (where's the healthy, adversarial process when the union is on both sides of the negotiating table?) are unsustainable, governments must simply tax more.  There is no ceiling, no limit, no profit margin to worry about.  You can't kill the host, you can only cause the taxpayers to flee or fight back.

That's why Wisconsin's recall election yesterday was so important.  It may be the beginning of the end for an unsustainable, illogical system of public sector unions across the nation which would benefit the taxpayer and advocates of smaller government everywhere in the U.S.

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