Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Public Unions vs. Taxpayers

There are great pieces all around by George Will (WaPo), James Taranto (WSJ), and Jonah Goldberg (LA Times), but to take a simpleton's stab at the issue:

Government unions, of which over 36% of government employees are a part, and which were actually illegal until JFK allowed them by executive order in 1962, should not be allowed to exist. Perhaps the simplest reason is because there is no reason for them to exist; are we that concerned about government taking advantage of its own workers, of placing them in harm's way or giving them unfair working conditions? Quite simply, no.

But the more important and clear reason today is that such unions exist almost completely to protect its own at the expense of government... and therefore, taxpayers. Government workers have a vested interest in increasing the size of government - whether it makes sense or not for the people whom they serve - to protect their own jobs and benefits. Government exists to serve the people, and allowing the existence of a group whose primary motivation is to serve itself over the people they are meant to serve is tantamount to organized suicide.

The best analogy is to imagine running a business, and knowing that you must retain a specific staff member to handle your HR - and you are not in a position to hire anybody else, only this specific individual. However, you are not allowed to dictate terms; rather, this staff member will dictate to you what the terms of her hire will be. In fact, despite your being completely open with this staff member that you cannot afford to meet her demands, she is demanding compensation completely out of line with the industry standard, and has rallied friends of hers from related departments to tell you to meet her demands. You've countered with a proposal that is extremely generous, backed clearly by the shareholders of the company, and yet all you hear are more cries that what you're offering is a slap in the face to this HR staffer, despite her having been grossly overcompensated for decades. On top of that, a board vote would overrule her demands, but a few board members left to avoid allowing a quorum to have a vote on the matter.

The obvious question is not merely how to solve the riddle; instead, it is the following: Who in their right mind believes such a company can successfully function; and, once you've determined the answer to that, then why the heck are we running our governments this way?


  1. 1) Your assumption that government won't take advantage of it's workers is ridiculous and unfounded in reality. Just listen to all the Republicans arguing this week that public school teachers are overpaid. If they had their way (Republican government and no unions) they'd keep reducing salaries and benefits until they couldn't find warm bodies to fill the jobs.

    2) Your analogy is also ridiculous. The unions don't get to set terms, they get to negotiate terms. The fact that they are unionized means that the employer (the government) in this case simply can't use divide-and-conquer techniques to screw them all over because each individual would have approximately 0 power to stand up for him/herself.

    3) It's true that wages and benefits for employees are a cost to the employer, but that doesn't mean it's a bad thing. It's only bad if the ends (cheaper government) always justify the means (screwing over the workers.) Most moral people would argue that we want to maximize government efficiency AND offer appropriate employee compensation.

    4) The idea that unions always demand and receive more than they deserve is ridiculous. Just as most people on welfare are not the "welfare queens" the right pretends they are, most unions acquire relatively fair compensation. Note that in Wisconsin, the unions AGREED to the benefit cuts they were told needed to be made because they recognized the big picture. They are fighting simply for their right to keep bargaining in the future.

    5) The class warfare the Republicans are engaging in is just despicable. They'll go to war to fight for CEO compensation, but when it comes to teachers, screw them. If you honestly believe that teachers aren't worth what they are currently paid or more, then you have no concept.

  2. 1) That's silly.
    2) GOVERNMENT unions are in a completely different set, because they essentially hold the whole populace hostage. Moreover, the fact that just 6.9% of private workers are unionized shows that this is completely unnecessary in today's market; that we allow it among government workers is insane.
    3) To claim that the demands of unions have anything to do with avoiding "being screwed over" is insane and ludicrous. Give me a break.
    4) Most unions receive compensation way out of line with average. And where did they agree? And what right do they have exactly?
    5) What "class warfare"?! The only class warfare is the creation of the left. Read Taranto's piece. "First, to talk of America in terms of "class" is to speak a foreign language. Outside of university faculties and Marxist fringe groups (but we repeat our self), Americans do not divide ourselves up by class; rather, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . ."

    When Americans describe themselves as "middle class," the term is a synonym for "ordinary" or "respectable," not part of a taxonomy of division. Actual middle-class Americans don't feel put upon by "corporate power" or "the business community," because by and large, they own the means of production: They run businesses; they hold shares in corporations through their investment and retirement accounts. Some belong to unions, but the vast majority do not: "In 2010, the union membership rate--the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union--was 11.9 percent, down from 12.3 percent a year earlier," according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics."

    Nobody goes to war for CEO compensation; people believe that companies have the right to choose to do as they see fit, not as government instructs. It's got something to do with... oh, right - freedom. As for teachers, my wife is one who gets paid by the Board of Education. Perhaps if less money was wasted on countless government programs or on ridiculous union benefits we'd have more to utilize for education.

  3. The unions only agreed to the current budgetary concessions NOW because their backs are to the wall and they're about to lose everything (Walker has all the votes he needs and doesn't need to compromise).

    When asked to make similar changes in their benefits during the previous administration they flat out refused.

    The average American contributes way more to their healthcare premiums, pensions (if they even have them!), and makes less than WI public employees so they weren't going to get anywhere in the court of public opinion arguing about those.