Sunday, February 27, 2011

The case against Public Unions

[Editor's note: This is a post written by Return to Locke, the political bizzaro me. My response will follow]

The one thing that seems to bother me most about the Wisconsin situation and the debate over public sector unions is the hypocrisy and Constitutional ignorance that seems to be running rampant in the supporters of the unions. I keep hearing that it is the “right” of the people to collectively bargain. Since when?

Most supporters of the “right” to collectively bargain, point to the 1st Amendment’s guarantee of the right to peaceably assemble. But, they are making a huge leap to conclude that the 1st Amendment protects a group’s right to negotiate contracts as a group with state and local governments. Collective bargaining is not the same as assembling. Wisconsin and other states that are trying to limit public sector collective bargaining are not keeping these union members from assembling to protest, to discuss contract issues, etc. Those are the activities that are protected by the First Amendment. Collective bargaining is a privilege, not a right. It is like a tax deduction. It can be freely given and taken away by the state.

I will even go a step further and say that collective bargaining is inconsistent with freedom. Unions certainly have free speech rights to voice their opinions about public policy. But collective bargaining gives unions the exclusive right to speak for covered workers, many of whom may disagree with the views of the monopoly union. Thus, collective bargaining is inconsistent with the right to freedom of association, the very thing that the First Amendment is supposed to protect.

And even more ironic is that the Liberal icon FDR himself realized that collective bargaining is not a right when he said, "The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be translated 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." (I think this became abundantly clear when Wisconsin students were left with no school to go to while their teachers were out striking… in the name of the children of course…)

The hypocrisy is even more rampant than the Constitutional ignorance. Most liberals despise the influence “corporate America” has on our government. Where is this outrage when it comes to public unions? Think about it. Public unions can support a candidate for office, get them elected, and then get to turn around and negotiate their union contracts with that same politician. Negotiate using TAX PAYER money. If supporters of public unions aren’t intellectually honest enough to see the corruption in that, then I feel sorry for them because that is the height of naivety.

As CATO scholar and University of South Florida economics professor Don Bellante so aptly put it, “[a]s keepers of the public purse, legislators and local council members have an obligation to protect taxpayers' interests. By granting monopoly power to labor unions over the supply of government labor, elected officials undermine their duty to taxpayers, because this puts unions in a privileged position to extract political goods in the form of high pay and benefits that are much higher than anything comparable in the private sector.”
It is also a fundamental misunderstanding to say that doing away with public sector unions has nothing to do with state budget problems. In Prof. Bellante’s full analysis, he points out exactly how costly these unions are to the tax payer. Aside from inflated wages, public sector unions have pushed for excessive pension benefit levels, which are creating a fiscal crisis for many state governments.

Another myth of the public union supporters that must be debunked is that a state’s educational system will suffer if teachers aren’t allowed to collectively bargain. That public employee rights will be trampled. This is absurd and can be easily disproved by examining Virginia’s public sector and educational system. Virginia (along with around 12 other states) does not allow collective bargaining in the public sector at all, and is doing more than fine without it. In fact, Virginia has one of the best public educational systems in the country. Furthermore, Virginia ranks ahead of Wisconsin (the champion of public unions) in reading, writing, math and science. But, teacher collective bargaining is essential to a good educational system right???
And the kicker….. Virginia is one of the few states that is running a budget surplus this year and is looking to pass the surplus back to its taxpayers in tax cuts. What a novel concept!!!!

While the protestors in Wisconsin and their supporters like to compare their plight to those protestors in Egypt, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, Wisconsin has looked a lot like Egypt these past couple of weeks. But, while the Egyptians are fighting to end extraordinary overreach by government, Wisconsin union protesters and their supporters are fighting to preserve it.

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