Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A case for the public unions

Before I get into this debate on Public Unions, I want to first reinforce what I’ve been saying all along.The part of the bill that deals with Unions should not be included in a budget repair bill. The purpose of this bill is for Wisconsin to balance the budget for the current fiscal year. The provisions of the budget that strip bargaining rights from the Unions will have no effect on the current fiscal year. That said, I did want to respond to the previous article attacking Unions. I’ll begin by breaking down the criticism’s in Return to Locke’s post.

wisconsin solidarity protests rotunda Pictures, Images and Photos

The first criticism is essentially that it’s not a right enumerated in the Constitution. I’d absolutely agree that Union Rights are not listed in the Constitution, but I’d ask that that fact be viewed with a historical lens. Certainly, the need to unionize did not develop for basically a hundred years after the Constitution was written. Thus, we need new standards for dealing Union rights. They are certainly granted by statute, and as such, can be taken away in the same fashion. [As noted above, whether a right granted for over 50 years should be stripped as a rider on a budget bill is another argument] Now, while they can indeed be stripped, let’s consider if they should be called rights. Rights, as we use the term, generally refer to the things individuals possess for a moral or equity (fairness) purpose. We think it fair that all citizens be allowed to vote, we think it fair that we are granted due process, and we think it morally right that any individual be allowed to speak, assemble or practice the religion of their choice.

Union rights refer to employees banding together to give them power to bargain against their employers. Absent a union, the employers hold the entire power in the “negotiation”. Employers are also always profit-driven. The result of this will be terrible working conditions, little to no pay and no recourse for the employees. If you think I’m being alarmist or exaggerating the problem, look to history. It happened and could happen again. Today, however, there are several statutory barriers to bad working conditions, low pay and the other perils of an unregulated business world. Do these protections abrogate the right of works to form themselves into unions to protect themselves? I think the choice to participate in a union should never be removed. If they want it, and are willing to pay for it, let them. It is fair and moral – it is their right.
The second argument against unions involves the “exclusive right to speak for the employees” or the “forced payments” into the Unions. It is very important to note that these two arguments are not against bargaining, but against the function of mandatory dues. Mandatory dues were created to solve a problem that began to occur within a workforce and union. Unions would negotiate and receive higher wages/benefits/better working conditions for all employees, even those that did not pay the dues. Thus, individuals began to stop paying dues even when they agreed with the union. This is known as the Free Rider Problem. However, this forced payments of dues create a situation where even if they disagree with the union, or the union’s political decisions, they still fund them. How do we reconcile these two conflicting interests? My proposal would be to remove mandatory dues – but not allow the worker to have the “dues” as take home pay. For example, if worker A wanted to join the union, he would make 10$, with 9$ in pay and 1$ in union dues. Worker B, choosing not to join the union, would make 9$ in pay. The difference would be that the 1$ didn’t go to the union. By making the worker disinterested, then their own political views can be reflected without ulterior motive.

The next argument is against Public Unions in particular. The theory goes something like this: Unions support candidate, candidate takes office, unions negotiate with candidate, candidate gives union favorable concessions, thereby leading to a cycle of corruption. This argument seems logical – but it is not really different from any money given to a candidate on a large scale. Corporations, special interests, extra all look for the same loop. They give money hoping for concessions, gain concessions and then use that new money to keep supporting their candidates. The idea that the unions are somehow different (they negotiate pay with the state!) is really just a smoke screen. Corporations are given tax breaks and in order to pay for those breaks, taxes are raised on others or benefits are cut. Both of which create the same fundamental cycle. As Americans, we should all despise this system of money and politics in bed together – but short of a revolution, I can’t see either side stopping it. Singling out Public Unions, who support Democrats, is simple a Partisan attacks. [And as Locke pointed out, singling out “big corporations” is the reverse. The story is a little different, but the idea remains the same]

I don’t want to devote much time to it, but Public Unions should not hold the government hostages, as Locke pointed out with his FDR quote. It is, and should continue to be, illegal for necessary public sector employees to strike. FDR was pointing out that Public Sectors workers should be able to demand fair treatment, but shouldn’t use militant tactics. I agree.

The final argument is based on the same logic as the one above. That cycle of Unions and Elected officials and thus Union bargaining rights are a budgetary matter. As Locke said:
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.
I’d like to examine this argument more closely. We’ll work backwards – there are fiscal crisis for many state governments. That’s a fact, which no one can dispute. Next step – That excessive pension benefits and wages created this crisis. That’s a far cry from the truth – and I’m tempted to break the analysis here. However, we’ll continue along with the idea high costs of paying public workers contributed to the crisis. Essentially our argument is that the workers are paid too much and have too many benefits. Everyone, including the Unions, has agreed to that. They are willing to take every cut that Walker asked for to pensions and wages. The right to negotiate (collectively bargain) in the future has absolutely no value upon pensions and wages. None. If, in the future, they are able to secure a higher wage or pension, they have done so because the people’s elected representative has agreed to it.

Collective bargaining rights are not a budget issue.

I hope I’ve defended the public unions and exposed the partisan nature of the attack upon right now. Again, I raise my challenge to Walker to split the bill in two.


  1. Very well written and a fairly decent response. However, flawed in a couple of areas.

    1) There is a fundamental difference in what "Corp. America" can do AFTER an election and what a public union can do. A public union can hold an entire state hostage during contract negotiations by collectively refusing to work for the state in critical areas (as witnessed in this entire Wisky fiasco). How are other "special interests" going to do the same if their chosen elected official that they helped get elected doesn't play ball with them? The worst they can do to them is not donate money next election. They have no actual power over that politician. Big difference.

    2)Because of this power to hold state and local governments hostage, it is absolutely crazy to say that public unions have nothing to do with budget matters. Why is it then that the public sector wages and benefits are better than in the private sector? If they didn't have any real power to jack up their wages and benefits, wouldn't they be close to the same as in the private sector?

    3. You openly admit how corrupt the public union marriage to state and local governments is. But where you are wrong is the fact that we can't do something about it. WE CAN. Gov. Walker is trying!! Why wouldn't you want to do something about it if you KNOW it is corrupt?

    Your argument goes something like this. They are doing it so why can't we? Does that sound about right?

    Or put differently, since our system is corrupt we shouldn't do anything about any of the corruption.

    That is asinine.

    5) You stated, "Employers are also always profit-driven. The result of this will be terrible working conditions, little to no pay and no recourse for the employees."

    When did States become profit seeking employers? That makes a possible case for private sector unions but not states.

    4)You failed to address Virginia's superior education system that does not allow public sector unions. This goes to my previous point as well. Virginia's public sector employees aren't being subjected to slave labor (as far as I know).

    Public Sector unions are not needed. They are corrupt. What am I missing?

  2. You counted 1,2,3,5,4. Just saying. My responses in order.

    1 and 2 : Like I said, I agree that public sector employees shouldn't be able to strike and "hold the government hostage". Wisco's teachers did this for a few days. I sympathize but have to ultimately think they were wrong.

    3. My argument would be better classified as "the best solution out of the worst options". Stripping unions (as walker would do), removes the ONE side's power. That leaves an imbalance, something I think is worse.

    5. (hehe) That paragraph was directed at unions in general. States are not necessarily profit driven, but may prefer to use money elsewhere. (As walker is trying to do now)

    4. I've never argued that teacher's unions are necessary for a good education. If teachers want to unionize though, why not let them. Also, comparing state to state education is a folly considering other factors in student success. (Socio-economic status, regional bias, available options, parental influence, etc)

    I feel that public sector unions are providing a service to their employees. Removing the unions unleashes more evils. Addressing the problems instead of going for the nuclear option seems the better solution.

  3. Dude, this is some boring shit. If you want people to read it you have to post photos of
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  4. Did't say it would be interesting, haha.