Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at thinking, intelligent individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

18 March 2010

Chris Edwards - Public-Sector Unions

Labor unions in the private sector have long had a decreasing membership, especially as a percentage of the private sector workforce, which in 2009 was 7%.  Public sector unions have retained a high and nearly constant percentage of the public sector workforce, presently at 39%.  Since this workforce is growing and since government workers have an out-sized political influence and power, this 5.6 times greater presence in the government workforce is a troubling circumstance.  It is causing a great deal of income produced by the productive private sector to be transferred into the parasitical public sector, where workers are paid much better and have much, much better benefits.  The workforce percentages are plotted below.
Chris Edwards, Director of Tax Policy Studies at the Cato Institute has written a good article on Public-Sector Unions and their growth in the Cato Institute Tax & Budget Bulletin, No. 61, March 2010.  Important points in the historical background and the present situation are:
  • Before 1960, unions represented less than 15% of state and local government workers.
  • The courts generally did not allow public-sector employees the collective bargaining allowed private-sector workers by the 1935 Wagner Act.
  • In the 1960s and 1970s, states passed laws that required or encouraged collective bargaining by state and local government workers.  Many states passed laws to require union-represented government workers to pay union dues and fees.
  • 26 states have collective bargaining for nearly all state and local government workers today.
  • 12 states have it for some local and state workers now.
  • 12 states do not allow collective bargaining for government workers.
  • The states that require collective bargaining all have half or more of government workers unionized.
  • States with no collective bargaining average 17% union membership.
  • 28 states have agency shop rules, which require workers to join the union or to pay it fees.
  • 22 states are right-to-work states where workers cannot be forced to join a union or pay union fees.
  • Some states allow some government workers to strike and some require arbitration, which usually favors the unions.
Union representation increases the cost of government greatly.  Union members are paid 31% more in wages and have an incredible 68% greater benefits.  Since states with higher wages generally are also more unionized at the state and local government levels, the wage advantage corrected for that is about 10%.  But unions promote inefficient government by protecting poor performing workers, emphasizing rules rather than getting the job done, push for excessive staffing, and they discourage volunteer work.  They also go on strikes, such as the recent Philadelphia transit worker strike which for six days wrecked havoc on the 800,000 city residents who used the transit system.  Government unions, unlike private-sector unions, do not need to worry that excessive employee pay increases will put the employer out of business.

The 22 states with 40% or more of government workers unionized are almost uniformly in serious trouble with huge future taxpayer liabilities for these pampered government union workers.  My state of Maryland, with 41% government worker unionization, for instance, has very serious future liability problems.  We hear more frequently about the problems of state and local employees and their benefits and high pay in California with a 58% government worker unionization rate and New York with a 73% union rate.  In Rhode Island, with the second highest government employee unionization rate of 71%, the government unions have long been dominated by organized crime.  The same is true of the Cleveland city workers unions, where I used to have a neighbor whose father was an important city union leader who used to come over periodically and shout at his son that even he had to go to work sometimes for the sake of appearances.  His son was a ghost worker.

The largest public-sector labor unions are the National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).  We hear a lot about the SEIU lately due to its close ties with Obama and the many special interest joint activities of the two.  The NEA and the AFT collect about $2 billion a year in membership dues and fees, mostly from states with agency shop rules, so they have deep pockets.  In the last two decades, AFSCME was the second-largest contributor to election campaigns in the U.S.  The NEA was the 7th largest contributor, the SEIU was the 10th largest, and the AFT was the 15th largest.  The SEIU pulled out all the stops in its effort to get Obama elected.  Public service workers also vote in higher percentages than most Americans.  These unions strongly favor increased government spending and higher taxes, they hate school choice and privatization efforts, and generally oppose any efforts to improve government efficiency.

Edwards points out that collective bargaining is inconsistent with our Constitutional right to freedom of association.  He advises that states should follow the examples of Virginia and North Carolina, who do not allow collective bargaining by government workers.  This avoids such problems as Governor Chris Christie is having in New Jersey, with a 66% government worker unionization rate, with the state budget and government worker wages and benefits.

I believe that the legitimate functions of government are so vital that they should not be entrusted to workers who may strike or go on work slowdowns.  Their workers should not have other allegiances than to the citizens they serve.  Many of them, certainly including teachers, should be professionals who should shun labor unions.  Labor unions are for unskilled and semi-skilled workers, not professionals.  When people who are supposed to be professionals join labor unions, they quickly lose their professional work ethic.  This is one of the key reasons why American education has become so deficient.  Of course, governments have greatly exceeded their legitimate functions and this seems to undermine the argument against government worker unionization.  This is just another reason why it is critical to force governments to limit their powers to those which are legitimately protecting and preserving the sovereign rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

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