Thursday, February 24, 2011

Collective Bargaining and the Public Sector are Mutually Exclusive

If one had to nutshell an argument against public employee unions it would simply be that government is not in the business to make a profit. The birth of the Industrial Revolution was also the birth of wholesale exploitation of the workers. All businesses exist to make a profit. Higher wages, benefits and safe working conditions usually result in higher overhead costs, so if workers can be forced to work at low wages and unsafe working conditions profits will be higher. There is an inherent adversarial relationship between most private sector businesses and their employees, which was exploited by labor unions and is the reason collective bargaining has been traditionally viewed as a civil right. But these conditions simply do not exist in the public sector. As I said before, the public sector makes no profit. Wages and benefits are determined by how much taxes are collected so there is no inherent adversarial relationship.

“Even President Franklin Roosevelt, a friend of private-sector unionism, drew a line when it came to government workers: ‘Meticulous attention,’ the president insisted in 1937, ‘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.’" The Trouble With Unions by Daniel Disalvo

When unions and collective bargaining invaded the public sector, the relationship between management and labor was set on its ear. First the separation between management and labor in the public sector does not exist, there are only supervisors and subordinates; the difference being supervisors have no obligation toward profitability. Further collective bargaining with public employees is also not based on profitability, but simply what percentage of the tax revenue pool will be dolled out to employees. When contracts are negotiated by unions the government agency negotiators are not an adversary, only other public employees. It was not in the unions best interest to change their rhetoric to address this process so they simply used the tried and true Management vs the exploited workers. Suddenly government employers became the rhetorical evil corporations and government managers became “Management;” its everything the FDR feared would come to pass.

It seems to have been completely lost on Public Employees that “Management” is the tax payers and union demands through collective bargaining, are simply taking more and more tax dollars. The cost of benefits and pensions soon began to spiral out of control as the economy weakened; the price of benefits and pensions then outstripped the ability of the cities, counties and state to pay for them. After years of union's refusal to reduce benefits the only way to reverse the process is to eliminate collective bargaining on pensions and benefits, so the cost can be quickly reduced to a sustainable level. It has become obvious that the public employee unions' only concern is for the welfare of the union and not the workers or the viability of the government that they can only vilify. The tax payers realized this and have voted in new legislators that have promised take the heat and reverse the process. It is not going to be easy. The unions and employees have already vilified these representatives using the same hate-filled rhetoric the left claimed to abhor and blamed on the right, but is the bread and butter of unions and their liberal sympathizers.

Public employee unions are now accusing the conservative legislators of wanting to break the unions; and in a way they are right. But it is only because unions have fled the private sector due to low enrollment and an economy that could not support the benefits and pensions previously negotiated. The unions have shown an extreme resistance to making concessions, even at the expense of massive layoffs, which we are now seeing in the public sector. But private sector unions have withered as public sector unions have grown dramatically and unions have staked their very existence on the unionization of public employees. So you have a once powerful entity with no other place to go, using past rhetoric that has no place in this debate. The ultimate threat from unions is to put management out of business, which is supposedly based on the greater good; but the greater good does not rest with the "paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it," FDR. The result is a paradox where government is viewed by the left as the ultimate good and the tax payer as evil. The inescapable conclusion is collective bargaining and the public sector are mutually exclusive.

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