First off, I'd really like to hear from members of unions on this one, particularly the public sector ones. Please drop your comments below.
In the not too distant future the state of Wisconsin will be holding what a number of pundits are dubbing, “The second most important election in 2012.” This is referring to the recall election that Governor Scott Walker faces against Democrat challenger Tom Barrett. The long and short of the reason for this election is that Wisconsin, like many other states was facing a budget crisis. Walker noticed that a large chunk of their budget woes were from contracts with the unions representing state employees that were not economically feasible. Walker passed a series of laws to reign in union power, which naturally the unions were not about to take lying down. So after a long series of battles back and forth that are too long to document here, the recall election looks to be the final end game for both sides. However, in all of the debate there is one question regarding public sector unions that has only been discussed as sidebars.
When I was in grad school our Business Communication teacher was a pretty good leftist. One of my classmates, who at the time was a driver for a shipping company and working toward getting a position in management (which he did) was grumbling about having to deal with the union and having to pay dues to them. The teacher chimed in by asking him if he was willing to give back all of those raises that it had earned for him over the years, at which time I think my classmate just shook his head on his way out. At this stage in my life I was about as apolitical as one could get, so I had no response. It's a shame, because looking back on it now the response would have been an easy one:
“Of course I would give those back. Instead I'll take all of the raises from the people who earned them and promotions through the merit of their work. I've followed the same path and expect to be compensated more than the average employee. And how much were those raises after you deduct the dues we are forced to pay?” I would have added that knowing nothing about this guy's performance I'd have conservatively placed him in the top quarter of his peers. All I knew about him on his job is that he had the initiative to give up his free time away from his then pregnant wife (who delivered a healthy baby during our final year) to try to improve his career prospects I'd say that it was safe to say that this guy was one of his company's stars. Knowing that he was worth more than most of his peers, why should he settle for the same pay as the ones who just go through the motions or under perform?
Let's take this idea a step further – unless your goal is to be paid for being no better than at least half of your peers why wouldn't you prefer the freedom to individually negotiate your compensation? Is it really better to be assured a fixed raise when you could be getting paid more if there weren't so much of the payroll budget being spent on people who don't share your work ethic? Or how much more could go to reward your hard work if the company were able to fire nonperformers instead of jumping through union-negotiated hoops? And if they won't pay you fairly, you have the freedom to move on.
That was too long a sidebar to get to my main point that goes back to the public union employees. A while back I believe it was Mark Steyn who looked at then governor of New Jersey John Corzine negotiating on behalf of the people of NJ with some of the public employee unions. He told a crowd of union members that he would fairly represent them at the bargaining table. Of course, this earned rousing cheers from the audience but raised an important question – if Corzine is negotiating on behalf of the unions, who is representing the people whose taxes will pay for his promises?
This leads to another question. Regarding private sector unions I think that both ends of the political spectrum can agree with the statement that the unions are negotiating on behalf of the employees to ensure that they get their share of the profits from ownership that might not have their best interests in mind. Yes, we can add a lot and argue more points of this but I think most of can agree with that basic statement. And that brings me to the subject of public sector unions. If in the private sector the ownership is the enemy, aren't you stating that your enemy is the people who you took this job to serve?
I know that statement is a bit incendiary, but how do public sector employees view their neighbors? We don't want you to starve, we don't want to see you without benefits, but we also don't feel that you deserve a system that allows you to game $300,000 per year pensions from us, either. Asking you to contribute to your health care plans and pensions like your private sector counterparts is not unreasonable. Politicians like to score points by pointing out how hard working you are, but if that's the case why don't you want to be judged on the value of the work that you do? I've worked alongside government workers from both ends of the spectrum. Some of the govvies have been the smartest, hardest working people I've known. And I have seen some where over the course of four months did I never once witness them doing actual work. It drives me crazy as a taxpayer that someone whose work day consists of sleeping, personal phone calls and browsing every non-work related site possible can't be removed.
The question also comes up with teachers. Yes, they are in a critical job role. But given how critical they are is all the more reason to not have them union protected. If you care about the children how fair is it for them to lose the chance to learn with an ineffective or incompetent teacher? And how fair is it to their parents to have to pay for one of the bad apples to spend years on full salary in a rubber room while they get processed in the system? For that matter, why do we need teacher tenure? Nobody should be given a status of unaccountability. Everyone can agree that we value teachers and want to see the best in those roles, but wouldn't we like to see more money available to reward the best teachers and get the bad ones away from our kids? Even a president as pro-labor as Franklin Roosevelt was against the idea of public sector unions – I never thought I'd see myself eye to eye with FDR on anything regarding economics.
And this is not to say that we should abolish public unions. If public employees want to choose to negotiate their terms of employment collectively they should be allowed to do so. But people who do not want to should not be forced to join a union or have to pay dues if they choose not to. Nor should any government body be required to hire strictly union employees.
So I've laid out the conservative argument against public sector unions. I'd really like to hear from some of the public union employees to hear the other side, because in today's economic climate I'm just not seeing it.
Cross Posted from Brother Bob's Blog