Labor

The Weak Case for Public Sector Unions

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Via Instapundit comes this Mickey Kaus take on public-sector unions:

The justification for public sector unionism is way weaker than that for private sector unionism. "[Government] workers are not extracting a share of the profits but rather a share of taxes," as former N.Y. Liberal Party leader Alex Rose puts it. And the right to strike, in the hands of key public unions, approaches a blackmail power. But the political strength of the unions is such that even most Republicans, at the state and local level, are scared to question them. They gelded Arnold Schwarzenegger. You want to be next?

Read the whole thing, which looks at how public-sector union members are pulling away from average workers in terms of compensation.

Watch "Hasta La Vista, Arnold: What California's budget mess means for America" for details on how unions have bankrupted the Golden State.

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  1. Welcome to France!

  2. I thought it was the steroids that gelded Ahnuld.

  3. We need public sector unions because we simply cannot trust the government to deal fairly with employees. But we can trust the government to provide us health care. [huh?]

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  5. Public employees and their unions have become America’s noble class – almost a hereditary aristocracy. Government jobs are passed down from one generation to its children, even to grandchildren and beyond – and not just the police and fire departments either. Working in government is a family tradition in many government offices.

    1. That is certainly the case in the military. But, I think that is more cultural than anything. With fire departments and police forces, it is a real problem. It is impossible to get on with a big city fire department without being a legacy or a minority. I am not sure about the rest of the govenrment. I don’t see that where I work.

      But, it is a real problem in the political class. Most of the dumbest and most corrupt politicians are sons and daughters of politicians. Want to know why Congress is so bad? A big reason is that it is filled with idiot sons.

      1. It’s very difficult to get a union job with the maintenance contractors on the army base here if you don’t have family or close friends working there.

        1. Government contracting is corrupt to the core. I see that all the time. There will be good programs that get quietly killed because they involve hiring new people and raising the value of the existing contract past the threshold where it has to be put to open bidding. There are all sorts of corrupt little side deals with chronies that go on. DOD is very bad about it. Some colonel will retire and come back to work the next day making twice the money doing the same job as a “contractor”. The whole thing stinks.

  6. “The justification for public sector unionism is way weaker than that for private sector unionism.”

    Unions don’t need a justification. Employees should always be free to organize and collectively bargain to improve their negotiating power. This is just basic freedom of association and freedom of contract.

    My problem with unions is not their existence, it’s a) their frequent use otherwise illegal tactics (e.g. physical blockades and an implicit threat of violence) to intimidate both counterparties and potential competitors (a.k.a. scabs), and b) that the balance of power between employer and labour union has been tipped out of equilibriem due to government intervention.

    The current union imbalance has crippled the manufacturing sector and is threatening to bankrupt the public sector.

    Fortunately for the manufacturing sector, it was able to look to other countries to escape the labour union monopsony… governments don’t seem to have that option.

    1. “The justification for public sector unionism is way weaker than that for private sector unionism.”

      Unions don’t need a justification. Employees should always be free to organize and collectively bargain to improve their negotiating power. This is just basic freedom of association and freedom of contract.

      My problem with unions is not their existence, it’s a) their frequent use otherwise illegal tactics (e.g. physical blockades and an implicit threat of violence) to intimidate both counterparties and potential competitors (a.k.a. scabs), and

      seconded.

      b) that the balance of power between employer and labour union has been tipped out of equilibriem due to government intervention.

      Not sure I buy that premise as a general statement, although it may be true in certain specific cases.

    2. Employees should always be free to organize and collectively bargain to improve their negotiating power.

      Yes, and employers (in this case, us) should always be free to fire employees who unionize.

    3. “My problem with unions is not their existence, it’s a) their frequent use otherwise illegal tactics (e.g. physical blockades and an implicit threat of violence) to intimidate both counterparties and potential competitors (a.k.a. scabs), and b) that the balance of power between employer and labour union has been tipped out of equilibriem due to government intervention.”

      I agree with that and will add also a C): their constant attempts to prevent the consuming public from buying goods ro services from some source other than their own unionized businesses via lobbying for protectionist legislation such as tarriffs, import quotas, etc.

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  8. “Employees should always be free to organize and collectively bargain to improve their negotiating power. This is just basic freedom of association and freedom of contract.”

    Not if they work in the public sector. I am sorry but the cops and the fire department and the teachers fill too important a function to be allowed to strike. It allows them to shake down the entire country. No public sector employee should be allowed to strike. The pay back for that is that they should have some due proces rights before being fired. But it should be illegal for them to unionize or strike.

    1. I disagree. I would like to see every single one of them on permanent strike.

    2. @John – Cops, the fire department, and teachers should all be employed by the private sector (for Constitutional reasons alone). By privatizing these jobs, there is no discussion as to the power of the employer to fire an employee on strike and hire someone else to fill the vacancy.

      Just like someone said earlier, private employees have the same right to unionize as does the employer to fire them for doing so.

  9. Employees should always be free to organize and collectively bargain to improve their negotiating power.

    And employers, including the state, should be free to refuse to bargain with employee collectives.

    Unions are a highly artificial creation of federal law, which gives them many privileges that have nothing to do with freedom of association and freedom of contract.

    1. Unions are a highly artificial creation of federal law, which gives them many privileges that have nothing to do with freedom of association and freedom of contract.

      I don’t buy this reading of unions. The federal law surrounding unions was created incrementally based on employer/union conflicts to reduce bad behavior from both sides. Like most legal frameworks it is imperfect, but I don’t think it is fair to call unions artificial creations of that law.

      1. I think it is fair to call most current unions artificial creations of that law as long as employers aren’t free to fire employees at will because of that law.

  10. Ahem. This post is currently missing an author credit.

  11. I don’t think it is fair to call unions artificial creations of that law.

    I don’t think unions, per se, are an artificial creation of the law any more than other collective organizations, like, say, corporations. But the special status accorded to unions is very much a legal construct.

    1. Indeed, but the comparison to corporations is particularly relevant. Most negotiations are between corporations and unions. Two collectives that are given special legal status. A legal framework to reduced conflict was created because of the results of “free” interactions between employers and employees. The days without that legal framework did not produce a good outcome for either group or for society.

      1. “Special legal status”?

        The pre-existing legal framework was (and is ) just as much of an artificial construct as was the change made related to corporations.

        An unlimited liabilty presumption where plaintiffs can go after people’s entire net worth regardless of their level of involvement in any business arrangement or the alleged wrong being adjudicated is no less arbitrary than the opposite presumption of limited liability.

  12. Two collectives that are given special legal status. A legal framework to reduced conflict was created because of the results of “free” interactions between employers and employees. The days without that legal framework did not produce a good outcome for either group or for society.

    Hooray for the lowest common denominator!

  13. ps- FUCK THE UNIONS.

    [yo]

  14. The State is the enemy and public sector unions are the super-enemy.

  15. The days without that legal framework did not produce a good outcome for either group or for society.

    Given that you can pretty much map unionization to systemic industry failure, its hard to say that the days with that legal framework have produced a good outcome, either.

  16. Public sector unions suck but the government saying, “Every employer can and should have unions but us” just kinda rubs me the wrong way in some manner.

  17. Is it just me, or is bargaining with the organization that is the ultimate guarantor of the bargain kind of odd?

  18. The Wagner Act is what makes even private sector unions an adjunct of the state. Employers are required to bargain collectively with a union if a majority of workers vote to organize into a union. They have no choice. It’s state-enforced cartelism.

  19. saying, “Every employer can and should have unions but us” just kinda rubs me the wrong way in some manner.

    I see your point, but in that case since I am in effect the employer, I want more say in the bargaining. Given that my city’s power structure is largely defined by union demands, I get virtually no say now.

  20. Public sector unions should be illegal.

    If they must be legal, then public sector unions must negotiate their contracts with the voting public, not the agencies and politicians which employ them.

    Imagine negotiating a pay contract when the money doesn’t come out of your pocket, and the better the benefits you give them, the higher chance that you’ll secure votes from them so you remain in office. The perverted incentives are breathtaking.

    1. Let’s form a voter’s union. We can demand that if elected officals want our vote, they must provide payment of our health insurance…and retirement benefits. And if we don’t want to work, well, there’s an app for that. Oh, wait…

      1. Sweet, sounds like California.

  21. The problem arises because public unions work to get people elected which then give them big raises.

    It’s like when the employees get to pick thier own bosses.

    If you want public unions thats fine (although not ideal) but they should not be allowed to do any political advocacy.

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