With the current situation in Wisconsin, it is a good time to look at exactly what unions have become.
A couple of months ago, I covered a piece done on The Daily Show regarding an attempt by the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers Union). Even if you did see the clip or read the article, I recommend going back and taking another look:
But moving to the situation at hand in Wisconsin. If you are not familiar with the source of conflict, take a look at the coverage provided by The Wall Street Journal here. As you may have gathered, the role of public sector unions is an extremely heated political issue. According to several sources, the main issue for the public-sector unions, in addition to a cut in benefits, is the right to bargain collectively over benefits (the bill would still allow collective bargaining over salaries).
Public-sector unions are perhaps the best example we have in this country of special interest groups run amok. In general, special interest groups actively promote the agenda of a few to the detriment of the common good. How is this the case for any public-sector union? Well let’s take a look at the actions they can currently take in order to increase their collective wealth:
1. Public-sector workers already have the ability to vote for elected officials, the same ones who bargain with them.
2. They also have the ability to donate significant campaign funds (as they often do) to these elected officials who bargain with them (Note, in the private sector, this is called bribery).
3. They have the right to hold out and strike if the elected officials do not cater to their whims.
Think about that. Imagine if you could vote for the people who set your salary. Imagine if you could “donate” money to them in return. It creates a feedback loop: you elect representatives who negotiate good benefits for you. You return the favor by donating to the campaign and keeping them in office. They increase your benefits again in return. It is a classic case of the inmates running the asylum, and this is all the case before collective bargaining even enters the picture!
Realistically, it’s impossible to dispute the cozy position that public-sector unions have in negotiations. But that only satisfies half of the claim that public-sector unions are a special interest group run amok. The second half is proven by looking at the damage that these unions do to the common good. To do so, let’s look at two facts that are often lost in the political maelstrom surrounding public-sector unions.
1. The government is not a business, it does not create wealth it merely moves wealth around and manages it.
2. The money spent by the government is not original property of the government. It is money granted by the taxpayers of a state in return for essential services being provided.
What does that mean? In short, it means that the government is an intermediary between taxpayers and the people (public-sector workers) that they, the taxpayers, employ. The money to fund public-sector workers comes directly from the state’s taxpayers. Benefits for them come at the detriment of the rest of the state population. While the distinction is lost on mondern liberals, none other than Franklin Roosevelt understood this point. For many of the reasons mentioned above, he stated quite simply: ”The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.” Former AFL-CIO chair George Meany said in 1955 that: “It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.” Both these men were champions for the existence of unions in the private sector. The reason they differ so drastically from the protesters in Wisconsin on the feasibility of public sector unions is simple: they understood the feedback loop and perverse incentives that public sector unions would create. Today’s Democrats and union members have benefited greatly from the feedback loop and they like it the way it is.
Public sector workers should be afforded the same rights and be treated the same as everyone else in the state. Despite the rabid claims from protesters, collective bargaining is not one of those fundamental rights. As we’ve seen from the points above, it is inarguable that public-sector workers already have much more recourse than most in determining their compensation. It has also been shown in many studies that state workers already enjoy benefits well above a comparable worker in the private sector. Pundits are right when they say that the changes proposed in Wisconsin will not solve all of the states fiscal woes. But it is a start, and it is fixing something that never should have existed in the first place.