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Even FDR Understood: No Collective Bargaining for Public Servants

There is no legitimate role for government unions.

by
Peter Ferrara

Bio

February 23, 2011 - 8:20 am

Public servants — meaning government employees — don’t work for greedy miscreants exploiting them for personal profit. They work for democratically elected officials representing the will of the people. This is just one reason why there is no legitimate role for government unions, and there should be no collective bargaining rights for public servants.

Since public servants work for the people, their wages, benefits, and working conditions are set in accordance with the will of the people, as determined by the democratic process. This is why it is not legitimate to ask the people to compromise with public servants in collective bargaining. And this is why the pay, benefits, and working conditions for federal workers are set by acts of Congress, not through collective bargaining.

If public servants do not like the pay, benefits, and working conditions offered to them by the people as determined through the democratic process, nothing requires them to be public servants. This is why public servants are not slaves without collective bargaining, as soon-to-be-unemployed collective bargaining agents have suggested.

Since public servants work for the people, any strike by them would be a strike against the people. The government cannot allow the essential public services it provides to be shut down while it negotiates the pay, benefits, and working conditions for public servants through collective bargaining.

The right of collective bargaining for private sector workers is not at issue in Wisconsin, though the government unions, the Democrats, and President Obama want to confuse the public on precisely that question. Under current law, there are plenty of market and legal checks on private sector unions to keep them from abusing the public. The ultimate limit if they push too far is that their company will be driven out of business. Though that does happen sometimes, it only happens when management fails to do its job in resisting excessive union demands. Otherwise, within current market and legal checks, private sector unions actually perform a helpful market function in ensuring that employers keep up with market wages and working conditions as expeditiously as possible.

Not so for government unions, as governments cannot be driven out of business. They gain their revenue forcibly through taxes. As a result, there is no market limit to how much such unions can milk the public.

Moreover, government unions themselves can choose who negotiates with them on behalf of the people, through their votes and political support. In return for lavish pay and benefits far exceeding private compensation, the unions provide a kickback in campaign contributions and muscle to their political benefactors, financed by the taxpayers. This inherent conflict of interest involved in government unions leads to oppressive political corruption, where there is no political limit as well as no market limit to the plunder of the public by government unions.

What is at stake in Wisconsin is whether public servants work for the American people, or whether the American people work for a “public servant” aristocracy enjoying far greater pay and benefits than the taxpayers who are forced to subsidize them through the above-described political corruption.

These are the reasons why even an ultimate liberal like Franklin Delano Roosevelt agreed with me that there should be no collective bargaining for public servants. As quoted by Michael Walsh in yesterday’s New York Post, Roosevelt said:

All government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public-personnel management. The very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people.

What we are witnessing in Wisconsin today is the total breakdown of democracy, and the collapse of the rule of law. The Democrat Party in the state has refused to abide by the results of the election last November, and so has shut down the state legislature. The government unions are breaking the law by going out on strike. The anti-democracy protestors in Madison are breaking the law by continuing to occupy the state capitol. Doctors are breaking the law by writing fraudulent “sick notes.” The remaining Democrat state senators after last fall’s election have fled the state to hide from the law.

The only people expected to obey the law in Wisconsin now are the taxpayers.

Governor Walker and the Republicans are trying to pass a moderate bill to the left of FDR that still maintains some collective bargaining rights for government workers.  Moreover, their bill would greatly benefit state and local workers by terminating government collection and payment of their union dues. This gives power to each worker to voluntarily decide if they want to pay those dues. That is like a tax cut of as much as $1,000 a year for state and local government workers. That policy needs to be adopted in every state, as taxpayer money going to government union dues is the root of political corruption in America.

Moreover, it is Governor Walker and the Republicans in Wisconsin who are protecting the interests of working people in the state, as it is these working people who must pay the taxes for the lavish pay and benefits of public sector aristocrats, and suffer their own lost jobs and wages resulting from high taxes.

Peter Ferrara is Director of Policy for the Carleson Institute for Public Policy, a Senior Fellow for the Heartland Institute, and Director of Entitlement and Budget Policy for the Institute for Policy Innovation. He served in the White House Office of Policy Development under President Reagan, and as Associate Deputy Attorney General of the United States under the first President Bush.
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