Considering government employee unions

(As published Letter to the Editor in The Leavenworth Times, March 3, 2011)

Unions not needed in government jobs

The problems in Wisconsin have highlighted the question of public sector employee unions and whether they should have the right to bargain, and perhaps strike, for higher wages and benefits.

The question of whether government employees should be allowed to organize in a union and bargain with the government isn’t as clear as it is in the private sector. A state or federal government should be considered a benign employer – one not likely to cheat or exploit workers, and one which should be expected to treat them fairly. Governments are (theoretically) ruled by the taxpayers, of which their employees are a subset. If the employer is fair, union coercion toward higher wages and benefits is really only an exercise in greed.

If government is essential to the public welfare, then the government and the people they support should not be subject to government employee strikes and work stoppages, slowdowns, and unjustified absences. The quality and efficiency of their work should not be reduced by “standard” work rules that unions often enforce.

There is another, more compelling reason why government unions may ill serve the public interest: the corruption of the party politicians in the legislatures by the unions, and the corruption of the unions by party politicians. In the federal government, and states where unionization of public employees is allowed, public unions collect dues and pay large amounts into election funds of (mostly) Democrat party candidates for the legislatures, and they in turn pass laws to benefit the state and federal workers. As a result, salaries and benefits rise way over what workers could get for similar work in the private sector, and taxpayers are stuck with the bill, which can become unsupportable. Wisconsin, California, and New Jersey are prime examples of overly expensive or under-funded employee salaries and benefits, but almost every state with public unions has similar problems, as do some American cities and counties.

Unionized public sector workers become advocates of big government and the big government party. They can’t help themselves.

Wisconsin isn’t trying to outlaw its government sector union. Governor Walker wants to bring the compensation and benefits down over time, without hurting or dismissing current workers, and go to a merit system. He wants the union members to pay a larger share for their benefits, putting them on a more sound fiscal basis. He wants to regain the right to set work rules and staffing levels. He wants to eliminate the state collection of union dues, in accordance with right to work principles. Union membership should be voluntary, and governments should not enforce it by collecting dues for the unions. Unions should collect their own dues.

What’s not to like?

Wisconsin’s runaway senators are another topic I’d like to address. The problem of abandonment or dereliction of a senate job isn’t spelled out well, and I’m not certain the governor has any explicit powers to address it. I couldn’t find any such powers in a search of the Kansas constitution, statutes, and senate rules. In my view, a state should have the power to replace any legislator who refuses to do his duty.


Note — the article above was written before the Wisconsin Senate passed a resolution citing the runaway senators for contempt.    I hadn’t thought about the possibility that the Senate could police itself.

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