Public Sector Unions - Hopelessly Corrupt


The fracas in Madison, Wisconsin overtook the news cycle, eclipsing even the upheaval in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East.  And the reasons are not hard to discern.  It touches a chord in the country that resonates because the conflict on display there is the central issue of the day: spending, deficits, and the mounting debt that threatens to drown the various municipalities, states, and even the nation in a sea of red ink.

Even more captivating to many struggling Americans is the role of the public sector unions in the unfolding drama, which, after all, have, until now at least, been shielded from the impact of economic downturns. As private sector unions have watched their numbers decline, public sector unions, perhaps perversely, have seen their memberships climb, a fact not unnoticed by many in the country. Are working, taxpaying Americans in this uncertain private economy, no longer content to foot the bill for their compatriots employed by the government?

The Big Bang origin of the public union universe began in 1962 with the signing of Executive Order 10988 by JFK, which authorized federal workers to form unions. Thus were the seeds of the modern Democratic Party and its unbreakable alliance with public sector unions planted. Before this, the Democratic Party was tied with vanishing industrial unions, they tethered to the real world of the free market. Not so, the public sector unions, who were tethered only to the taxpayers.

With JFK's move, the National Education Association, the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, and other public unions grew to their current grotesque size, and with it, incredible power and influence within the Democratic Party.

The vicious cycle was thus complete. Forced union dues were laundered back into Democrat coffers, electing Democrats who would, of course, be beholden to their union benefactors.  And all of it paid for by the taxpayer.

Not only did public employee unions contribute heavily to Democrat causes and politicians, but they showed up on Election Day.

Democrat politicians, in turn, made sure that union demands were met, including automatic raises, favorable work schedules, and extravagant benefit packages including gold plated health insurance and pensions with early retirement.

This, in essence, is the world JFK bequeathed us, replete with cities and states throughout the land facing massive deficits, unfunded liabilities, and bankruptcy.

Government workers fare much better than their counterparts in the private sector and enjoy job security. State and local government workers receive 34% higher wages than in the private sector and 70% more in benefits.  Federal workers receive double the compensation in wages and benefits than their private sector counterparts. 

Public sector unions are also heavyweights when it comes to political contributions.  AFSCME, the NEA, and the SEIU have ranked third, eighth, and tenth in contributions to national campaigns over the last 20 years; whereas large corporate and industrial enterprises may donate to both parties, more than 95% of public sector contributions have gone to the Democratic Party.

Then there is the issue of collective bargaining, which the left considers a sacred birthright. Should government workers even be allowed to form unions and bargain collectively in the first place?

Federal workers, for example, do not have collective bargaining rights.  There are also 12 states that specifically prohibit collective bargaining for state and local workers (and another 12 states that limit it).  Indeed, the reasons for opposing collective bargaining for public workers are compelling.

First, when union representatives negotiate for pay raises or benefits in the private sector, they sit across the table from employers. In the public sector, the employer is the citizen/taxpayer, who is unrepresented.  It is the government that determines salary and benefits, which has an interest in keeping unions happy. The public sector union, in effect, sits on both sides of the negotiating table and hires its own boss. 

Second, in the private sector, unions and owners have a vested interest in ensuring the company remains competitive or else lose sales and jobs.  Public workers, however, do not contend with market forces, since governments do not go out of business.

Third, in the private sector, labor and management sit on opposite sides of the table. Not so in public unions where labor and management are on the same side, both demanding greater pay and benefits.

Fourth, government unions enjoy legal monopolies in vital public services such as police, fire, and sanitation. Consumers can hardly abandon public service monopolies even when they become inefficient and costly.

Fifth, when private sector unions bargain with their employers, they are seeking a more even handed allocation of profits. Public unions, on the other hand, haggle with sympathetic politicians over taxpayer money, placing union interests in conflict with the public they serve. 

Sixth, and most convincing, is the corrupting relationship between public unions and their government benefactors in the Democratic Party.  The existing arrangement in which government collects forced dues from public workers, sends the money back to the unions, who, in turn, provide campaign cash to the Democratic party - is intrinsically unethical and a conflict of interest.  Yet it is this relationship that has become the backbone of the Democratic Party.

Eliminating the government collection of mandatory dues that are then promptly delivered to public unions who in turn contribute to their favored candidates while demanding greater tribute breaks the political cycle that has brought us to this impasse: with $3.3 trillion in unfunded state pension liabilities, and another $574 billion for cities and counties. 

This system is at the heart of political corruption in the country today.

While private sector workers face unemployment, higher taxes, and insecurity, government employees enjoy lavish salaries, pensions, and healthcare benefits that are increasingly out of line with their private sector counterparts.

It is not for nothing that such liberal icons as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and George Meany, the first head of the AFL-CIO, opposed collective bargaining in government. FDR said that the "process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service." George Meany believed that it was impossible to bargain collectively with the government.

It is time for public sector unions to go.







  • Elisha Sterling

    April 10, 2011

    Another powerful article and right on point! Your listings of the reasons why public unions are a problem are easy to understand. And your comparison as to how they differ from the privet sector unions is so enlightening. More Americans should know this information. Thanks for laying it out so well!

  • Theodore Kass

    April 11, 2011

    If the relationship with the public sector unions and their bosses sit togeher hoping for a greater piece of the pie ============== Thank who will act on behalf of the American Taxpaye?
    Right again =======no one. Therefore, why raise a problem with no real solution?
    I am not trying to be critical as I agree with your article but it seems to create a blanket of frustration when considering that your government no longer represents you and you have NO POWER to bring about change.
    Its very much like a boat that hits a submerged object. At that point the boat can be patched and the water pumped to possibly right itself. However, once the boat heels past a certain degree no amount of pumping or patching can prevent it from sinking. Are we now at that point? I think that this is the question that should be raised and if so what options are open to the American public that has the mentality to think for themselves? Do we desert the ship? Are there lifeboats available for us? Do we march and scream that the government is evil and stonger options need to be taken? Illuminating the problem/problems is only worthwhile when there is the possiblity of a solution. I would appreciate a comment as to the options that are available to us.

  • Theodore Kass

    April 11, 2011

    Sorry about the typos. The article created strong negative feelings that affected my typing.

  • Eric Kleeman

    April 11, 2011

    Great article. In response to Theodore Kass, I think the solution, at least for this particular problem, is to ban public sector unions. Obviously this won't happen with the current power structure in place in D.C. If Republicans win the Senate and Presidency in 2012 I think it is possible to at least curtail public unions. I find it frustrating when Dems complain that Republicans are too heavily influenced by corporations, which may be partially true, but refuse to acknowledge that the Democrat party is completely beholden to the various unions, both public and private.

  • Richard Moss

    April 12, 2011

    Conservative governors and state legislatures need to turn back the public sector union wave. Just as is occurring in Wisconsin and elsewhere. A conservative President should reverse JFK's executive order of 1962 and prohibit collective bargaining for public unions. It should then be backed by actual force of law through Congressional legislation.

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