On the Rights of Public Unions


Hello, readers! It’s been a while since I’ve posted at Babalú Blog, and it’s good to be back here posting. I hope to pop my head in here on a more regular basis.

The following is an amalgamation of several recent posts at my blog, Searching for Signs, on the Wisconsin union protests and the rights of public unions.

As a federal government employee who enjoys the benefits of a non-negotiable pension plan in which my contribution is matched by my employer (i.e. you), I’m not going to trash public employee pension plans. Public service workers at all levels benefit the common good in many ways and should be justly compensated (key word here being justly).

Nor will I trash all public unions. Government workers deserve to be treated fairly just as much as private workers. So, no, this will not be an across-the-board-union-bashing post. The issue here, as we all know, is how much influence and power public unions ought to have.

For those of you who watched the O’Reilly Factor show last Friday, Bill O’Reilly started the show with the revelation that federal unions have little to no bargaining rights when it comes to pensions and wages. O’Reilly was referring to a Wall Street Journal column written by Kimberly Strassel (I link to the Snow Report Blog which has the full column versus the WSJ site which requires a subscription to view it in its entirety) which laid out President Obama’s “predicament” vis-a-vis Wisconsin and other states’ public union rights (emphasis mine):

The union horde is spreading, from Madison to Indianapolis to a state capital near you. And yet the Democratic and union bigwigs engineering the outrage haven’t directed their angry multitudes at what is arguably the most “hostile workplace” in the nation: Washington, D.C.

It will no doubt surprise you to learn that President Obama, the great patron of the working man, also happens to be the great CEO of one of the least union-friendly shop floors in the nation.

This is, after all, the president who has berated Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to limit the collective bargaining rights of public employees, calling the very idea an “assault on unions.” This is also the president who has sicced his political arm, Organizing for America, on Madison, allowing the group to fill buses and plan rallies. Ah, but it’s easy to throw rocks when you live in a stone (White) house.

Fact: President Obama is the boss of a civil work force that numbers up to two million (excluding postal workers and uniformed military). Fact: Those federal workers cannot bargain for wages or benefits. Fact: Washington, D.C. is, in the purest sense, a “right to work zone.” Federal employees are not compelled to join a union, nor to pay union dues. Fact: Neither Mr. Obama, nor the prior Democratic majority, ever acted to give their union chums a better federal deal.

Scott Walker, eat your heart out.

Basically, Obama has no legs to stand on in standing up for union protesters in Wisconsin and elsewhere, thanks to Jimmy Carter and his Civil Service Reform Act in 1978 which stripped federal unions of virtually all bargaining rights for benefits and wages.

Going back to the central question of the level of power and influence public unions should have, the answer is: the same as any other union. That is, proportionate and fair to all sides. It’s pretty clear to me that Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal puts Wisconsin public sector bargaining rights closer to those of their federal counterparts. Most wage and benefit bargaining is rightfully off-the-table for federal employees because of the obvious ease in which abuse can take place whenever public unions use taxpayer money to leverage a “better deal” against the state. All you have to consider is the scam being run by the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), the state teacher’s union (in particular, read pages 3-6). Other bargaining rights that directly involve working conditions and employee performance (things that also matter), stay intact.

Those public unions who are careful stewards of public monies and interests are to be commended, and I feel bad for those groups because they are also victims here.

Next time you hear a pro-union person claiming that folks like Scott Walker are threatening to eliminate unions altogether, remember the damage some unions have already done. Therefore, it makes total sense, in this day and always, to strip away anything that would give public unions the ability to use and abuse their influence and power for their own benefit and NOT for the benefit of the people. Everything else is on the table.

4 thoughts on “On the Rights of Public Unions”

  1. I have a simple question. Why do public employees even need a union? The government sector is not in business to make a “PROFIT”. Government jobs and positions are/should be in direct oversight of duly elected representatives of “the people”, and with all the government ‘regulations’ in place, I would hardly think that public employees are subjected to any ‘sweat-shop’ hardships. So…, again, what is the necessity of public employee unions, except other than to extract the BEST PAYING BENEFITS from the taxpayer that collective bargaining can get? – KNOWING that the employer is not BENEFITING from additional “profits”, but actually from additional “TAX” revenues coming in from the tax-payer.

  2. Thanks, drillanwr.

    La Conchita: I agree with your points. Where public unions make sense and are needed are for internal office/agency policy type of issues such as working conditions (e.g., working hours, position descriptions, etc). There’s plenty there for management to misuse and abuse, therefore public sector employees need some kind of representation. In essence, this is what federal unions spend the majority of their “bargaining” with management on.

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