The teachers union protest in Wisconsin isn’t just a battle over employee benefits. It is an important ideological fight between public unions and taxpayers that forces elected officials to decide whom they side with.

Gov. Scott Walker is seeking to make long-term structural changes in the union-government relationship by limiting the collective bargaining rights of the teachers and other public employees (although not firefighters and police). Lawmakers in several other states are considering similar legislation.

This strikes at the heart of public union power — and well it should.

Collective bargaining is supposed to offset an imbalance of power between employees and management. In the private sector, there is an inherent adversarial relationship between the two sides in labor negotiations. Each knows that if the company gives too much away and fails to make a profit, it will be forced to shut its doors and everyone loses.

The nature of public unions is different. Government employees are negotiating across the table from government representatives, who often are those whom the union worked hard to elect. The balance of power shrinks dramatically and the relationship is not nearly as adversarial. It is government negotiating with itself.

And because it is other people’s money at stake — the taxpayers’ — there is a lot less concern for the bottom line.

As private-sector union membership has declined significantly over the last 50 years, public employee unions have gained. Prior to the 1960s, unions represented less than 15 percent of the government workforce. Today, 36 percent of public-sector workers (7.6 million) belong to a union, compared to 7 percent for the private sector (7.1 million workers).

Thirty-eight states have collective bargaining for all or some state and local workers (12 states have no collective bargaining in the public sector). The states with collective bargaining have much higher union membership than the states that don’t.

Not surprisingly, unionized government workers tend to have higher compensation packages than their non-union counterparts. That’s important because employee compensation constitutes about half of state and local government spending.

Thus you have a situation where government employees help elect legislators who are receptive to giving them the pay and benefits they seek, knowing that a chunk of that money will find its way back into their campaign coffers next election cycle.

It’s a self-perpetuating system in which taxpayer interests are subjugated to union and political interests. Growing government to ever-more expensive levels means more workers are hired, union membership rises (as do revenues from dues) and politicians reap the rewards. That puts more pressure on the private sector to feed the beast.

Exactly who is serving whom?

Even a staunch champion of private unions such as President Franklin Roosevelt opposed unionizing government. "The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service," he wrote in 1937. He understood there is a fundamental difference between the public and private spheres that does not translate in labor issues.

Limiting collective bargaining, as Wisconsin’s governor and other states have proposed, will help break that cycle and restore more balance between taxpayers and government.


Liberal-Zealot's picture
Liberal-Zealot 8 years 48 weeks ago

FDR Would Brake This Cycle: In fact, the cycle of government kow-towing to the wealthy elite was broken under FDR. The only way America can restore the balance between taxpayers and government is by making the upper income bracket pay more taxes - like FDR made them do. It's obvious that Ayn Rand's philosophy is still the credo of the Republican Party. The Wisconsin Govenor was so eager to do the biddng of the wealthy elitist, David Koch, just as in some Ayn Rand novel.

Furthermore, three decades of incompetence from Allen Greenspan and deregulation (i.e., Reagonomics) created the economic crash. Although justice will be served when the swindlers (invesment bankers, Wall Street brokers and all their minions) are stripped of their ill-gotten gains and sentenced to three-life terms. Now tell me, teapartywacko, did you partake in this "Greenspan scam"? Did you drink the Kool Aid? Because the tactic of blaming everyone but real culprits will not work any more - THE JIG IS UP!

teapartywacko's picture
teapartywacko 8 years 44 weeks ago

What does that have to do with the point of the article? The article is about the Unionization of public employees and Allen Greenspan has nothing to do with that. Now tell me L-Z, why not address the issue instead of tring to change the argument. Foolish, un-constitutional spending by both parties contributed to the economic collapse. But that still has nothing to do with the FACT that a socialist like FDR said that public employees should not be unionized. I look forward to your response.

Laborisgood's picture
Laborisgood 8 years 44 weeks ago

Would it be a fair trade for the private sector to get EFCA and the repeal of Taft-Hartley in exchange for a significant reduction of collective bargaining rights (wages only) in the public sector?

All these righties that keep stating the moral superiority of private sector over public sector unions ought to put up or shut up by offering some concessions to the private sector in exchange for what they want in the public sector.

Of course they never would, because it's all too obvious to any rational person that righties don't actually believe unions have a valid place anywhere or anytime .... public or private!

Try worming out of that one.

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