We have seen over the last few weeks an incredible amount of union outrage, fervor, and bussed in agitation and rhetoric aimed not at some mean nasty corporation BUT AT THE PEOPLE OF WISCONSIN. The issue is the union supporters' unwillingness to allow any changes to collective bargaining for government employees.
First a bit of history. As the industrial revolution began to spread about the country, there was a need for some effective mechanism to protect worker interests (including health, safety and working conditions). Thus, private sectors unions were born and filled this role. Using collective bargaining agreements, various working conditions, pay issues, and safety concerns were addressed. Over the years however, many of these original drivers for union representation have been supplanted by state and federal statutes and regulations. Among these are State & Federal Fair Labor Laws, OSHA (Safety), Civil Rights Act, and Employee Retirement Income Security Laws (ERISA). Reflecting these legal protections the need for and attendance in private sector unions has been dropping steadily. Another aspect of this drop is the consistent willingness of union management to back democratic candidates with the arbitrary use of the workers dues regardless of the political predilections of the workers themselves.
But why government sector unions and the related application of collective bargaining? None other than progressive icon Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke against this avenue of union expansion when he said:
"All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the 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, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.
Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable.“ FDR [Letter on the Resolution of Federation of Federal Employees Against Strikes in Federal Service August 16, 1937]
Despite FDR's guidance, public sector unions began in NY City in the late 50s and have grown ever since. As Wikipedia summarizes, In general they [public sector unions] have shown robust growth rates, for wages and working conditions are set through negotiations with elected local and state officials. The unions' political power thus comes into play, and of course the local government cannot threaten to move elsewhere, nor is there any threat from foreign competition. This happens over and over because the discovery of a poor (or unsustainable) fiscal decision only occurs after a passage of time when the original players (who benefited from the initial decision) have moved off the stage.
In fact, beginning in 2009, there was more public sector union membership than private for the first time in US history.
The problem stems from the creation of a public sector union structure that has no effective checks and balances. It moves in only one direction - like a ratchet. Unions support those who in turn award them more benefits. Too bad about the taxpayer. Too bad that services, competency, and efficiency decline. The cycle continues without correction kicking the rock down the road into the future.
As can be seen in the attached chart, there are factors that check or mediate the wages and benefits of private sector workers. These factors must be effectively factored into private sector union bargaining agreements otherwise stagnant, unproductive, and non-competitive industries result (re: US automobile industry).
Public sector unions have used their collective bargaining ability to systematically reduce and eliminate the impact of costs, merit, and productivity measures on their salaries and benefits. Revenues(taxes) aren't directly related to union performance and there is generally no competition to public sector unions. This results in the upward spiral of wages and benefits (reflected in the rapid growth rates in public sector unions) and an unsustainable and undesirable mismatch between the pay and benefits of these workers vs. the private sector employees that pay their benefits (through taxes).
It is exactly this non-wage related collective bargaining (and the ineffective check-and-balances that stem from it) that the legislation in Wisconsin proposes to address. In response, union teachers have essentially gone on strike to protest in the capitol. Democratic lawmaker's have simply left the state to disallow the democratic process from occurring (in effect taking the process hostage). The current public sector union arrangement doesn't serve the taxpayer or the state but does serve to increase and consolidate union political power in an unreasonable and unbalanced manner. It must change.
Even FDR got this one right. Too bad our current president doesn't.