Set Our Children Free
 
Let’s leave aside for a moment the issues over which the Chicago teachers are striking, and assume that they have a legitimate beef (I know it’s a stretch, but work with me here).  The larger issue is whether these teachers should be allowed to strike or even be unionized in the first place.  Illinois not only allows public employees to unionize, but strike as well, after certain conditions are met.  If the Chicago teachers’ strike turns out to be a prolonged one, lawmakers across the nation will no doubt question the wisdom of labor laws like this one.  Teachers’ strikes were commonplace a generation ago when the economy and inflation were both soaring.  That was then, and this is now.  Taxpayers are fed up with the double whammy of high unemployment in the private sector, and relatively full employment in the public sector, thanks to the taxes paid by those dwindling numbers of private workers.

There are a number of reasons why public employees should not be permitted to unionize or strike.  First and foremost is the fact that many public employees have jobs that involve public safety, such as police, firefighters, and air traffic controllers.  A strike by these employees would jeopardize the same public that pays the salaries of these employees.  But what about allowing public employees to collectively bargain for wages and benefits, even if they’re not allowed to strike?  That brings us to reason number two.

There is an inherent conflict of interest involved when allowing public employees to collectively bargain.  There is power in numbers, and a union possesses power that the individual doesn’t possess.  That’s the point of a union, you might say, but it misses the point.  Public employees serve at the will of the public who pay their wages.  The public cannot bargain with the union, only its representatives can.  Who are its representatives?  The lawmakers, and their appointees, whose job security depends upon attracting the most number of votes on election day.  A union can confiscate enough money from its members’ paychecks to swing the election to the candidate who promises the most pay and benefits to it.  The public at large has no such bargaining power and is therefore at a disadvantage in the bargaining process.  Many politicians will bend to the will of the unions, not only because their members are much more likely to vote in large numbers for whomever the union supports, but because the unions can influence the votes of non-union members with campaign funds collected from members, who’ve in turn, collected those funds from taxpayers.  The whole process is not unlike what the mob does to small businesses when they shakedown an owner (taxpayer) for “protection money,” so the mob (politician/union alliance) can stay in power.  Which brings us to reason number three.

Since public employees are paid with tax money, it follows that the amount of money available in any given year is limited by the strength of the economy.  In good times, governments are flush with cash, which they are all too willing to spend.  In good times, wise lawmakers will sock away a rainy day fund to sustain them in the bad times, which will surely come.  The other choice is to lower tax rates during the good times, thus giving people some of their money back.  After all, the money does belong to them, and it was taken from them by force.  Alas, most politicians historically have taken neither of these paths, choosing instead to spend the excess cash on new pet programs and projects.  When the recession hits, those programs (i.e. handouts) must be curtailed significantly or new revenue must be found.  Since most lawmakers take the path of least resistance, and government programs never seem to die once created, they most often choose to raise taxes or borrow money to keep the program’s constituency happy.  It is telling that the federal workforce has increased significantly during this recession, while the number of private sector employees, and even state public employees, have decreased.  Meanwhile the Obama administration is taking steps to allow the vast number of TSA employees to unionize.  Federal workers already make significantly more in salary and benefits than comparable workers in the private sector, and they’re not even allowed to collectively bargain or strike or it would be much worse.  This is why we are $16 trillion in debt.

A fourth reason to deny unionization to public employees is disruption of commerce.  Even public employees not involved in public safety have a regulatory function, and when that function is curtailed from a strike or even a work slowdown, then the private sector commerce suffers.  It is bad enough that businesses are saddled with needless costly regulations to begin with, even when the regulators are on the job.  But when public employees strike, or even when a recession causes state employee layoffs, the regulations remain in place, yet there are fewer people to process the regulatory paperwork that is necessary to keep private industry running.  Let’s face it.  For all of the above reasons, collective bargaining, with or without the right to strike, has always been a bad idea that has disrupted the lives of taxpayers and their children for decades now.  It is an idea that has now fallen into disfavor with the very public it was meant to serve.  No better example can be given than what we have observed in Wisconsin – a blue state, by the way, for the past two years.  Scott Walker, the governor, has not only won the battle, but has sounded the death knell to public unionization nationwide.  As more states like Illinois, California, and New York fall into financial insolvency, the pressure to curtail unionization of public employees will be unavoidable.

 


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