Check out my latest piece at Carolina Journal: http://www.carolinajournal.com/articles/display_story.html?id=7502 or read the entire piece below!
Public Sector Unions Are Bargaining for Your Salary
By Peter Frank
Mar. 10th, 2011
WINGATE — As Wisconsin and other states come to grips with massive budget shortfalls, and protesters seek a voice in the
painful process of spending cuts, we find ourselves questioning the role of public sector unions today.
Look at the basic structure of public vs. private unions. At the core of their collective goals, unions are trying to advocate for the
rights of their members, but this is where the similarity ends. Public sector unions are bargaining over tax dollars, so there is
little discipline or limitation for what they can bargain. Private unions are faced with a very different situation. They are simply
trying to attain a share of the corporate profits, and their bargaining power exists only if they produce a product that consumers
want. Public unions negotiate with those who they help elect to ensure they receive above average pay compared to the private
Take the current bargaining dispute between the NFL players and owners. Each party walks a fine line because if consumers
get fed up with their haggling, and stop purchasing tickets and merchandise, neither side will get a slice of the $9 billion
industry. Or consider the United Auto Workers in Ohio and Michigan who are no longer employed because General Motors had
to restructure and close over 14 production facilities.
Public sector unions try to explain their plight in terms of basic rights. Yet there is no basic right to negotiate with monopoly
power extracting resources from a democratically elected government. For the teacher union in Wisconsin, collective bargaining
means that those who supply their labor to the public school system essentially can fix their wages and benefits and force all
workers to join the union (or pay not to join). As one commentator put it, it’s equivalent to all airline companies meeting to fix
ticket prices and capacity — obviously a practice that would swiftly be stopped under antitrust law.
These unions essentially are claiming they have an unqualified right to bargain for more taxpayer funds. In Wisconsin, the
average public school teacher earns approximately one-and-a-half times what the average American worker earns. Should they
have the right to bargain for higher wages, improved pension programs, and additional worker benefits without any market
discipline? The problem is there is no “fair” way to set up a public sector union to incorporate a mechanism for compensating
workers without appealing to political patronage. The recent headlines in Wisconsin are a prime example of this problem.
Public sector employee unions should not have an unchecked ability to extract tax dollars from the state budget for their own
well-being. They simply shouldn’t have the right to bargain for more taxpayer dollars without any accountability.
Liberal legislators who are “fighting for working families” clearly don’t see this side of the argument. The transactions costs would be high, but why not put a salary or pension increase to the voters each time a public sector employee asks for more funds? No one is hoping for this outcome, but it does reveal the absurdity of unmitigated bargaining power. How manyAmericans have the ability to negotiate for the salary they desire, and the ability to bind their employer with unqualified monopoly power on the supply of their labor?
At its core, the debate over public sector union power is a debate over the public vs. private provision of goods and services.
The matter doesn’t center on some opposing moral issue of giving workers what they deserve vs. stripping school teachers of
a dignifying wage.
Americans must come to grips with an imperfect system of deciding what government workers rightfully earn as they educate
children and police our streets, while public sector unions must consider the reality that most of us rely on market forces and
the desires of consumers to determine our bargaining power.