Make public unions illegal
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Beth Cody, Writers' Group member
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Lately we've been reading in the news about the public union protests in Wisconsin, and we had better get used to reading about them, because this is only the beginning of a bitter, life-and-death battle between public employees and the taxpayers who pay them.

The public unions are portraying this as a fight over everyone's right to join unions. But they don't acknowledge the very important differences between unionization of private-sector employees and public-sector employees.

Most Americans, including me, believe that as private citizens we have to right to voluntarily associate with any group, including workplace unions. As long as neither workers nor employers resort to violence or coercion, most Americans do not object to unions.

However, in the private sector, there are limits to how much unions can demand from employers before the companies become uncompetitive. Also, union rules often result in less-flexible, ossified workplaces where workers and management are not allowed to try new ways of doing things, which likewise leads to failure.

This prospect of failure is what usually keeps private-sector union demands reasonable.

But public-sector unions do not have this natural limit on their demands, because their employer, the government, is a monopoly and cannot be driven out of business (at least not in the short term).

Instead of going out of business, government usually yields to union demands and can keep raising the price of services. Unlike in the private market, citizens have no choice about whether to purchase government's over-priced services. They are compelled by law to pay for them, either in higher taxes now or in future debts to be paid later by our children.

This has come about because public-sector unions have become so powerful that politicians believe they cannot be elected without their support. Unlike in the private sector, public unions can essentially fire management if they do not give in to their demands, so there is little true "negotiation."

The real owners of the company – the citizens – don't even have a seat at the bargaining table. It is a complete corruption of our democratic system by special interests.

The resulting problem is not just that many public employees are better paid with better benefits than the rest of us (even if yes, they may be better-educated than average). The major problem is that there are now far too many of them.

And many of them are employed in unnecessary bureaucratic jobs that inhibit our economy, or in functions better handled by the private sector.

So now we are reaching the point where paying the inflated wages and benefits of all these extra public employees is cutting into the ability of government to provide the services that most people think are the most important.

Moreover, government union workplace rules have predictably resulted in ossification and lack of flexibility of government departments, severely compromising their ability to serve the needs of taxpayers.

When protecting government employee jobs and benefits interferes with the ability to teach students, fix roads or police our streets, it is clear that the system has become completely corrupt.

Anyone who argues that protecting union jobs and benefits somehow helps the poor or the children who are being denied a decent education is either revoltingly self-serving or simply living outside of reality.

These are special interests who don't care about helping anyone but themselves and their well-paid union members, no matter the cost to children, the poor or the citizens who employ them. It is a blatant betrayal of progressive idealism, Madison's "peace" symbols notwithstanding.

Government employees' unions should be made illegal at all levels of government.

Anything less will only prolong the cronyism and corruption of democracy.

However, I don't believe that this will happen. It will be interesting to see whether unions are as good at driving governments out of business as they are private businesses.