The Wisconsin and Idaho teachers grabbed my attention this past week. Their signs, shouts and indignant anger drove me to research the distinction between public and private sector unions. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never paid much attention to those differences until now.
Private sector unions deal with corporations. These employee unions negotiate for better wages and benefits, and any increases come out of company profits. But the company must be careful because if they give too much, they’ll go out of business and everyone will be without a job.
Public sector unions, however, are another issue. These are unions for government employees, teachers, police and fire fighters. Government workers don't create any profits, so they are paid by taxpayer dollars, and therein lies the problem. Did you know that even the very liberal President Franklin Roosevelt, who was a champion of private unions, said that government employees should not have union negotiations for their contracts? Here’s what he said:
“All government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into 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.”
So when did things change? According to the Heritage Foundation (link below), this is what happened: “...starting with Wisconsin in 1959, states began to allow collective bargaining in government. The influx of dues and members quickly changed the union movement’s tune, and collective bargaining in government is now widespread. As a result unions can now insist on laws that serve their interests – at the expense of the common good.”
It jolted me even more when I read the excellent My Turn column in Friday’s Press by Jim Ballew (link below) discussing the upcoming Coeur d’ Alene school levy, where he points out that the taxpayers' side of the teachers’ contract is negotiated by district employees who will personally benefit from increases in the contract!
I have discovered that the City of CdA does the same thing. When their union employees negotiate contracts, those representing the taxpayers’ are city administrators who will stand to get personal increases from the agreement. This doesn't seem proper at all.
And why does CdA have a city employee union but Post Falls does not?
Additionally, I’m told that the average CdA fire fighter’s salary is officially listed at about $42,000 but they really take home close to $80,000 when all the union-negotiated merit pay is included. Many other city employees are paid even more, with a whole list at or above $100,000.
And don’t even get me started on their benefits package. It’s golden and they pay very little for it.
Do you know how many CdA City employees had their hours cut back during the last two years of this economic downturn?...None. How many were laid off?...Zero.
We need our legislature to take a serious look at public employee unions. But until that is possible, here are some quick fixes to consider:
1. As Jim Ballew so wisely suggested in his column, we should require that all teacher contract negotiations be conducted by an independent, professional negotiator representing the taxpayers. It would be well worth the fee!
2. The same, of course, with all City contract negotiations.
3. Just as Wisconsin is proposing, let’s stop having our city and school district automatically deduct union dues out of employee paychecks. Let each union member write a check every month to pay their union dues. That will certainly cause them to reflect on the cost and value of their investment. (Yes, the City of CdA does deduct the dues right now and, though I haven’t heard back from the school district, I’d bet they do too.)
Could any of these efforts be considered “union busting”? Absolutely not. Wisconsin is trying to allow teachers the freedom to join the union or not. Currently it is forced membership. Idaho already has a choice (that’s why we’re called a Right to Work state. No one can be required to join a union). Idaho is trying to reduce the power of the teachers' union over the daily operations of the districts and give control back to the local, elected school boards. Both states want to limit teacher negotiations to salary and benefits only.
Surprisingly, collective bargaining for even pay and benefits is not allowed for Federal employees. And they cannot be forced to join a union. So why is President Obama criticizing Gov. Walker of Wisconsin?
These federal collective bargaining limitations came about because of President Jimmy Carter, according to the Wall Street Journal (link below), “In 1978, Democratic President Jimmy Carter, backed by a Democratic Congress, passed the Civil Service Reform Act... It severely proscribed the issues over which employees could bargain, as well as prohibited compulsory union support.”
Jimmy Carter & FDR...who would have thought it? Major icons of the Democrat party, both realizing that having "public service" workers go out on strike against the public is essentially wrong. As FDR said, it's "unthinkable and intolerable".
These reforms are not union busting, they're just basic common sense.
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