“The community cannot tolerate the notion that it is defenseless at the hands of organized workers to whom it has entrusted responsibility for essential services.” - A.H. Raskin, former labor reporter for the New York Times.
The issue of collective bargaining rights for public employee unions is a partisan fight.
That wasn’t always the case.
“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.”
Those were not the words of Chris Christie; they were uttered by FDR, a champion of the labor movement.
It became a partisan issue once public unions figured out they could influence the outcome of collective bargaining by funneling campaign contributions to sympathetic candidates and ballot measures.
That support overwhelmingly went to Democratic candidates, although the Republicans have had loyal allies from labor, too.
I happen to be a Democrat – a Blue Dog Democrat, for sure – and I am embarrassed by the incestuous relationship my party has with public unions.
Our situation in California is more dire than Wisconsin’s. At least there is a balance of power in Wisconsin when it comes to negotiating compensation with the unions. There is none here.
Governor Walker does not really need to impose a cap on wage negotiations based on the CPI – I have a problem with tieing such matters to indexes or other standards. For example, Los Angeles City Council member salary increases are based on raises paid to Superior Court Judges. You see where that got us – governance by overpaid and underperforming officials.
Legislative discretion that takes into account the budget, the long and short-term direction of the economy, and the ability of the taxpayers to absorb personnel costs is what is really needed to determine compensation.
But Governor Walker is right to pursue restrictions. Collective bargaining is incompatible with protecting the general public from wage and benefit inflation.
In negotiations between private sector unions and companies, there is an arm’s length relationship. Neither side can influence the other; they can only resolutely represent their respective constituencies.
In the public sector, campaign contributions not only muddy the waters, they turn them into stagnant pools. In states that allow unrestricted collective bargaining, the majority party will honor its commitments to its key financial supporters; not to the general population.
Most of us would like nothing better but to ban contributions to candidates or causes from unions, corporations or other entities with limited agendas. However, the Supreme Court ruled otherwise.
In Wisconsin, labor is referring to Governor Walker’s bill as an attempt to bust unions. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Unions still have the right to organize and raise money to endorse or oppose candidates. Who knows, they might even be successful in running the Republicans out of Madison.
But exerting financial leverage should have nothing to do with collective bargaining because it’s the taxpayers’ money at stake. The only way to avoid a conflict of interest is by establishing parameters that prevent either side from extorting the other.
Without controls, states and local governments will not have the ability to reduce structural deficits created by compensation and benefit plans. That is a point opponents of Governor Walker conveniently overlook. It is not just about this year’s budget, but all that follow.
Concessions made by unions for the current year or contract period can easily be reversed down the road, setting up future budgetary crises. A government should have the ability to raise, freeze or reduce compensation as well as increase or decrease employee contributions to benefit plans within a reasonable range.
Without that power, the taxpayers will be at the mercy of selfish interest groups.