Public Employee Unions: Can They be Tamed?

Bill Murchison
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Posted: Jun 05, 2012 12:01 AM
Public Employee Unions: Can They be Tamed?
Government unions, what else? -- trying in Wisconsin to give their Republican governor, Scott Walker, the bum's rush from office. There's a fitness, a propriety, in the match-up of reformer (Walker) and encrusted power machine (the Wisconsin public employee unions).

I've two reasons for saying so. By the way, I write shortly in advance of the vote on retaining Walker in office -- midway through his term -- or heaving him out the window -- obedient to the unions' summons to punish the guy for muddying their landscaped terrain.

Reason 1: In spite of what surely must be the moral excellence of numerous public employee union members in Wisconsin, the state no longer can afford the unions at present pay scales. When Walker became governor after the 2010 elections, he found the state facing a short-term deficit of $137 billion, with a $3.6 billion gap to be closed by 2013. Which couldn't have been the unions' fault entirely. However, the taxpayers were funding 94.2 percent of state workers' pension costs and 88.4 percent of their health care premiums, and government wages were high in relation to private sector pay -- the consequence of collective bargaining.

At Walker's behest, the Wisconsin's newly Republicanized legislature took away collective bargaining privileges for state workers (save, for political reasons, policemen and firemen) and stopped mandatory dues collection.

Mandatory dues collection? Hold it right there. The state deducted dues from state workers' paychecks and gave the proceeds to the relevant unions? Would we not call this taxation without representation, never mind union protestations that it was all for the workers' good? Among the marks of moral collapse is extortion for purposes contrived by the extortionist. Since mandatory deductions ceased in Wisconsin, public employee union membership has fallen by about two-thirds. This is proof of what happens when the gun at the robbery victim's temple falls suddenly to the floor.

Reason 2 -- and the bigger of the two reasons for viewing the Wisconsin showdown as meet, right and badly overdue: worker power fortified by lawmaker power in government overwhelms. What is government, to begin with, but a power machine? It's legitimate in terms of certain basic functions, but you'd better keep your eye on something that never stops growing.

The difference between the private sector and government -- and between the unions that operate in each sphere -- is the permanence of government, based on taxes and compulsion. Business obeys the laws of competition: It rises; it falls; it prospers; it goes kersplat. Government has its own internal workings -- as well the government unions know. A deal involving government action -- say, a collective bargaining contract -- doesn't have to be affordable. It need not even make sense. Sometimes we find out how little sense it makes only after someone puts a stop to it.

John Fund, of National Review Online, mentions one of the numerous gains already realized from the readjustment of the relationship between Wisconsin's state government and the employee unions: "At least 52 local school districts are saving an average of $220 per student because they can now shop around for health insurance for their employees. Before the reforms, unions forced the schools to do business exclusively with WEA Trust, the group run by the state's largest teachers' union."

Sure was a good deal for WEA Trust; for the state, not so much, as the saying goes. Incest, to be sure, is never considered a logical or healthy idea: the less so, perhaps, as it feeds the private purposes of the partners (e.g., government and the unions) over the purposes, desires and well-being of others (e.g., the voters and taxpayers of Wisconsin).

Rarely since high school Saturday evenings of seven-card stud and high-low-roll-'em have I succumbed to the temptation of see-your-four-bits-and-raise you-another-four. I am betting spiritually all the same on the good sense of American voters in general -- Wisconsin can take care of itself -- to see the folly of putting up with government worker unions in times of economic privation and diminishing liberty of choice. Enough's enough -- we can hope.