Motherhood requires many virtues. It takes patience to spoon food into a baby's mouth and to teach a child how to sound out words. Moms need endurance to wipe up never-ending spills and to wake up in the middle of the night to feed and comfort. Motherhood also demands a keen sense of fairness. Moms not only have to discipline against obvious instance of unfairness—when Jimmy steals Janey's doll—but also referee more subtle injustices.
Women busy juggling car pools, kids, and more often than not, jobs, may have tuned out the recent uproar in Wisconsin, when a dozen of the state's elected representatives absconded to avoid doing their jobs, and protestors stormed the state capitol to prevent legislation changing the rules for government-worker unions. Yet as these mothers learn more about how government-sector unions operate, they should recognize and recoil from the unfairness of what was business-as-usual in Wisconsin, and remains business-as-usual in too much of the country.
Unions are known for advancing fairness by providing a counter-balance to big employers. They band workers together to ensure that companies consider worker safety and pay fair wages. In the private sector, this dynamic makes sense: Employers have an interest in company profits and that means paying as little as they can while attracting workers with the necessary skill set. Individual workers have little influence, but all employees joined together have leverage to push for reasonable compensation. That's how coal miners and steel workers, for example, won needed protections.
This dynamic generally works in the private sector in part because unions know there is a limit to how much they can get from employers. Unions who succeed in extorting gold-plate compensation packages will have a short-lived victory: Companies saddled with exorbitant worker costs won't be competitive and will ultimately go out of business, leaving union workers jobless. This has happened in the auto industry, as U.S. automakers over-paying union workers struggle to compete. Fewer jobs have been created in this sector as a result.
Unions representing government workers operate very differently. When they negotiate, their employers (politicians and fellow government workers) don't have an incentive to keep costs down. Their interest is staying in power.
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