Wisconsin’s public sector unions will be joined by Democratic Socialists of America and Communist Party USA on April 4th to protest their loss of collective bargaining privileges. How nice - the coalition of the willing.
Putting aside the obvious company-you-keep argument, there are two basic problems with collective bargaining for public workers: the collective part and the bargaining part.
None of the factors that frame collective bargaining outcomes in the private sector – competition, price, profit and loss, bankruptcy, creditworthiness – exist in the public sector. Government workers have no “right” to collective bargaining for the same reason they have no right to strike – because government has the monopoly on government. Besides, rights are universal, and yet only 52% of government employees in Wisconsin enjoy the collective bargaining privileges that all this fuss is about.
Public sector employees already enjoy protections under civil service laws that far surpass those extended to private sector workers; a public sector union is redundant. And if the state cannot be trusted to treat its own employees fairly, then it should be denied the power to regulate any workplace, public or private. I’m down with that.
The second part of the problem is what they bargain for: mostly it is how much work not to do. Madison teachers collectively bargained not to make up the days they closed school down for their illegal protests at the Capitol, and then they collectively bargained for the ability to rescind their fraudulent medical excuses to escape punishment and get their sick days back. Cute.
And several union locals have rushed to collectively bargain contract extensions that violate the terms of the new Budget Repair law. Can you and I collectively bargain a contract with ourselves to exempt us from Wisconsin’s tax laws? I think not.
Many state workers are now scrambling to retire so they can collect early on the generous pensions they have collectively bargained for themselves over the years – pensions that are 70% higher than non-union government workers receive across the nation. Wisconsin’s unfunded pension liabilities are 32% of state GDP, and its debt is 4.6% of GDP; both are twice as high as Virginia, where collective bargaining privileges for government workers were banned in 1993. That’s right, 1993.
Governor Douglas Wilder – black, liberal, Democrat, no Hitler moustache on his picture – signed an even tougher union-busting bill back then than the one that unleashed the dogs of hell on Wisconsin Governor Walker. I was in Virginia recently, and was shocked – shocked, I tell you - to discover they still have roads, schools, parks, libraries, airports, museums, water treatment plants, beaches, crops, and cops. It is hardly the slave-gulag predicted by Wisconsin’s hysterical unionists.
In 1993, Virginia and Wisconsin were equal in per capita income; nearly 20 years into Virginia’s “war on the middle class”, their per capita income is 20% higher than Wisconsin’s. You still have time to change your signs to say, "Thank You, Mr. Walker", all you unionists, socialists, and communists coming to Madison next week.
One of the eye-opening discoveries of the recent turbulence in Wisconsin is that our teachers’ union sells its own health insurance to school districts for as much as 50% over market price for private policies – collectively bargained, of course.
Here’s the deal: looting the taxpayer, laundering the money through an insurance fraud that would send everybody to jail if Anthem did it, and then using that war-chest to elect the folks who will sit across the table and negotiate the next bite of the apple – that is what is wrong with collective bargaining in the public sector. Democrats won’t admit it and Republicans won’t say it; that’s why the world needs Libertarians to write blogs that normal people can understand.
And the taxpayer – the owner of the firm - does not participate in collective bargaining. Unlike the public union members, we don’t get to ratify the contracts they negotiate in secret; we just get to pay for them.
In the private sector, excessive union compensation and productivity-sapping work rules make firms uncompetitive and they fail; new competitors with better service, lower prices, and better quality come in to drive the inefficient producers out of the market. Unions are no friend to the middle class; they make things we buy cost more than they should right up until we have to pay the unemployment for the workers whose jobs the unions high costs destroyed. Do you know the median wage for unemployed union workers? Zero, that’s what.
The privilege of collective bargaining for Wisconsin’s unionized government workers did not exist for the first century of statehood. That privilege was not granted until 1959 when a law was passed by a duly elected legislature and signed by a young, duly-elected Governor whose first job was working for AFSCME.
Opponents did not seize the Capitol; legislators did not abdicate to Illinois; death threats were not issued to supporters of the bill; boycotts and recalls were not unleashed out of spite; President Eisenhower did not send 20,000 cretins to reinforce the mobs when they tired of chanting; a Republican judge did not issue an injunction and then go on vacation.
But all those things happened when that legislative grant was partially rescinded in 2011 by the very same process; a duly elected legislature passed legislation that was signed by a young, duly-elected Governor.
The difference between then and now is civility and respect for the rule of law. 50 years of collective bargaining has eroded both; creating a bloated bureaucracy with an infantile entitlement mentality that could only develop in a cocoon - insulated from the realities of economics and shielded from the rigors of competition. Welcome to the world, friends.
Here is what is going to happen in Wisconsin: the 52% of overprotected government workers are going to join the other 48% of government workers and 93% of private sector workers who get along just fine without collectively bargaining with ourselves. The pampered, the bitter, and the just plain awful will quit or retire – and our government and schools will be better for their leaving.
The sun will come up; the sky will not fall. The fish will bite, the big buck will hide, the children will swim in the lakes and jump into leaf piles, the Packers will win, and the Brewers will break our hearts. We will shovel snow, drink beer, and eat fish in taverns on Fridays – that’s how we roll in the Badger state.
We will forgive each other for hurtful words hurled in anger and go back to hating the Bears. Equilibrium will be restored in the universe. Don’t worry; it will be ok.