Thursday, February 24, 2011

Government and Private Unions Are Not the Same

Private-sector unions have been losing both membership and power, while government, public-sector unions have been gaining political muscle and membership.  In 2009, for the first time in history, there were more members of public-sector unions than private-sector union members, and unionized government workers outnumbered their private-sector counterparts by more than half a million (see chart above).  

Jonah Goldberg makes some excellent points in his LA Times editorial today ("Public Unions Must Go") about some critical differences between public- and private-sector unions:

"Traditional, private sector unions were born out of an often bloody adversarial relationship between labor and management. Mine disasters were frequent; hazardous conditions were the norm. In 1907, the Monongah mine explosion claimed the lives of 362 West Virginia miners. Day-to-day life often resembled serfdom, with management controlling vast swaths of the miners' lives. And before unionization and many New Deal-era reforms, Washington had little power to reform conditions by legislation.

Meanwhile, government unions have no such narrative on their side. Do you recall the Great DMV cave-in of 1959? How about the travails of second-grade teachers recounted in Upton Sinclair's famous schoolhouse sequel to "The Jungle"? No? Don't feel bad, because no such horror stories exist.


Government workers were making good salaries in 1962 when President Kennedy lifted, by executive order, the federal ban on government unions. Civil service regulations and similar laws had guaranteed good working conditions for generations. The argument for public unionization wasn't moral, economic or intellectual. It was rankly political.

Private sector unions fight with management over an equitable distribution of profits. Government unions negotiate with politicians over taxpayer money, putting the public interest at odds with union interests and, as we've seen in states such as California and Wisconsin, exploding the cost of government. The labor-politician negotiations can't be fair when the unions can put so much money into campaign spending.

This is why FDR believed that "the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service," and why even George Meany, the first head of the AFL-CIO, held that it was "impossible to bargain collectively with the government."

10 Comments:

At 2/24/2011 5:54 PM, Blogger KauaiMark said...

"...Do you recall the Great DMV cave-in of 1959?"

If only I could wish...

 
At 2/24/2011 6:38 PM, Blogger Jason said...

Unless Americans can continue to claim the narrative, public sector unions will not retreat. If Wisconsin is able to eliminate collective bargaining (if), there will be strikes, it will get ugly. They cannot let this happen, it is a way they cannot possibly comprehend.

Seriously, these people think they are in charge. The taxpayer is an inconvenient roadblock, a trifle of a speed bump, on their way to the riches contained in the government piggy bank. They cannot stop, and will not until WE stop them. I view it as an addiction, they are addicted to our tax dollars.

 
At 2/24/2011 7:55 PM, Blogger Liberal Stupidity said...

Very good post! It is collusion on the part of the politicians and unions. The unions take their stolen(forcibly taken) money from members and pay off politicians to get sweetheart deals out of taxpayers money. Unions are supposed to exist to protect workers from overbearing, unreasonable employers. In this case the employer is the taxpayer. No one can state that the employer(taxpayer) is unreasonable when the employee(public sector union member) makes twice as much money as them.

 
At 2/24/2011 8:27 PM, Blogger Paul said...

On this the Democrats will fight to the last ditch because the unions bankroll their elections. It's a circle-jerk of union contributions funding Democrats who in turn give sweeter deals to the unions by raping the taxpayer. Rinse and repeat until the inevitable bankruptcy.

And here we are.

 
At 2/24/2011 9:27 PM, Blogger Robert said...

One of our local columnists called government compensation a financial bubble. Sounds right to me.

http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_17465045

 
At 2/24/2011 10:40 PM, Blogger Michael Hoff said...

So, if the ban was lifted by Executive Order, can the ban be restored by Executive Order? Oh please, oh please, oh please...

And on the bright side, both lines are trending downward.

 
At 2/24/2011 11:16 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

There are studies that show public employees are underpaid. Here's one example:

"It (the study) controls for education, experience, hours of work, organizational size, gender, race, ethnicity and disability and finds that, compared to workers in the private sector, state government employees are undercompensated by 7.55 percent. Local government employees are undercompensated by 1.84 percent. The study also finds that the benefits that state and local government workers receive do not offset the lower wages they are paid."

My comment:

I suspect, the "experience" factor doesn't take into account job security and easier work (along with low job turnover).

Also, the "organizational size" factor doesn't include the low benefit to society for the cost (e.g. $2 in cost for $1 in benefit).

Moreover, the "education" factor doesn't take into account people who cannot succeed in the private sector, but can succeed in the public sector, or at least appear they're succeeding (e.g. Obama's economists returning to teaching).

 
At 2/24/2011 11:44 PM, Blogger Liberal Stupidity said...

Good point Peak.. The free market would flush some teachers like bad burritos, but the public sector gives them tenure and they prosper. No accountability. Free market rewards success, government rewards failure.

 
At 2/25/2011 10:11 AM, Blogger caseydk said...

I've been trying to find which Executive Order it was: http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/executive-orders/1962.html

Any hints?

It seems like the next POTUS can just as easily re-ban public sector unions with the stroke of a pen.

 
At 2/25/2011 11:36 AM, Blogger juandos said...

Hey caseydk, consider this Amity Shales piece running Council on Foreign Relation site: How Government Unions Became So Powerful...

Eight paragraphs down in the commentary: 'In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10988, which permitted collective bargaining by federal employees'...

 

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