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Rowley: Enough is Enough. End Collective Bargaining

Friday, July 01, 2011


“They are government organized as an interest group to lobby itself for ever-larger portions of wealth extracted by the taxing power from the private sector. Increasingly, government workers are the electoral base of the party of government.” – George Will, Newsweek (May 17, 2010)

Rhode Island’s government employees should once-and-for-all be stripped of their ability to force Rhode Islanders to meet them at negotiating tables. Organizing as a group is one thing. Utilizing the power of law to coerce those who are intended to be free citizens to negotiate with that group is quite another.

Government jobs are made available for the purposes of serving the people, not to create a protected class of self-declared victims of workplace oppression, inflicted with an outlook of entitlement and victimhood, and armed with the authority to pick the pockets of Rhode Island taxpayers.
In the 1930s the liberal icon and champion of organized labor Franklin Roosevelt argued, “Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relations and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the government. The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.”

Today, however, we live under the precise social design that Roosevelt warned of. For almost five decades, government employees have been afforded the right to organize against – and negotiate with – the taxpayers.
Absent any fear of being fired by the people or their representatives, government employees continuously threaten the people with strikes, lawsuits, and work-to-rule measures. In the meantime, their Democratic allies within the General Assembly pass laws that strengthen their bargaining position. The legalization of public unions simply modified the masters of civil authority. Public unions would now rule the day. A “government of the people, by the people, for the people” became an antiquated notion.

Rhode Islanders now find themselves oppressed by a system that forces them to pay government employees arbitrary salaries and benefits, who then direct union dues to union coffers. The original taxpayer cash is then used to fund the campaigns of slutty politicians, who agree to continue raising taxes and enacting policies that will sustain and enhance the labor kingdom.

You heard that correctly: Taxpayers are forced to fund public labor’s war against the taxpayers.

With union advocates sitting on both sides of the bargaining table, it’s difficult to deny that the legalization of public unions established for Rhode Islanders a government of the public unions, by the public unions, and for the public unions.

A Huge Mistake
It only took several decades for progressives to surmount Roosevelt’s wisdom. In was in 1966 when Rhode Island’s Democratic legislature bestowed collective bargaining privileges upon public workers. They did this despite the caution issued by Republican Governor John Chafee, who wrote a letter to the General Assembly recognizing the “organizational problems inherent where the machinery designed for private industry is imposed on State employees.” Collective bargaining for state employees would “inevitably” lead to “bad relationships between…employees and the State” resulting in “the public [being] the loser.”

Could anything have been more prophetic than Chafee’s letter? Almost every political dispute in Rhode Island these days involves public unions. And forty years after Chafee’s letter, has the public been “the loser?” In 2009 the Providence Journal editorialized, “The cost of government, notably in benefits for public employees…has risen much faster than the public’s ability to pay for it.” And just this week CNBC ranked Rhode Island “the worst state to do business.”

But that probably has nothing to do with the high tax rates needed to uphold government employee contracts. It probably has nothing to do with the fact that Rhode Island has one of the highest rates of public sector unionization (62% compared to the national average of 37%).

Labor’s Legal Extortion

Labor leaders make some interesting arguments, though. Executive Director of the NEARI Bob Walsh has argued that the tax-hiking legislation known as binding arbitration “saves [taxpayers] money, actually, in reduced legal fees.”
The people might as well give government unions what they want, because Bob Walsh is just going to keep suing them if they don’t.

Walsh’s tactics are hardly rare among public labor leaders. A spokesman for New York’s private unions recently complained about his job-killing public counterparts: “They won’t take concessions. They’ll sue. They’ll sue. They’ll sue.”
Walsh has recently reiterated his position, insisting that binding arbitration would mean “no strikes, no work-to-rule, no disruption of the education environment…It will bring labor peace and let teachers teach and just focus on the kids.”

Walsh’s comments are nothing short of admissions that he and other public labor leaders have been shaking down the taxpayers for years with threats of judicial violence, and intentionally providing sub-par education to their children. 

The power being exerted over the people is appalling. If they want “labor peace,” it’s evident that they’ll have to buy it from Bob Walsh. Rhode Islanders should put an end to this right now.

Travis Rowley (TravisRowley.com) is chairman of the RI Young Republicans, and a consultant for the Barry Hinckley Campaign for US Senate. 


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