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Travis Rowley: Outlaw Government Unions

Saturday, April 07, 2012

 

Offering collective bargaining privileges to Rhode Island’s public employees was always an imprudent idea. And they should be rescinded immediately.

This is a simple conclusion to reach when one considers the nature and purpose of a union. That is, when a group of workers view themselves as having collective leverage over their employer, and find it in their best interest to threaten him with a work stoppage unless their demands are met – most commonly, a greater share of company profits.

When it comes to public employees, however, it is critical to note that there are no profits to share in. In regards to government employees, there is only the opportunity to fight for more tax dollars. As George Will reminded us in 2010, “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.”

Furthermore, unlike business owners and entrepreneurs, government officials are rarely concerned or skilled at making government (the business) more efficient – keeping costs low while increasing the quality of the product. Whether it’s because they view taxpayers as a continuous stream of reliable funds, or because they don’t plan on being in office when the consequences for their poor fiscal decisions finally arrive, the inclination to push back on overreaching labor activists is often absent within the government sector.

In the face of this analysis, Democrats still considered it wise to empower government bureaucracies with a higher ability to oppress Rhode Island taxpayers, introducing legislation in 1966 that would afford public employees the right to collectively bargain. Republican Governor John Chafee responded with a letter to the State Senate, outlining his reasons for vetoing the bill. Chafee pointed out the “organizational problems inherent where the machinery designed for private industry is imposed on State employees.” Chafee explained, “Since wages, hours and practically all working conditions are now established by laws enacted by the General Assembly…or regulations,” collective bargaining for state employees will “inevitably” lead to “bad relationships between…employees and the State.” And this would result in “the public [being] the loser.”

Who’s the Boss?

Another primary issue with public unions is that there is no identifiable “management” with whom they can bargain with. The employer is, in fact, the whole of the citizenry.

Therefore, elected bodies of diverse-minded government officials are ultimately charged with “negotiating” with the unions – even while thousands of citizens may be at odds with their elected representatives, and may have never voted for them in the first place.

Meanwhile, thousands of government employees transform into political organisms, working tirelessly to elect individuals who are sympathetic to their interests.

Top union leaders and liberal icons, such as former president of the AFL-CIO George Meany, used to understand these basic realities. In 1955 Meany said, “It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”

Meany’s declaration became relevant last week when Warwick resident Roger Durand testified on Capitol TV ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfZfSFkl6x0 ), and described what he perceived to be an ill-advised agreement from six years ago between Mayor Scott Avedisian and the firefighters’ union – an agreement that now requires the city to put aside $20 million, when the maximum annual tax increase allowed in Warwick is only $8 million per year.

Regarding the $12 million shortfall, Mr. Durand asked, “So now, as a taxpayer, I should be responsible for that?”

Labor leaders respond affirmatively to Durand’s question. As everyone should now understand, this is the unions’ position when it comes to their unsustainable contracts: “A promise made should be a promise kept.”

They have a contract. Mess with it, and they’ll sue. Sue the taxpayers, that is.

John Chafee was right. The public would be the loser.

Ignoring the Warnings

Labor leaders of the past also understood that the purpose of American government is to serve the People. Seeking leverage over the citizens’ government through the threat of a strike was thought by Franklin D. Roosevelt to be “unthinkable and intolerable.” “Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relations and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the government,” stressed Roosevelt. “The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.” Years later Ronald Reagan would go on to say, “Government cannot close down the assembly line. It has to provide without interruption the protective services, which are government’s reason for being.”

Public servants. Not public workers. A “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Not a government “for the government bureaucracy.”

Yet, in 1966, that’s precisely what Rhode Island established for itself, a situation in which the government would begin to serve itself – government employees armed with the ability to organize against the taxpayers.

In 1959 the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO offered this advice: "In terms of accepted collective bargaining procedures, government workers have no right beyond the authority to petition Congress – a right available to every citizen."

Seven years later, Rhode Island Democrats granted collective bargaining privileges to government workers.

About twenty years later, it began to circulate that the state’s financial stability was in jeopardy.

About twenty years after that, the City of Central Falls collapsed and became emblematic of a moribund state that was marked by an oppressive tax structure, an abysmal business climate, and a corrupt coalition of Democrats and union activists entirely opposed to any meaningful reform.

And the Providence Journal was editorializing, “The cost of government, notably in benefits for public employees…has risen much faster than the public’s ability to pay for it. Something has to give.”

This is What Liberty Looks Like!

Labor leaders actually react to those who object to this suicidal system with a taunt. First, they describe themselves as mere innocent, hard-working political activists. Then they pompously suggest to anyone else who desires political change that favors their interests to simply work as hard as they do.

After all, “This is what democracy looks like!”

Perhaps. But liberty looks like this: A governmental system that safeguards the property of the People by placing checks on its government.

There’s a lot of chatter these days about municipal bankruptcy, a strategy that would free cities and towns from years of poorly crafted labor contracts that are crushing the average citizen. They say that bankruptcy would allow municipalities to have a fresh financial start. If that’s the option that is ultimately chosen, we should ask ourselves what the point is to a new beginning if the plan is to merely set ourselves back on the same path that Democrats sent us down in 1966.

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

 

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Comments:

Outlawing gov't unions is a obvious as the nose on my face. Chipping away at these corrupt unions is more likely than outright banning.

Comment #1 by Odd Job on 2012 04 07

Yeah Travis! Lets start with the screw job your father is giving us!! Big pension, never paid a dime. Start with your own house son!!

Comment #2 by tom brady on 2012 04 07

This was by far, the best article I've ever read on this website. And I read it almost every day.

It is clearly obvious that government is broken.
It is clearly obvious that the democratic party is in power, and that the unions control them. The losers in all of this, is the general public.

It needs to change. People need to change it. The people need a leader to help make it change. Once a leader begins leading, he'll instantantly have 500,000 followers. The public is tired of all this craziness. We never asked for it, and now it's time to change it!!!

Comment #3 by pearl fanch on 2012 04 07

What does his father have to do with this? It's not the government WORKERS who have screwed us. It's the entire public union system that was put in place. As Travis pointed out, we were warned, but didn't listen.

Comment #4 by Gip H. on 2012 04 07

GIP, bringing up rowley's state-cop father is how these union hacks avoid arguing with what rowley says. They think it makes him look like some sort of hypocrite or something.

Great, GREAT article.

Comment #5 by Drew M on 2012 04 07

It's even worse than this article suggests. Regarding government, the supervisors are in the same union as their workers. These supervisors first loyalty is to their union, not there employer - the public. Thus, there is no supervision. Where there is no supervision, there is fraud and corruption. This is the genesis of the corruption we are seeing throughout Providence government right now - a complete lack of supervision and accountability. No one gets fired or reprimanded or even formally evaluated. The unions and compliant supervisors see to that. In the end, government is far more expensive and inefficient than it should be.

Comment #6 by Christopher Lee on 2012 04 07

Glass houses baby!

Comment #7 by tom brady on 2012 04 07

It's official. Tom's a moron.

Comment #8 by Drew M on 2012 04 07

Well put Drew

Comment #9 by pearl fanch on 2012 04 07

PF, all i ask for is for a serious discussion. Some people (mostly liberals) refuse to engage.

Comment #10 by Drew M on 2012 04 07

Government employee unions have a purpose.
I was a member for about 25 years.I know the 21 years I spent in a Federal employees' union did not involve them negotiating for pay or benefits.After all,we were employed by the public but they had no say in hiring us,unlike in the private sector.
Hence-we had no right to strike and we shouldn't have.The air traffic controllers got what they deserved.
Our union was there to ensure that management could not engage in unfair labor practices;that a member could be represented in a disciplinary proceeding;that employee safety could be addressed;and that violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act could be enforced.
So-I wouldn't eliminate public employees' unions,but would more closely define their standing to be in accordance with the public interest.

Comment #11 by Joseph Bernstein on 2012 04 08

Joe, I appreciate the manner in which you've presented your case.
However, I've worked for various non union contractors for 30 years now. Even for a union contractor (although I wasn't in the union myself)for a few years.
I've never been brought up on disciplinary proceedings, because I try and be a model employee. So long as you do what you're supposed to do, you won't be in a position to need a union to defend you.
never once was I ever faced with unfair labor practices, that's what OSHA is for...union or non union.
When dealing with unions, your company becomes non competitive when bidding against non union companies.
It's almost impossible to ever get rid of a non producing employee, when the unions are involved.
Then, in the public sector, the unions have single handedly destroyed our American government on every possible level.

Comment #12 by pearl fanch on 2012 04 08

Pearl-I guess you never worked for the INS.
We had real problems with both FLSA vioations,which were involving pay for extra hours worked and this not in OSHA's jurisdiction and numerous capricious disciplinary proceedings by unprofessional supervisors.
I personally never had a single disciplinary action which required union assistance,but others did.
Our union represented agents in a serious FLSA case which was sent to binding arbitration and resulted in the INS having to pay out millions for abusing the AUO pay system-it waould take too long to explain this,but it was a serious issue.
Oficer safety-the union forced the INS to get us HAZMAt gear,but not before an agent died as a result of not having it-and such "extras"as body armor.

Comment #13 by Joseph Bernstein on 2012 04 08

There's nothing I've read by this young man that is anything different than the straight-up conservative Republican stance on every single issue. That's not the way we're going to solve anything.

[[[ But liberty looks like this: A governmental system that safeguards the property of the People by placing checks on its government. ]]]

Is there any doubt in anyone's mind that if the (and I'm going to use public safety unions as an example because that is where I have my personal experience) firefighter's unions did not have minimum staffing levels in their contracts that cities and towns around the state would cut stations and apparatus and staffing to unsafe levels?

Public safety unions have no right to strike. No RI public safety union has ever threatened to strike. Most people complain when they believe that politicians have "given the store away" (in their opinion). They say that unions own the politicians. That's B/S. They complain when a professional arbitrator gives a decision that doesn't give the city or town everything it wants. They say that arbitrators always favor the unions. That's B/S. They will never be happy until public employees work for minimum wage and are still happy to have a job.

Joe is absolutely right about the primary function of a public employee union, especially those in public safety, being safeguarding the employee from dangerous working conditions and political reprisals from management.

Comment #14 by Tom Kenney on 2012 04 08

I don't entirely disagree with Travis but have a caveat...when it comes to police departments, unions are necessary from preventing great injustices. A police chief that has the ability to hire and fire at will can affect criminal investigations. I have known very good chiefs and very corrupt chiefs. Unions may save the occassional miscreant officer but they do far more good in protecting good cops from being targeted for political reasons.

Comment #15 by Dave Barry on 2012 04 09

"Increasingly, government workers are the electoral base of the party of government."

That's a reason to prevent government employees from voting, not from organizing in their workplace. Gives you an idea of what these corporatists really want and just how disconnected Travis is from the regular working-class.

Comment #16 by Russ C on 2012 04 09

Are you saying that Rowley is hiding his true intentions? That what he really wants is to prohibit government workers from voting?

Also, we should clarify what we mean by "organizing." I doubt Mr. Rowley would argue that government workers shouldn't be allowed to organize, in that they can't form a union, and can't address their government with grievances. But "organizing" in the sense that the union is afforded leverage over the citizens in various ways (forced negotiations, binding arb, unfunded mandates, etc), I believe that is Mr. Rowley's objections. And I would have to agree with him. But maybe I'm also disconnected from the regular working-class...????

Comment #17 by Gip H. on 2012 04 09

Someone always has a reason that they should be exempted. Always one case where the system "worked." Garbage... No exemptions. If you don't want the job, get another. Supply and demand.

Comment #18 by Mike Govern on 2012 04 09

I agree. Government can't work when it's held hostage to unions.
Government has to work for all the people not just the greed of unions

Comment #19 by Ken K on 2012 04 11

Great stuff Travis!
Let start with Police, Correctional, and Fire fighter Unions!
I think the State should claw back Daddy's free pension.

Comment #20 by Real Clear on 2012 04 13




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