While watching the ongoing government worker union protests this past week I find myself torn between two things: the benefits unions have given us in the past and the current financial crisis we face in the present. As a former union member myself (in the private sector), I have seen both sides of the issue: how companies can take advantage of their workers, and how unions take advantage of the companies. In both instances it was power that was ultimately at stake, not the rights of the union workers. And this hunger for power always ends up poisoning the good that any entity can do.
In the 1930’s & 40’s private sector employees used unions to fight for better work conditions, wages, and workplace rules. They were new idea, and therefore an affront to management power; many union workers paid for this with their lives and livelihood. However, through their sacrifice, we have stronger federal laws that protect workers, such OSHA & EEOC, as well as local state statutes that do the same. However, in the 1950’s, when government unions came into being, it was not social or economic freedoms the unions were fighting for, but political power. Government workers never encountered the life & death management issues that the private sector unions did decades before them, yet they felt the need to organize and politicians saw an opportunity. While private sector unions have to balance their demands so private companies are solvent enough to stay in business and provide jobs, government unions are under no such burden. The public unions know that the government is at no risk of going out of business- not when taxes can be increased to meet their demands.
Such is not the case any longer. With state governments teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and taxpayers tightening their own belts, the mood of the country to continue to capitulate to demands of government employees has evaporated. They are tired of the cozy relationship that many of our politicians have with government unions. There is something inherently wrong with elected politicians being charged with negotiating the wages and benefits of the very same people who have elected them. This is an inherent conflict of interest that needs to be remedied. Average Americans have no problem with the right to assemble – it is our constitutional right after all – they are just tired of public employees getting preferential treatment as a result.
There is room for compromise here – both parties just have to be reasonable and realistic. There is a way to protect the union member, the taxpayer, and our constitutional freedoms. American taxpayers do not want to silence liberty, but they can no longer be the government’s ATM or be seen by the union as such. Therefore, I recommend the following, not only for Wisconsin, but all states:
- Allow collective bargaining but do not make joining the union a condition of employment
- Allow the union the right to refuse to bargain for or represent those that are not members
- Allow individuals who choose not to join the union to be accountable for their own wage, benefit and work rule negotiation, as well as represent themselves in the grievance process
- Allow union wages, benefits and work rules to be bargained for, within the following limits:
- wages are tied to the consumer price index
- benefits and work rules are tied to the private industry standard
- any deviation from above must be decided by a voter referendum; this will restrict the ability of politicians on either side of the aisle to use the bargaining process to buy votes.
- Take a hard look at other areas of the government that can be eliminated, with a focus on those departments and programs that are outside the limits set by the Constitution
Taxpayers want a government that is smaller, spends less, and honors the taxpayers they serve. They want good stewards and personal accountability in those that work for them. I believe that we can get there without removing a public union member’s right to assemble, and still keep the taxpayers in charge of where their money goes. Americans have recognized that this battle is about more than just public union wages or benefits – it is about the power over the public purse. Therefore, we need honorable men and women to rise above the temper tantrum that is going on in Wisconsin and get back to work the people’s business. Liberty without honor will always descend into anarchy and chaos, as we are seeing all over the world today. America must chart a different course or we too shall be lost.