BERMAN: Collective bargaining is no ‘right’

What government gives, government can take away

Story Topics
Question of the Day

Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

View results

Given all the recent discussion about collective bargaining, it’s surprising how misunderstood it is. The most pernicious myth - which serves as the foundation of many others - is that public employees have a “right” to collectively bargain over wages, benefits and working conditions.

Those employment “rights” (a term too loosely thrown around) are derived from various laws - not from the U.S. Constitution or that of any state. And laws can be repealed.

By definition, “rights” can’t be taken away. So collective bargaining doesn’t qualify. It’s not a right. It’s a privilege.

Government employees who enjoy this privilege can lose it at any time, since they’re entitled only to the privileges granted by their employer. All it takes is a new statute to replace the old one.

Franklin D. Roosevelt championed the law that created private-sector collective bargaining, but he recognized that it “cannot be transplanted into public service.” Legendary AFL-CIO President George Meany expressed similar doubts.

Why were these liberal stalwarts wary? Simple economics.

If labor costs go up in the private sector, prices rise accordingly, and consumers can take their business elsewhere. That dynamic (usually) provides a sobering check on new competitive demands. But the government has a monopoly on most public services, so there are no market pressures to keep costs down.

If labor expenses go up in the public sector, tax increases are the usual “remedy.” And unless the “consumer” wants to move out of the state, he must pay the new prices.

The feature that most defines collective bargaining is its adversarial nature: Labor and management represent two independent, opposing sides. But in the public sector, “management” isn’t nearly as independent. It consists of elected officials for whom replacements can be found - and whose political opponents can be funded - if unions become displeased.

This is why public unions are among the most powerful forces in American politics. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) spent more than $87.5 million influencing the most recent election cycle. The National Education Association poured $40 million into campaigns. The American Federation of Teachers added $16 million.

All that money determining political winners and losers is an incentive for “management” (politicians) to avoid antagonizing “labor” (those moneyed public-sector unions). No wonder some unions brag about being able to “elect their own bosses.”

In the end, public-sector unions and government engage in a sort of collective conspiracy to drive up the costs of employing teachers, meat inspectors, meter maids and the countless bureaucrats who manage them. And taxpayers foot the bill for every pay raise.

Most politicians understand this. And they know they can’t continue robbing Peter to pay Paul an ever-higher salary. Eventually, Peter’s going to figure out what’s going on.

In order to keep voters in the dark, politicians and their union allies have beefed up public pension plans and retirement benefits instead of salaries, while also picking up the tab for health care premiums. Since 2002, every $1-per-hour pay increase public employees have received came with $1.17 in new benefits. (Private-sector workers received less than half that - just 58 cents in new benefits for each $1-per-hour pay increase.)

These benefits, with their long-term payouts, are easier to hide than big, immediate wage increases - until we reach a tipping point. With 44 states and the District of Columbia facing budget deficits and with unfunded pension liabilities totaling $1 trillion, we’re clearly there today.

Story Continues →

View Entire Story

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Comments
blog comments powered by Disqus
TWT Video Picks
You Might Also Like
  • Maureen McDonnell looks on as her husband, former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, made a statement on Tuesday after the couple was indicted on corruption charges. (associated press)

    PRUDEN: Where have the big-time grifters gone?

  • This photo taken Jan. 9, 2014,  shows New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gesturing as he answers a question during a news conference  at the Statehouse in Trenton.  Christie will propose extending the public school calendar and lengthening the school day in a speech he hopes will help him rebound from an apparent political payback scheme orchestrated by key aides. The early front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination will make a case Tuesday Jan. 14, 2014, that children who spend more time in school graduate better prepared academically, according to excerpts of his State of the State address obtained by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    BRUCE: Bombastic arrogance or humble determination? Chris Christie’s choice

  • ** FILE ** Secretary of State Hillary Rodham testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

    PRUDEN: The question to haunt the West

  • Get Breaking Alerts