Thursday, July 7, 2011

Public Unions vs. Private Unions

In the ongoing struggle between public-sector unions and debt-laden states, the left has rallied around the unions and their so-called collective bargaining rights.  The states, which have been forced to target excessive benefits in order to shore-up their fiscal situation, have too often been painted the bad guys for stripping workers of their "rights".  But as many recognize, the likes of Governor Chris Christie in New Jersey and Scott Walker in Wisconsin should be commended for their tough stances.

In an editorial in the Star-Ledger, Tom Moran draws a clean distinction between public- and private-sector unions.  He writes:
To the unions, and to their allies in the Democratic Party, collective bargaining rights are sacred — and pinching them like this is unforgivable.

So let’s look at collective bargaining, starting with the good stuff. Bargaining is what gave us an eight-hour workday, weekends off, basic workplace safety and wages that helped build the middle class in America. We owe all that to the unions, and they did it at the bargaining table.
But those gains were made by private sector unions. And the public sector is different in key ways.

For one, public worker unions have political power and can hand pick the people on the other side of the bargaining table. With money and volunteers, they can dominate local politics, especially in low-turnout elections.
Another big difference: Governments don’t go bankrupt, or move to Mexico. When auto workers negotiate with GM, they know that if they get greedy, they could lose it all. The cops in Edison[, NJ] have no such fears. So why not press for that deal that gives you and your family free health care for life?

Here’s one final difference: In the public sector, the people who pay the bills are the common folk, not the fat cats. The class-warfare language of the private labor movement doesn’t fit here.

Ask yourself this: Is it progressive to ask a senior on a fixed income to pay higher property taxes so that a cop or teacher can avoid paying a reasonable share of their health costs?
While Moran is somewhat more generous to private-sector unions than ANR generally feels comfortable with, his arguments regarding public-sector unions are dead-on.  The logic seems impossible - for both those on the right and the left - to avoid.  Hopefully, Americans will understand this before our budgetary mess permanently destroys our futures.

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