Madison protest: Unions are angry – but Wisconsin should go even further
Union protests in Wisconsin have intensified pressure on Governor Scott Walker's bold plan to curtail public-sector union power. For the sake of fiscal health, Wisconsin should go even further by prohibiting all collective bargaining in the public sector.
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Aside from inflated wages, public sector unions have pushed for excessive pension benefit levels, which are creating a fiscal crisis for many governments. That’s another reason unions are so angry in Wisconsin: Governor Walker is demanding that state workers carry more of the burden for their health and pension plans.Skip to next paragraph
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High cost of 'generosity'
Defined benefit pension plans are available to about four-fifths of state and local workers but just one-fifth of private workers. And public sector plans are typically about twice as generous as remaining private plans. That generosity has led to a $3 trillion funding gap in public sector pensions. That gap will create a huge burden on future taxpayers unless benefits are cut, and unions often stand in the way of such reforms.
Unions increase government costs in other ways. They often protect poorly performing workers, and they usually push for larger staffing levels than required. Unions typically discourage the use of inexpensive volunteers in government activities, and they create a more bureaucratic and inefficient workplace.
Unionism seems to coincide with poor state government management. States with higher public sector union shares tend to have higher levels of government debt. And the states with higher union shares do more poorly on grading by the Pew Center regarding the quality of public sector management.
Public sector unions are powerful special interest groups. The teachers unions, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, and the Service Employees International Union have more than seven million members combined. They have well-financed political war chests and are very active in political campaigns.
Inconsistent with freeedom
Unions certainly have free speech rights to voice their opinions about public policy. But collective bargaining gives unions the exclusive right to speak for covered workers, many of whom may disagree with the views of the monopoly union. Thus, collective bargaining is inconsistent with the right to freedom of association.
In states such as Virginia, teachers and other government workers may form voluntary associations and lobby the government, which is fine. But collective bargaining – or monopoly unionism – gives a privileged position in our democracy to government insiders who focus on expanding the public sector to own their personal benefit.
Wisconsin’s proposed union reforms are on the right track. But state governments should repeal collective bargaining in the public sector altogether, following the successful policies of Virginia, North Carolina, and other states. That would give policymakers the flexibility they need to make tough budget decisions on pensions and other fiscal challenges facing their states.