Gravy Train Passengers Urge Mules to Pull Harder
Standing in the street with a picket sign doesn’t make you right, or mean you are oppressed. I say this not to discourage or disparage people who stand in the street with picket signs. On the contrary, I am a great admirer of public displays of righteousness. I’ve made more than one myself.
I say it rather to point out that not all demonstrations are for causes worth supporting. Specifically, there is no similarity between the desperate, hungry, abused demonstrators in Egypt and public employee union members in Wisconsin.
The Egyptians are in a very real sense ‘freedom fighters.’ They are trying to free themselves from a violent, kleptocratic, authoritarian regime that abused them for many years. To their great credit they ousted an insufferable tyrant with almost no bloodshed. But the new tyrant looks a lot like the old. For all the hoopla, the Egyptian people really haven’t done much more than they could have in a typical rigged election. Nevertheless, it is unquestionably a fight for freedom they are involved in and it is a battle worth fighting.
The Wisconsin demonstrators, on the other hand, in their yearning for some legitimacy compare themselves to the Egyptian ‘freedom fighters.’ The notion is ridiculous and utterly without shame. It insults the intelligence of their victims, the taxpayers, and distorts the reality of their complaint beyond recognition.
These are people who are clamped onto the body politic like limpets. Their complaint is that the host on which they are feeding has had the temerity to take measures to keep from bleeding to death.
While the Egyptians were struggling to overthrow an unjust ruling elite, the Wisconsin demonstrators are taking to the streets to maintain one.
Unionized public employees earn more than their private sector brethren, are practically immune from dismissal, enjoy vastly superior fringe benefits, and are in line for retirement packages that would make a Congressman blush. They have ‘negotiated’ themselves into this cushy situation by throwing the weight of their considerable resources behind candidates who support their ever growing demands. The public employees union then negotiates a pay and benefits package with politicians who are beholden to the union for their victory at the polls.
In non-right-to-work states like Wisconsin, public employees have a choice of paying union dues or getting fired. The union has a legal monopoly on who can be hired by the government and what they can be paid. This arrangement has eliminated competition from the hiring process and driven costs higher every year.
Private sector unions have been in decline since the 1950s while public employee unions have grown. It was only with the decline in private union membership that union leaders came to reject their previous opinion that to unionize public employees would be immoral.
The executive council of the AFL-CIO declared in 1959, “In terms of accepted collective bargaining procedures, government workers have no right beyond the authority to petition Congress—a right available to every citizen.”
Even the statist hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who gave unions broad powers for collective bargaining in the private sector, considered a government strike “unthinkable and intolerable.”
The consequences of the unionization of public employees has been uniformly bad for taxpayers and good for union members. These unions now exert constant pressure on governments to raise taxes and claim ever larger shares of government budgets.
Test question: What is the net present value of an annual pension of $45,000 (quite typical for government work) that will be collected for 25 years, using the “ultimate safety” interest rates available on U.S. Treasury 30 year bonds. That is to say, how much would you have to pay a retiring public bureaucrat in interest bearing bonds at retirement to give him $45,000 a year in income.
Answer: Receiving a $45Kx25 year annuity is like getting a $634,000 cash gift at your retirement party. Beats a gold watch any day. Inflation adjustments make it more. If you live longer than 25 years, more still. The package includes health insurance? More still. Nice bonus for 20 years of pestering your fellow citizens with paperwork. And it’s hardly even mentioned in public agency budgets.
And it would be one thing if this kind of money had been set aside by the employee himself or even by him and his employer, but with rare exceptions, these kinds of promises are completely “unfunded.” They are counting on the taxpayers to pick up the whole tab when it comes due.
The unions that have negotiated these kinds of deals are holding the American taxpayer and the American taxpayer’s children hostage. The Wisconsin protestors are complaining because the mules pulling the gravy train are looking to lighten the load. Any resemblance these people have to ‘freedom fighters’ is entirely imaginary.
Wisconsin’s governor has proposed some very reasonable modifications concerning what is open to collective bargaining by public employee unions. It is a far cry from “union busting,” as his critics have called it.
Union busting is what Ronald Reagan did when federal air traffic controllers went on strike. He fired everyone who didn’t return to work. By all reports, that worked out just fine.