People who complain that government unions colluding with government officials for extravagant pay are “bargaining with themselves” are missing the whole point about collective bargaining:
When the government says something you need is so important that it claims a monopoly over providing it, then that government has an obligation to deliver that thing as promised, as long as you keep up your end, like paying your taxes. It can’t let its bureaucrats withhold what you need, for their own gain.
Bribery is Corruption
If the drone at the driver’s license bureau refuses to help you unless you slip him a fiver, or the mailman “can’t guarantee everything will arrive safely”, unless you “tip” him, we all recognize that as bribery, intolerable in a government official. They are entrusted with what we consider “public good”, and must deliver on it, because it’s considered essential, and has been made into a government monopoly. Withholding that trusted thing in demand for personal gain is intolerable corruption.
It’s OK to have to tip your waitress for better service, but not your fireman.
And we, for most of history, recognized in America how important this distinction is, unlike the rest of the world. We weren’t, say, India:
In India, if you want your driver’s license, you automatically bribe the bureaucrat who is supposed to give it to you. Same if you want electricity, or health care. In fact, you have to bribe hundreds of government officials per year, in order to simply function normally. You need to already have enough money to pay off public thugs, in order to be allowed to prosper. This is part of why hundreds of millions of poor have remained trapped in a caste system, while most of the world has outgrown theirs.
It’s not that regular people shouldn’t be able to trade money for service, it’s that government officials must never withhold service in order to get money.
Democrats against Collective Bargaining
This is why, for so many years when the rabidly pro-union Democrats dominated the Federal and state governments, government employees and civil servants were banned, by those Democrats, from collective bargaining and strikes. Even Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed that a union is a monopoly, over both the workers and employer, that strikes withhold services from legitimately customers, arbitrarily, in order to extort more money out of them — and when the customers are taxpayers, and the services essential, everyone recognized that this is wrong:
The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service…A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government.
— Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Federation of Federal Employees against Strikes in Federal Service
It wasn’t until 1959 that, for the first time ever, a state government in the US — Wisconsin — allowed its bureaucrats to form monopoly unions that could cut off taxpayers from their paid-up, legitimate services. Unfortunately, other states began to follow suit. Soon, as we might fear, government employees began to threaten to withhold services from us, even though we’d paid our taxes, unless they got special money and favors.
In order to not be bankrupted immediately, the government officials who had caused this mess by allowing the unions were forced to impose taxes on the taxpayers’ grandchildren, by promising to pay extravagant retirement benefits to the monopolists later, when the extortionists retired. This is, of course, taxation without representation; the main people who’d be super-taxed to pay for the bribes in twenty to forty years were often not yet born, much less of voting age.
Those public sector bureaucrats held the people of Wisconsin hostage, for their own gain, and the payoff was insanely cushy, gold-lined pensions.
Well, now the ransom is coming due.
Protecting Americans from Extortion
Appropriately, the first to reach this crisis was the state that started the problem, Wisconsin. And, for once, they did the right thing:
Scott Walker reversed the previous trend and restored the taxpayer’s right to not be extorted by government bureaucrats.
Anyone who doubts that this is a good thing needs to look to Britain, where civil “servants” recently tried to extort money from the taxpayers, by cutting off essential services. They bragged about their goal of holding up travelers and bankrupting parents by forcing them to stay home with kids while the schools shut down. They admit that they’re already being paid far more than the private sector, and are striking simply because they’re being asked to pay a few percentage points of their fat pensions.
Tens of thousands of emergency calls were ignored, except for those deemed “life threatening”, and thousands of surgeries were postponed, leaving people to suffer longer. Millions were trapped in their homes by lack of bus and rail service. Over ten thousand schools were shut down, putting millions of parents in a bind, however happy it made their kids.
All because the government employees entrusted with providing these services, violated the public trust.
We don’t need that kind of ganster-like corruption, here in the US.
Of course we could also have a discussion about how this proves the government can’t be trusted to meddle in health care, mass transit, and education…but at the very least, when it usurps those vital needs, it must then provide them, no matter what.
This is why “collective bargaining” can’t be tolerated, when public good is at stake.
e’re told by teachers, politicians, and the media that unions are the best thing ever to happen to people who work. Without them, we’d all be working 80 hour weeks, for pennies per hour, and dying by 30 from how dangerous the conditions are.
And yet, for some reason, most people not only don’t belong to unions, are not even thinking about forming unions, but wouldn’t even want their industry unionized, if they had the chance. In fact, unions are dying out. The odds are that if you don’t more or less inherit a union career because you’re locked into a Company Town situation, you will never join one.
In the 1940s, 35% of American workers belonged to trade unions. Today in the private sector, membership is less than 7%. It is even lower in states that protect your right to have a specific job without joining a union.
Because, in reality, a union takes more freedom away from a worker, than from anyone else.
Pay is Important
It’s not fun, negotiating with an employer for your compensation. Well, not unless you’re really in demand. Then it can be joyful agony, trying to decide which offer is best, and what to require you be paid…but, the rest of the time, it’s unpleasant.
But the joy and pain are both because of how completely important your pay for your work really is. Your entire lifestyle depends on that set of decisions.
Not just how much you’ll be paid, but in what form. Do you want more cash, or would you prefer more days off? Are you better off putting up with a company insurance plan, that is cheaper but less responsive and lacking in choices, or more money and save up for your own checkups? Do you want paid lunch and breaks, or more money and come home sooner?
The problem with a union is that it strips away any control you have over that life-changing question.
You don’t even get to choose when, or how, to negotiate. Union management takes all power away from you, and you have to cross your fingers, praying whatever they think is best happens to be something you can tolerate.
Even under the best circumstances, they’ll be negotiating for the lowest common denominator. What the average worker is worth, and the union will gain from getting. The problem is that in the real world, almost nobody’s average. A good compromise, famously, is one where everyone goes away equally unhappy. With a union, you don’t just have to compromise with an employer, but also with all of the other workers.
You Become a Cog
With a union, you must settle for:
What the average worker is worth…
Diluted by what benefits the union management and corporate management negotiate.
You also lose the power to be paid for your effort, quality, ideas, and unique traits.
For example, you may be willing to work extra-hard to make more money, or have more job security. You may not even need to work hard; there may be some special part of your occupation you’re particularly good at.
But most unions avoid the idea of being paid for how well you do the job, replacing it with being paid for how many years you’ve worked. What could be a worse system of payment than this?
Of course it’s bad for the customers, because quality falls by the way-side…and therefore is bad for the company, as its profit depends on that quality. But it’s also bad for you, the worker, whose efforts become meaningless…just hang on to the job for as long as you can, that’s the only way you can make more money.
Likewise, no amount of effort can protect you from being laid off during the slow or hard times, with a typical union contract. You could be the very best at your job, but if you’ve only been there a few years, you’re out the door.
The Worst Kind of Middleman
It’s bad enough that unions harm companies, consumers, and society by causing unemployment, playing insider favoritism, price increases, inefficiency, low quality, reducing non-union worker pay, and other means, plus all the above disadvantages to union members, but what do you gain, in return for this?
- The right to be forced to pay union dues, whether you find them worthwhile or not.
- The privilege to have part of that hefty fee spent to bribe government officials with policies you probably don’t actually like, and be punished if you object.
- The fortune of having some of the rest divvied up among the secretive, corrupt union management and their cronies and masters, for no apparent reason whatsoever.
- Oh, and the joy of having yet another Tyranny of the Majority government ruling over you, in the form of that union’s quasi-elected crony management.
It’s no surprise that unions actually reduce real household income.
Not a Number, but a Free Man
The reason most of us eschew labor unions like they’re a porcupine who recently attacked a skunk’s posterior, is that we really are better off as free people, than as vassals of a collective, whose real function seems to be the profit of its “leaders”.
In other words, I’d rather protect my right to earn pay based on what I’m worth, not my seniority, and not be given useless token “compensation” that sucks part of it away, like hourly coffee breaks and a dubious promise of unreasonably high, distant retirement pay, I probably won’t see, once the union bankrupts my employer.
Unionism seldom, if ever, uses such power as it has to insure better work; almost always it devotes a large part of that power to safeguarding bad work.
- H. L. Mencken
- Henry George