Govern­ment unions rob work­ing class blind

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - BY YURI VANETIK AND THOMAS TUCKER Yuri Vanetik is a Lin­coln Fel­low at the Clare­mont In­sti­tute and serves on the na­tional board of Gen Next and the Gen Next Foun­da­tion. Thomas Tucker is the co-founder of The New Ma­jor­ity Cal­i­for­nia.

With the death of Jus­tice An­tonin Scalia, it is less likely the Supreme Court will is­sue a rul­ing to stop public­sec­tor unions from forc­ing nonunion mem­bers to pay dues.

That’s a shame for Amer­i­can work­ers and tax­pay­ers, who strug­gle to af­ford pub­lic unions’ lav­ish com­pen­sa­tion pack­ages. Tak­ing into ac­count both wages and ben­e­fits, the av­er­age fed­eral pub­lic sec­tor worker makes nearly 80 per­cent more than his or her pri­vate sec­tor coun­ter­part. That dis­par­ity is in large part a func­tion of co­er­cion: unions can force new work­ers to join, am­plify­ing their bar­gain­ing power.

For hard-work­ing middle-class fam­i­lies, a Supreme Court rul­ing against the pub­lic-sec­tor unions would put money back in their pock­ets and im­prove govern­ment ser­vices. In­deed, af­ter the pas­sage of leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing pub­lic-sec­tor work­ers to opt out of unions in Wis­con­sin, mem­ber­ships in lo­cal Na­tional Teach­ers Union fell by half.

Pub­lic sec­tor unions are now one of the big­gest cam­paign con­trib­u­tors in the coun­try. In 2014, they poured more than $65 mil­lion into fed­eral cam­paigns and causes. That money has bought in­creas­ingly gen­er­ous pay and ben­e­fits.

This rogue scheme is a be­trayal of or­di­nary vot­ers— and it is swamp­ing state and lo­cal bud­gets, forc­ing taxes up and govern­ment ser­vices down.

It wasn’t un­til rel­a­tively re­cently that unions were able to or­ga­nize govern­ment work­ers. Even staunch la­bor ad­vo­cates like Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt rec­og­nized the risks in­volved in let­ting govern­ment work­ers union­ize.

When pri­vate sec­tor unions sit down to col­lec­tively bar­gain, they are in an ad­ver­sar­ial re­la­tion­ship with cor­po­rate man­age­ment. Ul­ti­mately, both sides work out a com­pro­mise they can live with.

How­ever, with pub­lic unions, politi­cians are “man­age­ment.” They are ne­go­ti­at­ing with some­body else’s money— the tax­pay­ers’. There is no in­cen­tive for re-elec­tion-ob­sessed politi­cians to turn down their pub­lic union sup­port­ers’ ex­trav­a­gant de­mands. Both par­ties are ef­fec­tively on the same side of the ta­ble.

The ad­van­tage isn’t just with wages. Pub­lic union work­ers get far bet­ter ben­e­fits— ma­te­ri­ally more gen­er­ous health in­sur­ance, re­tire­ment plans, and paid sick leave— than union­work­ers in the pri­vate sec­tor.

While pri­vate sec­tor union mem­ber­ship has been in de­cline for decades, pub­lic sec­tor unions are thriv­ing. Where fewer than 8 per­cent of pri­vate sec­tor­work­ers be­long to a union, al­most 40 per­cent of state and lo­cal govern­ment work­ers do.

Pub­lic pen­sion costs are swamp­ing state and lo­cal bud­gets. Th­ese costs have con­trib­uted to a num­ber of mu­nic­i­pal bank­rupt­cies, in­clud­ing Stock­ton, Vallejo, and San Bernardino in Cal­i­for­nia and Detroit in Michi­gan.

Of course, it’s tax­pay­ers— most of them middle-class and work­ing class fam­i­lies— who foot the bill for this mind-bend­ing largesse.

For­mer New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg once ad­mit­ted that “ev­ery penny in per­sonal in­come tax we col­lect will go to cover our pen­sion bill.”

Unions once served a noble pur­pose in this coun­try, pro­tect­ing work­ers from abuse and boost­ing earn­ings with­out un­der­min­ing busi­ness growth. To­day, un­for­tu­nately, pub­lic em­ployee unions have mor­phed into ves­sels of un­re­strained greed. La­bor bosses have been ex­ploit­ing the odd dy­nam­ics of pub­lic sec­tor em­ploy­ment to boost wages and ben­e­fits well be­yond what is rea­son­able. The Supreme Court should bring this to an end.

If you are a pri­vate com­pany worker, the best way to get a raise is to quit, and go to work for a pub­lic em­ployee union.

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