Monday, March 14, 2011

Making Money Without

It’s nearing two weeks since unions and their cohorts on the Left have thrown a nationwide fit over Scott Walker’s solution to what is ailing Wisconsin. Unions and Democrats have made Wisconsin their cause célèbre by deploying OFA astroturf, the big talking heads, as well as recruiting just about every known Grateful Dead concert attendee on their mailing lists into Wisconsin. Meanwhile, Democratic state senators (now humorously known as fleebaggers) comically continue to hold the state hostage over an issue of union power, politics and money—nothing more and nothing less.

Despite unions’ long hatred of Scott Walker, the new governor is moving to address both the symptoms of the disease and the disease itself—the public-sector union scheme that has molested Wisconsin’s taxpayers and their children by gaming the system. Unions like Wisconsin’s teachers’ union [WEAC] (which was Wisconsin’s biggest-spending lobby in 2009) have been extraordinarily adept at fixing the system through spending millions to elect politicians who, in turn, reward the unions at the expense of the taxpayers.

Now, in response to Walker’s proposals, the Left has gone overboard in their attempt to protect their stranglehold on Wisconsin taxpayers. Even though unions have made clear that their fight is not about their wages or benefits (they’ve offered concessions), they’ve made the fight all about their “right to be unionized” and the fictitious right to “collective bargaining”—which makes their cause even more despotic.

In making Madison into something reminiscent of the spectacle of the 1960s, unions, Democrats and their liberal cohorts are attempting to make the Wisconsin union battle into a civil rights battle, when it is not.  In fact, the Wisconsin fight, when compared to private-sector negotiations is about: 1) the Scope of Bargaining, 2) Union “Income” Security [Right-to-Work vs. Forced Dues], 3) whether Wisconsin should be the unions’ dues collection agency [payroll deduction of dues], and 4) whether public-sector unions should be ‘recertified’ by holding elections every year.

Contrary to the Left’s hyperbole, Scott Walker’s proposals do nothing to eliminate public-sector workers’ right to association, assemblage, or to petition their government. Even pretending that it is a “rights” issue is a mistake. There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that requires a government to engage in a back and forth negotiation with a collective of workers. In a poignant piece entitled There is No Right to Collective Bargaining, Public Service Research Foundation President David Denholm summarizes the problem with the unions’ argument, stating:

A law granting public-sector unions monopoly bargaining privileges gives a union, a special interest group, two bites at the apple. First, it uses its political clout to elect public officials. Then it negotiates with the very same officials.

When you consider that between 70 and 80 percent of all local government expenditures are personnel costs, you begin to get an idea of the magnitude of the power such laws give unions.

Not only is there no right to collective bargaining in public employment, it is wrong. Collective bargaining distorts and corrupts democratic government.

Collective bargaining is a process for employer-employee relations that was designed for the private sector. This process served as the model for the development of public-sector collective bargaining without taking into account the fundamental differences between the two sectors.

As Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour explains:

“When they have collective bargaining in Wisconsin, on one side of the table there’s state employee unions or the local employee unions. On the other side of the table are politicians that they paid for the election of those politicians,” Barbour said. “Now, who represents the taxpayers in that negotiation? Well, actually, nobody.”

Even Newsweek’s Evan Thomas noted on Sunday [via Newsbusters]:

The Democrats really depend on these public employee unions in a lot of states for their support and for their political muscle, and public employee unions got a problem here. I want to distinguish between unions and public employee unions. Unions obviously are critical, but in the public sector, public employee unions have a pretty easy time getting a lot of benefits because nobody’s really pushing back all that hard.

Admittedly, Walker’s proposals are a threat to unions in several ways. As Walker’s proposals determine:

  1. The extent of what unions will be allowed to bargain about. Walker’s proposal limits bargaining to wages only, effectively eliminating the WEA Trust monopoly which gets its money from local school boards and runs it through a union-run insurance company.

  2. Whether unions can have workers fired for not paying union dues. According to its most recent financial record on file, WEAC (the teachers’ union) raked in over $25 million in 2009. Walker’s proposal makes paying union dues voluntary, as opposed to mandatory. This goes to the lifeblood of any union. If, for example, 20% of those teachers who are currently required to pay union dues as a condition of employment opt out, WEAC could lose up to $5 million a year in revenue. [It is noteworthy that, in the private-sector, the SEIU will be conducting its second strike at a Pennsylvania medical center over the issue of mandatory dues.]

  3. Whether the state will continue being the unions’ dues collector. Walker’s proposal eliminates’ the employers’ payroll deduction of union dues. Again, while it is commonplace for unions to negotiate payroll deduction, there is nothing anywhere (in private or public sector law) that states that it is an employers’ duty to be a union’s collection agency.

  4. Whether the unions will have to ‘re-certify’ every year to maintain representational status. Of all of Walker’s proposals, this seems to be one that could be considered a ‘throw away’ item in negotiations. If Walker’s other proposals get enacted, and union-represented employees feel that the union is worthless, they can initiate an election themselves every calendar under existing law [see Section 111.83(5)[h]] .

Given the ability of the unions and their co-conspirators on the Left to hijack the issue in Wisconsin over these last two weeks, there appears no way for a “win-win” compromise to be worked out. One side or the other will win. Either the unions and the Left, or taxpayers will prevail.

If the Left wins, all chances of reforming public-sector unions will be tossed aside by weak-kneed Republicans who will then be held hostage by temper-tantrum throwing Democrats (see Indiana for example). In addition, the Left has already painted the entire Republicans party with bulls eyes and has for years. Therefore, there is no reason for GOP governors like Scott Walker, Chris Christie and John Kasich to back down, which puts the Left in an untenable situation as well.

In the meantime, the disciples of Saul Alinsky will continue their prattle, attempting to convince America that the Battle of Wisconsin is something more than a fight over union power, politics and money…even though it’s not.


“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776


The Government Accountability Office has released a more than 300-page report tallying up 34 areas in which the government has duplicative, fragmented or overlapping programs, and an additional 47 areas where better management or spending decisions could save us money or raise revenue without any obvious loss to program effectiveness. Don't let the length of the report scare you off from giving it a look: The first set of recommendations is summarized on pages 5-7, and the second set on pages 155-158.

In general, I think conservatives tend to be more excited about these reports than liberals. Sen. Tom Coburn's office not only churns these sorts of reports out on a daily basis, but it also authored the amendment that led to the GAO producing this paper. That's a lost opportunity for liberals: It's the people who believe in government who should be angriest and most insistent on taking action when it fails to work, not the people who believe government can't work and see failure and inefficiency as proof for their argument. I give Coburn a lot of credit for the work he and his staff put in to identifying places where we could save money without hurting outcomes, but his crusade is inexcusably lonely. The Mark Warners of the world should be at least as loud on this issue. The necessary partner to big -- or at least biggish -- government is good government.

People will argue, of course, whether every item in here really is waste, fraud or abuse. But the GAO is considered pretty good at its job, and I think it's safe to say that most of this stuff is low-hanging fruit in terms of saving or raising money and making the bureaucracy work a little bit better. It won't solve our budget problems -- we need to get health-care costs under control to do that -- but it'd do some good. And that should be enough.

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