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Public Sector Unions - the Next Budget Challenge

Lobbying by public sector unions is causing the next budget crisis for state and local governments as federal spending soars.

Unions have done some good in the early days of our country, gaining workers higher wages so they could buy the products they were producing, although workers flocked to Detroit for the $5/day wage long before unions. Nowadays they can be useful in developing countries to improve working conditions and have even played a part in bringing down communist governments (Poland comes to mind).

In general they are extra overhead, with part of the workers’ wages going to pay union dues and lobby for political causes not all workers agree with. Progressive non-union companies can attract workers at higher pay without the extra layer of bureaucracy. Companies with better safety records can attract workers – safety sells.

For these reasons, private sector union membership has declined, and work has fled to right-to-work states. My home state of Indiana just became the 23rd right to work state. Sometimes non-union wages are lower, but not always. Auto transplant and supplier wages are comparable in union and non-union plants. Non-union workers in the local economy often resent the unionized workers for their higher pay which drives up the cost of living.

The main purpose of collective bargaining units is to get higher than market wages and benefits for their members, not to serve the customers better. This is fine in the private sector where there are competitive pressures and real customers, because if the workers are overpriced it will drive the company out of business. (Poor management and poor quality products will sink companies too.)

Public sector union membership has increased

Private sector union membership peaked in the 1950s and has declined since then. Fifty-two percent of U.S. union members now work for a government. Government workers are much better insulated from the end-use customer (or parents of the students), so the level of bureaucracy is not as noticeable without competitive pressures.

The union dues of public sector unions go to elect liberal Democratic politicians, who make promises they know will break the budgets of their state and local governments. And we all know the federal budget is out of control. It’s also too bad for conservative teachers, who are forced to subsidize social causes they don’t believe in.

Divisive strikes in the 1970s

My hometown of Highland, Indiana, had a teacher’s strike when I was in seventh grade. The kids were off school for several weeks while the teachers walked the picket line. It was part of the Indiana teacher’s union’s master strike plan to get higher wages statewide. The outside influences nearly tore our town apart as many of the residents were steelworkers and felt loyalty to the strikers even though their kids were suffering. My math teacher held class for her students anyway; no doubt she was unpopular with some of her fellow teachers but the kids whose parents allowed them to cross the picket line loved her for it.

I had 3 jobs in high school; two were at minimum wage, and the third was bagging groceries at a little more than minimum wage, but the extra pay was eaten up by union dues. When I went to college, I studied engineering and took a coop job with Caterpillar in Peoria, Illinois. My first coop session was in the East Peoria tractor plant as a UAW member. It was to be split in thirds, with one session to be in the training shop to learn how to use the machine tools.

That fall, the contract with the Big Three agriculture implement makers was up, and once again John Deere was stronger financially than Caterpillar and International Harvester. The local union leaders were upset that Cat had been passed over as a strike target for the third contract in a row, so they voted to go on an unauthorized strike. The local union president voted once and then again to break the tie (so much for Roberts’ Rules of Order).

So Caterpillar was on strike from the end of September until right before Christmas. Nothing was gained since the union didn’t negotiate with Cat until the Deere strike was settled; the workers had to survive on approximately $100 per week strike pay. Meanwhile, another city was divided by a strike since Caterpillar was the largest employer. I missed getting machine shop training, went home and substitute taught.

Strikes don’t help anyone. For me it was an inconvenience and loss of earnings for school; for workers trying to feed their families, strikes cause serious financial pain.

New Tactics – Badgering the Budget Balancers

Teachers and government workers strikes are now illegal or highly discouraged. So the unions have adopted more effective tactics: coercion and influence of elected officials. In New Jersey even the liberal newspapers were critical of Democratic governor Jon Corzine for being too cozy with the public sector unions.

Recent pitched battles between governors of Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan and public sector employees have drawn out of town protestors, the Occupy movement and the usual crew of race-baiting liberals.

When Governor Scott Walker spoke at a fundraiser in Troy, he drew 2000 protestors, most from out of town. Some reporters wrote only about the grievances of the teachers and other protestors, but didn't write about the contents of Walker's speech. What about the people attending the speech who felt intimidated by the angry protestors?

The noisy 10 percent and sympathizers

Some protestors had signs saying “We are the 99%,” but they are the noisy 10%, with another 10% or 20% who sympathize with them. Meanwhile, the taxpayers pay ever higher wages and benefits compared to similar work in the private sector.

Conclusion

Someday soon, we will reach a tipping point. Fortunately, many of our states require a balanced budget, so the day of reckoning comes soon for those states, and they will be healthier in the long run. Already states like Illinois and New York that have raised taxes to solve their budget problems have seen business leave for neighboring states.

Meanwhile, the federal government continues to spend 40% more than it takes in. The U.S. is piling up debt and headed on a slippery slope toward Greece in a few years if we don’t do something soon. The battle is heating up for November, with clear consequences and choices. It will be up to the voters to sort through the demonizing and determine the best way forward.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Roy Williams April 24, 2012 at 02:09 PM
Once again, Mr. Murrish constructs a thesis based on ignorance. He states that, "The union dues of public sector unions go to elect liberal Democratic politicians...", but in fact only PAC money can by given in support of candidates. Money collected for the purpose of political action is voluntary on the members part and must be kept by the union in a separate account and cannot be collected with or as part of member dues. How do I know this? My wife is a teacher and is often asked to give to various union supported PACs. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don't, but unlike the false picture painted by Mr. Murrish, any money we give in support of political causes is voluntary and not funded by any of her union dues. I don't belong to a union and I'm not some union lackey blind to the various union blemishes. Unions have done a lot of good and they have also done their share of bad. But I'm tired of people like Mr. Murrish continuing to spread this type of misinformation. I'll let all of Mr. Murrish's other misinformed statements, such as his reference to "race-baiting liberals" go since what would be the point when it is obvious that he simply regurgitates Fox News talking points and doesn't really possess any actual knowledge about this topic.
Daffy Noodnicks April 24, 2012 at 04:25 PM
Mr. Murrish: It is interesting that you conclude with: it will be up to the voters to sort through "demonizing". the entire content of your post consists of very biased demonization.
Mr. Murrish, Why, sir, I agree! How dare workers band together to demand higher wages! When the people I employ complain that I only pay minimum wage, I remind them of Colossians 3:22 which orders slaves to obey their human masters in everything, not only when being watched, as currying favor, but in simplicity of heart, fearing the Lord." Then I remind them that I own my thriving vet practice and they're lucky to have a job at all! And don't get me started on the teachers! How DARE they try to protect the quality of their classrooms! We pay them to babysit children, not to fill their heads with fancy book learnin'! We all know that there are only two books that a person needs in this life: The Bible and "Dianetics" by L. Ron Hubbard! And, sir, how admirable of you to have worked three jobs! What a great system we have! We don't want to be like those socialist European countries, where they think that education is a "human right!" Bah! The only rights people have are the ones that their masters grant them! I, myself, was working three jobs until my second ex-wife stabbed my in the chest with a potato peeler! Yes, I lost a lung, but it didn't stop me from becoming a veterinarian of renown! You and I have sacrificed, Mr. Murrish, and I will not stop until everyone has been forced into making the same sacrifices! This is America, and we must stop allowing people to stand up for themselves! Dr. Liam "America's Veterinarian"™ Wolfpuncher
Dale Murrish April 25, 2012 at 12:44 AM
Thanks for the correction. I should have written, “Union-supported PACs help elect liberal Democratic politicians…” and deleted the last sentence in the paragraph. So please forgive me for the error. I guess the dues just pay the salaries of the union leaders and fill the strike funds, which aren’t used much these days. I think there is also union-sponsored health insurance that is recommended as part of union contracts, but I probably shouldn’t write that without researching it or I’ll be accused of ignorance and being misinformed again. Once again, I’m getting vague generalities casting doubt on the whole article without specifics. Did you follow the links to the Heritage Foundation and find any errors in their information? Or are they too radical to consider? I spent a couple of hours writing the article. How long did it take you to write your comment? I have a legitimate point of view argued with logic. You obviously don’t agree, but if I’m misinformed, please correct me. I’m happy to be corrected where I’m wrong.
Dale Murrish April 25, 2012 at 12:46 AM
Daffy, you can call me Dale if you want. Of course it’s biased; it’s an opinion column. I’m not volunteering my time for nothing. Maybe I should use gentler words. By “race-baiting liberals” I did not mean all people with a liberal point of view, only those who play the race card. So please don’t wear a name that wasn’t aimed at you. I can think of less than a dozen prominent people who race-bait overtly, and did not mean to tar everyone with the same brush. Others, like our President, do it much more subtly by opining on cases before knowing all the facts and directing the Justice Department to enforce laws selectively. President Obama’s class warfare is not subtle and highly offensive to me and many others. The recent debate over the Buffett Rule was designed to embarrass the Republicans, who did a poor job of defending their position and explaining that an America where the rich are successful benefits everyone. Somehow it’s OK to be a limousine liberal with book earnings like Obama but not have earned wealth in industry or investments like Romney. The hypocrisy is nauseating but it seems to work or they wouldn’t do it.
Dale Murrish April 25, 2012 at 12:46 AM
Liam, you can mock me all you want by misrepresenting what I wrote. But be careful when you deliberately misrepresent what God wrote through the pen of the apostle Paul, or at least approach it with more humility and try to understand the context in which it was written.
Dale Murrish April 25, 2012 at 12:47 AM
One person’s demonization is another’s sharp opinion. My beef is when people deliberately misrepresent the other point of view. I see that coming far more often from the left than the right; maybe that’s because my viewpoint tends to be from the right (not on all issues, the motorcycle helmet issue might be viewed otherwise). I’ve merely tried to present my view and get people to think, pointing them towards another view they may not have considered. I don’t mean to offend. It’s not OK to borrow a phrase I’ve heard somewhere even if it is the truth? I have to use original phrases? What’s wrong with Fox News? Their news leans right, just as MSNBC and CNN lean left. For their opinion segments, they have liberal commentators like Juan Williams; does MSNBC have any conservative commentators? Chris Mathews on MSNBC recently mentioned the “Grand Wizards” of the Republicans (an allusion to the KKK) while talking to the chairman of the Republican party. That’s on a news show and not demonizing?
Dale Murrish April 25, 2012 at 12:48 AM
The bottom line is we have to do something soon, or our country will be broke. There are different ideas about what to do, but the current logjam in Washington is just “kicking the can down the road,” as our President is fond of saying. His solution is to accelerate the overspending, with “a balanced approach” (raising taxes), which will stunt economic growth and jeopardize the future. I prefer the Republican solutions to our entitlement problems proposed by Paul Ryan, which are a non-starter and throwing Grandma under the bus, according to him. He hasn’t offered a solution of his own, however, only thrown rocks at Republican ideas.
Daffy Noodnicks April 25, 2012 at 01:28 AM
Dale: that is an mischaracterization in a line of comments filled with mischaracterizations. The budget deficeit is due in large part to irresponsible tax policies pushed by republicans such as the bush tax cuts. The Ryan plan offers more irresponsible tax cuts. There is NO way to get a handle on the deficit or debt without reasonable prudent tax increases. Cutting entitlements to get there is fantasy. The math simply does not work. There is no evidence that reasonable tax increases such as letting the bush tax cuts expire would endanger economic growth. The Clinton economy was pretty good as I recall and resulted in a surplus, squandered by an irresponsible and ineffective republican tax cut. The most important thing impacting the country and federal budget is the economic crisis, not the debt. The deficit is due to a very large part as the result of the crisis not the other way around. The Ryan plan has dearth of specifics. The heart of which is literally trillions of dollars would be found by closing tax loopholes, without naming a single one. I'm not a union member but I get nauseated when union members, like my children's teachers, and the countless workers who gave back pay and benefits are picked on unfairly for exercising their rights. For example, I appreciate teachers trying to improve conditions in our schools, and their unions are a mechanism for them to do it. And by the way how do you know most of the protesters were from out of town?
John David April 25, 2012 at 04:54 AM
Mr. Murrish, What is the point of your article? . Is it about the impact of public sector unions on state and local budgets? If so, why not concentrate on that? Instead you write a paragraph like this: “The union dues of public sector unions go to elect liberal Democratic politicians, who make promises they know will break the budgets of their state and local governments. And we all know the federal budget is out of control. It’s also too bad for conservative teachers, who are forced to subsidize social causes they don’t believe in.” You conclude your article by writing: “Meanwhile, the federal government continues to spend 40% more than it takes in. The U.S. is piling up debt and headed on a slippery slope toward Greece in a few years if we don’t do something soon.” Do state and local public sector unions drive the federal budget, deficit and debt? As you point out most states have balanced budget requirements in their constitutions or in statutes. So I don’t see an impact from these public sector unions on the federal budget, deficit or debt. If they are driving the federal deficit and debt, can you demonstrate this? If they don’t, what is your gripe about them, really?
Mr. Murrish, Sir, how dare you! I find you an intelligent, erudite, and skilled writer! Yet you insult me with accusations of misrepresenting God's word and mocking you! Why must you treat me in this manner? I'll have you know that I was raised in a pure Christian household where Calvinist rules were strictly enforced! There was no wearing of bright colors, dancing, or playing cards in my household, no sir! Every night before bedtime, my parents read the fine sermons of the great Abiezer Coppe to me! As an adult, I graduated from Christian Leadership University's online Bible course! I am an expert on the Bible! The continuous stream of insults directed at me diminishes public discourse! Shame, sir, shame! Repent of these insults and accept the truth of Xenu! Dr. Liam "America's Veterinarian"™ Wolfpuncher

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