The American private sector labor movement is an important part of our history. It provided a needed balance between large businesses and individual workers. By imposing the collective power of human resources against the financial power of the businesses, a balance was struck — management, responsible to the shareholders, sought to hold down labor and production costs, while unions sought to maximize benefits and working conditions. The resulting tensions tended to provide living wages while maintaining profitability. The growth of America’s great middle class — the backbone of our political and economic engines — was an outgrowth of the private sector labor movement combined with the entrepreneurial skills of America’s mainstreet retail merchants.
Not so with the public employees union movement.
In fact, even as the labor movement grew in America, federal, state and local governments either prohibited public employee unions or barred them from engaging in strikes or other forms of labor activities. The reasons were clear and reiterated by legislature after legislature and state supreme court after state supreme court. The affairs and services of government were too important to be disrupted by strikes of other labor activities. Even though policymakers understood the dangers of public employee unionism, they failed to foresee the real evil inherent in combining politics and mandatory union membership for government employees. It is the very lack of tension, inherent in private sector union/management relationships, that has proven the breeding ground for the corruption of power that has ruined states like Californian and New Jersey and is on the verge of ruining Oregon.
It took specific legislative acts in Oregon and other states to permit collective bargaining by public employee unions. It is unfortunate that the politicians of those days did not have the foresight to understand the inevitable corruption that would follow.
In a recent column Washington Examiner columnist Michael Barone provided a succinct description of the dangers of public employee unionism:
“Public-sector unionism is a very different animal from private-sector unionism. It is not adversarial but collusive. Public-sector unions strive to elect their management, which in turn can extract money from taxpayers to increase wages and benefits — and can promise pensions future taxpayers will have to fund.” [Emphasis supplied]
That is it pure and simple. In states like California, New York, New Jersey and a host of others, the public employee unions spend the monies extracted from mandatory dues to elect the very persons with whom they will bargain. The net effect is that the elected politicians no longer represent the interests of the citizens/taxpayers of the state, but rather the interests of those who have funded their elections — the public employee unions. Where then is the balance, the tension between labor and management? It doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist in terms of the loyalty of the politicians to the citizens/taxpayers because it was the unions, not the citizens/taxpayers who paid for their campaigns. It doesn’t exist in terms of the natural reservations about spending ones own money because it is the citizens/taxpayers monies that are spent. And it doesn’t exist in terms of the resistance to raising money because it is extracted unwillingly from citizens by virtue of mandatory taxes.
In Oregon, the public employee unions extract about $60 Million every biennium in the form of mandatory contributions. They are aided by the state and local governments who have, as a part of collective bargaining agreements, agreed to collect those mandatory contributions by withholding it from employee paychecks. The amounts are remitted quarterly, or more frequently depending on the collective bargaining agreements.
Because public employees must belong to the unions as a condition of employment there is precious little of the $60 Million that is spent on organizing and recruitment. Because the unions bargain with those whose elections they have paid for there is precious little of the $60 Million that is spent on collective bargaining. Virtually the entire $60 Million is available for political activities including political education, candidate recruitment and training, direct campaign financing, polling, canvassing, providing campaign volunteers and a variety of other activities.
The results were predictable. The Democrats who receive virtually all of the formal and informal political assistance from the public employee unions dominate Oregon’s political landscape. They hold every statewide office, hold a supermajority in both houses of the legislature, have both United States Senate seats and four out of five of the House of Representative seats for Oregon.
And with the Democrat dominance of Oregon politics, the public employee unions have fared very well. In addition to their generous annual salary increase, most public employees are entitled to a “step increase” — in essence receiving two raises annually. Gov. Kulongoski granted unions members an additional five percent (third) increase a couple of years ago. The public employee healthcare benefits now average nearly $1200 per month and the taxpayers are on the hook to fund their gold plated retirement plans which, today, have an unfunded future liability of nearly $18 Billion dollars. While Oregon’s private sector employees lost nearly 130,000 jobs in the recent recession, the public employee unions added over 2,200 jobs — complete with generous healthcare benefits and gold platted pension benefits. The unions have been successful in eliminating a secret ballot for determining union representation, instead implementing a system in which the public employees are exposed to the threats and intimidation of union thugs. And finally, the unions now stand first in line in terms of insuring payment of their benefits — state law now requires payments to fund PERS be made before budgeted amounts are released to state departments.
The nature of the America’s “tea party” movement is to expose and rectify these abuses of government. Let us hope that they seize upon Oregon’s abuses before it is too late — before Oregon becomes the next California.