free market politics

Public sector unions

The stuff going on in Wisconsin has me posting things on Facebook and chatting with people and I worry that some may get the wrong idea about my stance on unions. I have no problem with people organizing to exert political pressure or to have leverage in negotiations. This is what unions should do. What I do have a big problem with is many states have laws on the books that require collective bargaining through unions.

Whenever you have the government throw its weight behind any particular group, enormous distortions in the labor market and general economy occur. By making labor more expensive than it otherwise would be, people get shut out of jobs. Usually it is the underprivileged and inexperienced that suffer the most under mandatory union hiring and bargaining. Unions should be able to bargain based upon higher quality workers, acting a lot like guilds. Unions should be something that workers work towards so that they can command better wages, benefits, etc. because of their certification.

In any case, I understand the appeal of unionization when there is a class of workers that do not seem to be getting their “fair share” of the profits. Things are totally different when it comes to public sector unions. There is no evil capitalist  taking the lion’s share of the profits, there aren’t any profits involved. Things are so much more muddled without profit motives and profits to capture. How do we know what a good salary is? How do we know what good benefits are? It’s pretty cut and dry in the private sector, you need to pay your way in both wages and benefits. If you don’t create enough value to cover those things, you get fired. If you are inexperienced and can’t create very much value, you don’t get paid much until you do. Of course if there are laws and agreements in place that do not allow low enough wages to accommodate lower skilled workers, they just don’t get hired and are stuck.

The folks protesting in Wisconsin are the poster children of why people do not like public sector unions. When times are tough, it is going to be difficult to tell taxpayers to go look somewhere else for the money that is needed. True, there are some public sector jobs that still have a good vibe attached to them. Firemen, Police, etc. Most of the rest don’t have such a good rep. The saying, “Close enough for government work,” exists for a reason. . It’s also going to be tough to drum up much sympathy for a public school system that has generally disappointed over the past 30 years or so despite having had enormous amounts of money pumped into it during that time. Unions with required collective bargaining power do not seem to have helped education much.

Here’s a question. How many parents would willingly choose to send their children to public school if they were able to send them to a private school instead? I’m pretty confident that the vast majority of parents would choose the private option if given the chance. I doubt that many would cite the fact that very few private school teachers are not unionized as a reason. They would, however, cite lots of the effects of private vs. public (unionized) employment as reasons they like private school more. The private schools have higher standards and better results overall than public schools. Those results are directly tied to being more responsive to parents and teachers. That of course is tied directly to private schools continuing to make money…


All of this adds up to an uphill battle for the public sector unions in Wisconsin holding on to their collective bargaining power, let alone avoid the other concessions…


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