Read an Excerpt
Shadowbosses Government Unions Control America and Rob Taxpayers Blind
By Mallory Factor
Center Street Copyright © 2012 Mallory Factor
All right reserved.
Meet the Shadowbosses
The scorpion wanted to cross a river, but he was a poor swimmer. So he begged a nearby frog for a ride across the river.
“Why would I let you ride on my back?” the frog responded. “You are a scorpion and surely will sting me.”
“If I were to sting you,” the scorpion replied haughtily, “we’d both drown, since I can’t swim.”
The frog saw the logic of the situation and agreed. The scorpion crawled aboard the frog’s back, and they started across the river.
Halfway across, the scorpion stung the frog.
As the paralyzed frog began to sink, he turned to the scorpion, bewildered. “Why would you do that?” he asked. “You fool! Now we’ll both drown.”
“I am a scorpion,” the scorpion answered. “It is my nature to sting.”
And they both drowned.
TODAY, we’re the frog. Government employee unions are the scorpions. If we allow them to stay on our backs much longer, they will sting us and we will all drown. And, like the trusting frog, we’re letting them.
Government employee unions should be expected to do what these unions do—demand more and more from our government until they bankrupt our nation and us. And our job is to refuse them. It is up to us to save our poor nation from the scorpion’s sting that we all know is coming in the middle of the river.
Public Servants Become Public Masters
Two generations ago, there were public-minded government servants. Most government employees took real pride in their work. Their common goal was to build and staff a government that served the people well.
Before government employee unions came on the scene, government employees understood that service meant sacrifice in terms of pay. Sure, you wouldn’t get rich working a government job, but you’d have a lifetime job with a good pension at the end, and you’d get to make a difference. Working for the government was a privilege, and you were really working for your fellow citizens. But now far fewer government employees approach their jobs as a privilege to serve. What changed?
Labor unions came along, unionized many government employees, and drastically increased what a government employee could expect to receive in pay and benefits. Now most forms of “public service” are more profitable than working in the private sector. The government employee unions also trained government employees to demand ever higher pay and never-ending benefits, all funded by their fellow citizens.
To be clear, we shouldn’t begrudge individual government employees for what they get in pay and benefits from the government. As we wrote this book, we even thought more than a few times that we should go out and apply for government jobs ourselves. We understand that government workers don’t make the system, they just benefit from it. But make no mistake, the culture of “public service” has changed from a focus on giving back to a focus on getting. And through their incessant focus on extracting more from the employer, unions have encouraged government workers to consider their jobs as an entitlement, not a privilege.
Many Americans, including Tea Party supporters, are angered by the decline of true public service. According to Tea Party advocate Donna Wiesner Keene, “Tea Party members are loyal tax-paying citizens, but their anger begins with the lack of value received for taxes—the transformation of government worker from asset to liability, of the people’s government to the union’s government.” With this crucial change, government employee unions have been able to unite all net tax receivers into a huge special interest group that is focused on growing the government. Net tax receivers are those Americans whose income comes from the government one way or another—as salary, welfare benefits, and subsidies. Don’t government employees pay taxes? Of course they do. But it isn’t close to the amount they receive in salary and benefits—and, after all, they’re really just paying back tax dollars they already received from you. They give the government a cut of the pie they just took from your stove. This doesn’t make government employees bad people, and many government workers surely give good service in exchange for their salary. But whether government workers work hard for their money or not, it doesn’t change the fact that they are dependent on government to earn their living and are paid with taxpayer dollars.
This mammoth special interest group of net tax receivers is represented by the Democrat Party. Whether individual net tax receivers are liberal or conservative, it is the Democrat Party that supports their personal interests in keeping government large and growing it bigger.
On the other side is a dwindling group of people who actually pay the taxes that keep the other group afloat. How much longer are taxpayers going to be able to support the weight of net tax receivers?
You Should Work for the Government
Once unions organized government workers, the earlier pay gap between government and private sector workers closed. Then, the gap expanded in the other direction. Government service is now far more lucrative than private sector work ever has been or probably ever will be. If you get a government job, you can be set for the rest of your life—above market salary, great health benefits, and virtually unlimited job security while you are working, followed by early retirement and a generous and steady guaranteed pension until your death.
The smartest among you who didn’t know this before reading this book will put the book down right now and go apply for a government job. Michelle Obama, our First Lady, says: “Don’t go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. Those are the careers that we need, and we’re encouraging our young people to do that.” Michelle Obama captures the message that we are all given about government service—that America needs more government workers to serve our nation. But is it really true anymore? How much “service” does our nation really need? And are we paying our government employees too much?
Paying Government Employees
Economists have shown that government workers are overpaid compared with private sector workers, but it still remains a much debated question. Unions and some liberals argue that government employees still are not paid enough because they are so much more “qualified” than private sector workers.
Federal government workers averaged over twice the salary and benefits that an average private sector worker makes. Federal government employees average a stunning $126,141 annually in salary and benefits. And how many federal government workers do you think make more than $100,000 in salary alone, before overtime and benefits? Ten thousand? Twenty thousand? Fifty thousand? No, actually there were 459,016 federal workers making more than $100,000 in salary alone, over one in five of all federal civil service workers. We can’t possibly need that many highly paid government workers to run our federal government, even if they are über-qualified.
One of the best detailed comparisons of full-time federal government workers and private-sector workers was undertaken by James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation. His report shows that federal workers earn an average of 22 percent more in cash salary than a comparable private sector worker, controlling for the major factors like age, education, race, and location. Pile on all the other retirement, health, and other benefits federal workers receive and you have a huge gap between federal government and private workers. Federal workers receive total compensation of “30 percent to 40 percent… above and beyond their observable skills,” Sherk found. Other reports have shown that federal government workers at the low end of the pay scale experience the greatest premium over private sector workers. Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute shows that state and local government workers made on average 34 percent more in salary and 70 percent more in benefits than private sector workers. With that knowledge, why would anyone want to make the sacrifice required to work in the private sector?
Job for Life
And then there is the job security that comes with being a government worker. Ronald Reagan once stated, “A government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.” He was making the important point that once our government creates a new government program, it is very hard to get rid of it. The same could be said of hiring a government employee—once hired, they are rarely, if ever, fired.
At almost all government jobs, you would have to work pretty hard to be fired—drug use on the property, embezzlement, murder, that kind of thing. Businesses fire their workers three times as often as the federal government. Once you have been on the job with the government a few years, there is almost no chance that you will be fired or laid off. In fact, there is really only one way that you will be separated from your apparently God-given right to continue holding your federal job—death. At many federal agencies, death is more common than getting fired. The corpse from Weekend at Bernie’s is probably still sitting at his desk, drawing federal pay.
Here’s an easy, impartial test to determine whether working for the government is a good deal: how often do government workers voluntarily quit their jobs compared to the private sector? If government workers are underpaid, they’d probably quit their jobs more than private sector workers; but if they are overpaid, they would probably hold on to those valuable jobs more than people in the private sector.
So, do government workers quit? Sure, but not very often. Government workers practically never quit their jobs—once employed by the government, state and local workers quit at one-third the rate of private sector workers. Federal government workers quit even less often—at only one-eighth the rate of private sector workers. Government workers seem to either die at their government-issued desks—or, more frequently, on the links in Florida living off their guaranteed pensions. Why would anyone in their right mind ever give up a deal that good?
READY TO BE A PUBLIC SERVANT?
Here’s one real federal government job that you might consider. Go be an “invitation coordinator” for the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. You’ll send out invitations, handle RSVPs, and be like a government wedding planner. Applicants must be highly qualified to “serve as expert on calendar issues”—after all, mixing up Mondays and Tuesdays is a challenge too many Americans have to face every day, especially consumers invited to parties at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
So, what can you expect to receive as compensation for your in-demand invitation coordinating service? Try a starting salary of up to $103,000, plus five weeks of vacation. Your local stationery store isn’t likely to give you that. Plus, with government employment, the government will pick up 75 percent of your health insurance premiums with “coverage for preexisting conditions, and no waiting periods,” not to mention a cushy retirement program. Are you ready to enter “public service” yet?
Retirement is where the real payoff comes—and it comes quicker for government workers than for the rest of us. Government workers are generally able to retire with thirty years of service at age fifty-five, or even earlier, at a full pension for life. In contrast, only 20 percent of private sector workers get this type of traditional defined benefit pension from their employer. Almost all business workers have to depend on a retirement plan based on their own contributions and modest contributions from their employer, their Social Security payments, and any other savings to fund their retirement. And to receive full Social Security benefits, these workers now have to wait until they are sixty-six or sixty-seven (depending on their year of birth). Retirement security is very difficult to achieve for most American workers, except for the most successful and, of course, except for government workers.
The average New York City police officer, for example, can retire after only twenty-two years of service—often in his early forties. An officer who retires as a captain can expect to receive upwards of $92,000 per year in retirement benefits, costing the city nearly $3 million during his retirement. Of course, we appreciate our police officers—they put their lives at risk to keep us safe. But no matter how much we appreciate them, we also have to realize that retired government workers in all areas of service are bringing our government’s house down and foisting huge burdens on the next generation of Americans.
Now, how many Americans do you think have the $3 million in retirement savings it would take to fund that police officer’s pension we were just discussing? Unfortunately, not too many. If you want to see how much you’d collect in pension if you were a government employee, the Manhattan Institute has a handy calculator at CalculateYourPublicPension.com which shows you how much you would collect on a state-by-state basis. Try it—you’ll be so shocked you might actually consider trading in your corporate job or your small business for the benefits of government work.
Although there are differences between pensions available at the federal, state, and local levels, most government workers get a pension based on at least 60 percent of their last working salary. Since pension income is generally based on average salary from the last three working years of his career, the government worker can jack up his overtime in his last years on the job to boost, even double, the amount of his pension. And it gets even better—in some states, government workers who have hit retirement age can retire and get hired back at their same job and earn another government salary on top of their pension. It’s one for the price of two!
Government Service Lifestyle
Government workers must work harder than workers in the private sector for all that extra pay and benefits, right? You decide. A news team investigation in Pittsburgh tracked edits to Wikipedia, the open-source website where anyone can log in to change facts about events, people, and objects. The news team found “thousands of edits done by government employees on government time using government computers. And few of those edits have anything to do with government business.” What were these intrepid scholars up to? They were editing the Wikipedia pages for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, singer Beyoncé, and James Bond. One employee edited the profile for Lurch, the butler on The Addams Family—he added the valuable information that Lurch didn’t actually play the harpsichord. Another employee wrote a full plot summary for a Star Wars TV series. Overall, the news team found 1,536 edits by state employees and 5,542 edits by federal offices. And, as the news team pointed out, “Wikipedia is just one Web site.”
Even if these wiki-employees are an aberration, we do know that government employees tend to be in the office less often than workers in businesses. Federal employees get a whopping 13 days of sick leave, 10 federal holidays, and up to 26 additional days of vacation for a total of up to 49 days of paid time off per year. Because unions encourage their workers to use all their “sick” days as holidays instead of just when they are actually sick, government workers get the equivalent of up to ten paid weeks of vacation per year—that’s equal to working a four-day workweek every week! How would your business do with you gone that much?
There are lots of other benefits of working for the government, too. According to Steven Greenhut in his book Plunder! “Drivers of one out of every 22 cars on California roads have special license plates whereby their addresses are kept secret from toll agencies and parking enforcement agencies. When an officer pulls over someone with one of these plates, the addresses are in a special database that alerts the officer that the driver is a government worker, or fellow police officer, or a family member of someone in law enforcement or government work. The result is a de facto pass on many, if not most traffic laws by the drivers.” If working for the government can get you out of speeding tickets, what can’t it do?
On the downside, though, most union contracts prevent government workers from getting paid extra for good performance, although some government employees do get extra bonuses in the form of performance awards. So if you don’t feel like having your performance evaluated but still want to earn good pay and retire early with great benefits, the government sector is for you. But if you want to be paid based on your performance, try the private sector.
This may explain why you have a harder and harder time getting people at the Social Security bureau or the Department of Motor Vehicles to hustle to serve you. After all, they understand what you may not—they don’t work for you; you work for them. Your job is to keep making the pie so that the government employee unions and their “net tax receiver team” can eat more of it. Now, get back to work!
Government Unions Rising
Unions were on the endangered species list by the 1960s and 1970s. Then, like most real-life endangered species, they found their great protector: the government. Now unions are flourishing, and they are threatening all the other species in our political ecosystem.
Of the 125 million people working in America, only about 13 percent are represented by a union. But of the 20.5 million people working for our government, 41 percent are represented by a government employee union.
Of the 125 million people working in America, only about 13 percent are represented by a union. But of the 20.5 million people working for our government, 41 percent are represented by a government employee union. One in three federal workers, 35 percent of state government workers, and almost 47 percent of local government workers are represented by a government employee union. In the more heavily unionized states, government employee unionization rates can be as high as 60 to 70 percent. More than two in three public school teachers are unionized, about two in three police officers and firefighters are unionized, and one in two corrections officers are unionized.
In the private sector, unions are still on the endangered list and still declining every year—less than 7 percent of all private sector workers are union members. Workers in America’s businesses seem to have decided that whatever benefits unions bring, they are not worth the cost. But in the government sector, unions are flourishing.
Millions of government employees join unions. Of course, many government employees in forced-dues states join the union because they have to pay union dues anyway. But over a million federal employees are members of a government employee union, even though these workers can’t be compelled to financially support a union. And to a much lesser extent, some government employees in right-to-work states who also can’t be forced to pay union dues still join a union.
All government employees rushing into the unions must be getting something important for the expensive dues that they pay their union, but what? They’re keeping their lucrative jobs even when common sense would dictate that these jobs should be cut. The unions are protecting them from being displaced by technology and greater efficiency in the workplace.
Protecting the Dinosaurs
Unions protect government workers against their own obsolescence. To see how, look at the U.S. Postal Service, a branch of our government that employs about 750,000 workers, including 574,000 heavily unionized career postal workers. The Postal Service has far more employees than any corporation in America except Walmart. A public relations pamphlet from the post office boasts, “If it were a private sector company, the U.S. Postal Service would rank 29th in the 2010 Fortune 500,” a ranking based on gross revenue. Of course, if the Postal Service were really a private sector company, it would have been out of business a long time ago.
Despite investing up to $2.7 billion annually in capital investments on new mail processing equipment and other equipment designed to increase efficiency, your mail service is not getting more efficient. Perhaps this is because postal managers sometimes keep “using [obsolete] mechanical equipment even when automatic equipment was available, just to keep workers from standing around idle.” Or it may be because postal union contracts prohibit the Postal Service from reassigning idle workers to facilities that actually need them. Even as the Postal Service was losing $8.5 billion in 2010 (with that much cash, you could actually buy Chrysler), the confident president of the American Postal Workers Union still said that he was fighting for “more—more control over activities at work, more money, better benefits—we want more.” More, more, more.
Similarly, while many countries in the world transformed their air traffic control system using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology over a decade ago, our air traffic controllers union is still resisting this “new” technology. “Wait!” you protest. “Air traffic controllers union? Didn’t President Reagan hand those guys their heads in the early ’80s?” Yes. But, like a zombie buried prematurely, the union hand reached out from the grave. Just a few years later, air traffic controllers re-unionized and elected the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) as their exclusive representative. Why? Because they needed the union to protect their jobs against improved technology making many air traffic control jobs obsolete.
We all rely on GPS today to find the best route, even to keep a virtual eye on where our friends are via Facebook and collect badges at our favorite coffee bar via foursquare. Why is our air traffic control system ignoring GPS and still handing off aircraft from tower to tower across the country using radar, more or less the same way we did when John F. Kennedy was president? It’s because a GPS-based system requires significantly fewer controllers to do the same job, and union bosses prefer to stick with the old system. So long as unions have friends in high places in our government, flying in the United States will be more expensive and less efficient than in all those other countries that use GPS.
And how did the union handle it when national news media reported incidences of air traffic controllers falling asleep on the job, putting planes and passengers’ lives in jeopardy? The union negotiated with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the perfect solution—for each shift, it required that another air traffic controller be placed on duty to make sure that the first air traffic controller doesn’t fall asleep, and actually allowed controllers to listen to the radio and read on the job to help keep themselves awake. If that doesn’t work, undoubtedly the unions can propose an air traffic controller watcher watcher. And so on.
In government, we all know who the dinosaurs are—some postal workers, air traffic controllers, and pencil pushers. These are the people who would lose if the unions were kicked out and the government streamlined itself. And the winners would be us, the taxpayers. But we are dispersed and not fully aware of what the unions and our government are up to. Most of us still believe that we’re flying pretty safe and getting our mail more or less on time. By the same token, when we really need a package delivered quickly, we bypass the U.S. Postal Service and take a stroll down to nonunionized FedEx instead.
Buying the Government
Government employee unions use campaign contributions and political support to influence government decision makers at all levels of government. Using this very friendly and effective method of persuasion, the government employee unions can get Congress to give them more federal workers to unionize, persuade states to force more workers to pay dues to them, and ensure that other elected officials go easy on them in contract negotiations.
Political activity was not as important to the private sector unions because politicians couldn’t generally affect the unions’ bottom line as directly. But buying political influence—legal bribery—works perfectly for government employee unions. After all, it is the government that determines whether these unions will be able to represent new groups of government employees, so it makes sense for unions to invest their money in putting their friends in government. These unions run like smoothly oiled machines, and they argue that nobody gets hurt by their political influence. Except the American pie maker, that is.
The Real 1%
What do government employee unions do with all that dues money that they earn off the backs of government workers and American taxpayers? They pay the Shadowbosses first, of course. While former SEIU president Andy Stern lamented the fact that people “sometimes think being a union leader is a right or an inheritance,” the truth is that the Shadowbosses themselves think that being a union boss is a right. Stern himself drew $306,388 in compensation in 2009 before stepping down in 2010. Being a Shadowboss is like being a dictator of a third-world country—once you’ve got power, you don’t step down willingly and you take as much as you can while you are in office.
Gerald McEntee, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), makes $555,367. AFSCME’s former international secretary-treasurer William Lucy took home $847,810 in salary alone in 2010. AFSCME had sixteen executives at the national headquarters who made in excess of $200,000 per year, and almost half its headquarters employees made over $75,000 in 2010. There are many more union officials earning high salaries at the state and local level, although this information is much harder to come by. In contrast, the average AFSCME member makes less than $45,000 per year.
Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, makes almost $400,000; Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, makes over $425,000 in salary annually, almost ten times what an average teacher earns. And over half the union officials at the headquarters of the two teachers unions make over $75,000 a year. Even a pro-labor commentator complained about bloated union boss salaries, “With union members everywhere getting squeezed by employers, fat salaries for top officials only widen the gap between elected leaders and the rank and file.” The left—including the unions—proclaims that it’s unfair for Wall Street executives to make huge salaries, and that the 1 percent are living off the rest of us. But the true 1 percent includes the union bosses, who rake in the money, dine at the White House, and live it up on the backs of their members. By any measure, workers should be striking against the union bosses themselves!
The left—including the unions—proclaims that it’s unfair for Wall Street executives to make huge salaries, and that the 1 percent are living off the rest of us. But the true 1 percent includes the union bosses, who rake in the money, dine at the White House, and live it up on the backs of their members. By any measure, workers should be striking against the union bosses themselves!
Government’s where it’s at, and the government employee unions have one goal: grow government, unionize more government workers, and charge the bill to the taxpayers. And that’s just what’s happened. Anytime you see potential government growth, you should suspect that the government employee unions are behind it. UNION BOSSES’ SALARIES AT THE LARGEST GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEE UNIONS AND FEDERATIONS
Union or Federation
Top Officials and their salaries
Union Officials making over $75,000 at national union headquarters out of total employees*
Many other unions also represent government workers, including National Treasury Employees Union, United Steelworkers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, International Association of Machinists, United Auto Workers, Communications Workers of America, and others.
* These unions have many additional employees at the state and/or local level with salaries over $75,000 but only the employees of the national union are given here.
All union official compensation and membership numbers from union reports to Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), Center for Union Fact, and official union websites.
Richard Trumka (compensation $283,340); Previously John Sweeney (1995–2009)
206 of 404
Total membership of affiliated unions is 11.7 million
National Education Association (NEA)
Dennis Van Roekel (compensation $397,721)
532 of 992
Almost 3.3 million members including teachers, school support staff, school administrators, and higher education staff
Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
Mary Kay Henry (compensation $253,660); Previously Andy Stern (1996–2010) and John Sweeney (1980–1995)
340 of 892
1.9 million members including one million government employees, public school employees, bus drivers, and child care providers
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
Gerald McEntee, President, (compensation $555,367); Previously Jerry Wurf (1964–1981)
292 of 662
Almost 1.5 million members including law enforcement, home care providers, EMTs, sanitation workers, social workers, government office workers
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
James P. Hoffa Jr. (compensation $368,000); Previously Jimmy Hoffa (1958–1971)
190 of 630
1.3 million members including 239,000 government workers in law enforcement, prisons, public works, schools
American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
Randi Weingarten (compensation $428,284); Previously Al Shanker (1974–1997)
256 of 412
887,567 members including teachers, district employees, bus drivers, cafeteria employees
International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF)
Harold Schaitberger (compensation $324,903)
107 of 144
American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)
John Gage (compensation $214,097)
151 of 339
280,292 members—AFGE is the largest union for civilian, non-postal federal employees
Postal unions include the National Association of Letter Carriers (285,592 members), the American Postal Workers Union (248,012 members), and Postal Mail Handlers (198,042 members)
Where Do Government Employee Unions Come From?
If you were hired today as a police officer in California, a teacher in New York, or as a government bureaucrat in Illinois, you would be told that there is a specific union that will represent you in matters with your employer. You will also be told that you will be paying dues or fees to that union for the privilege of representation. And if you refuse to pay these union tithes, you will be fired. Simple enough.
But how did that union get all this power? Clearly, you have no say in the matter, but what about Old Joe, who’s been here for the last twenty years? It turns out he doesn’t know how the union got there, either. It was here when he was hired. Old Joe never voted to bring in the union or to keep it there. It just seems that the union has always been there since the dawn of time.
Actually, most government employee unions gained control over government workers sometime in the 1960s or early 1970s, when many states passed laws allowing monopoly collective bargaining over government workers. A state might have done this because it was a trend sweeping the nation at the time—all the cool states were doing it. Or, more likely, the unions had made enough pro–labor union “friends” in the legislature and had supported the governor in his election to make it happen. Now, unions exercise collective bargaining power over at least some state and local government workers in forty-three states, plus the District of Columbia.
In any case, when these laws were first passed, a bunch of different labor unions made a beeline for your state, like flies to honey, and tried to unionize every group of government workers in sight. First, the unions as a group would have had to convince at least 30 percent of the workers in a bargaining group, say the police officers in San Diego County, to sign cards asking the state to hold a union election. Once the unions had collected enough cards, the state held a secret-ballot election. That is when it got ugly. For a few weeks or months, the various unions fought tooth and nail—and kneecap—for every last worker, spending hundreds of dollars per worker trying to get their vote. When the election was held, whichever union won the majority of votes from police officers voting in the election was certified as the representative for all police officers in the county. The other unions licked their wounds and went away to organize other workers in other jurisdictions.
What if you voted against the union because you wanted to be able to negotiate your own pay and benefits individually with the department? Too bad. The union became your exclusive representative, too.
The newly installed union would now negotiate detailed contracts with the county or locality. The first contract would be a “union security contract” giving the union power to represent workers and collect dues; the second contract would cover employment terms for the officers.
The union’s highest priority in negotiating its own contract is always a “forced dues” provision that allows the union to collect dues and fees from every worker it represents, union member or not. This is the gold mine that fuels the government employee union movement. The represented workers aren’t forced to actually join the union—but even if they don’t join, they are forced to pay “agency fees” to the union, which unions more gently call “fair-share” fees. Because the nonmember fees are the same or almost the same as union dues, most workers join the union. With union membership, you get some extra insurance coverage, some other benefits—and most of all, the union thug outside your office door or hovering over your cubicle will go away. So if you can’t beat ’em, you might as well join ’em.
For unions, forced-dues contracts are a home run—they get to extract money from your wallet without your permission or say-so. Forced-dues provisions are permitted in twenty-seven states and in union contracts in at least twenty-two states. Generally, more than three-quarters of the dues income that government worker unions collect is from forced-dues states. In fact, over half the unions’ total dues income comes from just six states: California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New Jersey.
So, what services does the union provide you in exchange for your dues? The union gets between you and your employer in matters involving your job. Your union negotiates an employment contract that controls every aspect of your working life—from how much salary you get (where permitted by law) to how early you can retire, from how much vacation you can get every year to how many bathroom breaks you can take every day. Union representatives will also handle any complaints that you have against your employer, or your employer may have against you, and on and on. You will not generally deal with your employer on matters concerning your employment—only via the union representative. If you have a fight with your boss, instead of sitting down with your boss directly, you get your union representative, your boss gets his lawyer, and they have a chat.
And the union gets some goodies, too—the government must pay union officials for the time that they spend on union matters—called “official time” or “release time”—and give the union the right to be present physically in your government workplace, to keep other unions out of your workplace, to use your workplace mail system, to keep other unions from using your mail system, and other benefits. It’s a great deal for the union.
When contracts are renegotiated, the members of your union get to decide whether or not to accept the union contract, which is generally coupled with automatic recertification of the union until the next contract is put into place. Very few members vote in these matters—very often, less than 10 percent—probably because union members realize that this is just rubber-stamping. And so life goes on, with the union having a virtual lock on a group of workers until the end of time.
So you get a government job forty years after the union was certified in your workplace. You don’t get to decide whether you want this particular union to represent you—or whether you want a union to represent you at all. And you don’t get to decide whether you want to pay union dues. You just get to decide whether you want to take the job—isn’t that just a whole lot simpler?
One of the craziest things that our government does is actually pay union officials to work for the union during their paid workday—called “official time” (or “release time”). Union officials and “volunteers” are actually paid for time that they spend at work on union matters. And some government employees can even work on union matters all the time for decades, without performing any actual work for the government, and still get paid their government salary, benefits, and longevity raises.
One of the craziest things that our government does is actually pay union officials to work for the union during their paid workday—called “official time” (or “release time”). Union officials and “volunteers” are actually paid for time that they spend at work on union matters. And some government employees can even work on union matters all the time for decades, without performing any actual work for the government, and still get paid their government salary, benefits, and longevity raises.
Official time is one of those key provisions that unions demand in their collective bargaining agreement with the government. As James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation explains, “Official time is a public subsidy for private matters. If federal employees value their union representation, then they should pay for it with their dues. If they do not value that representation enough to pay for it, taxpayers should not subsidize it.” But we do.
The federal government permits official time under federal law, but is not required to keep track of how much it costs taxpayers. But the past few years, they checked on it for chuckles, and found out that federal employees spent over 3 million hours in 2010 on official time, representing over 1,700 man-years of work and costing taxpayers about $137 million. Our federal, state, and local governments combined pay for over 23 million hours of official time annually, representing around 13,000 man-years of work and costing taxpayers over $1 billion per year. One commentator cleverly noted, “Official time allows union representatives to conduct routine union affairs and file frivolous grievances during working hours. Like an open bar at a wedding, there’s no cost to the guest (the union) but great cumulative cost to the bride’s father (the taxpayers).”
Monopoly Bargaining over Government Workers
In most private businesses, you bargain for yourself—no group has the monopoly power to bargain for you. If you get an offer to be an insurance broker at a business on Main Street, you will negotiate with the owner of the business over your starting salary, relocation expenses, health insurance contributions, company car, and other benefits. Then, a year after you have taken the job, when a rival firm makes you an offer to jump ship and go work for them, you renegotiate with your original employer for better terms. You’re responsible for setting your working conditions with your employer. Nobody does it for you.
Now, imagine instead that you decide to take that job we have been talking about as a policeman in San Diego. When you are hired for that job, you are given the union-negotiated contract that specifies your pay, benefits, and nearly every aspect of your job. The union is your exclusive bargaining representative in almost all matters involving your job. This is not a service that they perform for you—it is a power that they hold over you. You are not even allowed to speak with your employer about any matter involving your job without the union doing the speaking for you. To the union, you are not an individual but a member of a bargaining unit—a group of employees that are represented by the same union and bound by the same union-negotiated contract. Whether you like it or not, you are part of a collective, a group of people that are dealt with only as a group. The union bargains for all of you as though you’re identical widgets.
Collective Bargaining Burdens
Unions like to talk about the right to collective bargaining, but it is no right. Collective bargaining is what happens to you when your actual right to sell your own labor is taken away from you and given instead to a government employee union.
There is nothing wrong with individual workers deciding that they want to be members of a labor union. Free association is the essence of American republicanism. Workers have the right to join a union, a church, or any lawful assembly, as do all Americans. But with government employee unions, usually an earlier group of workers selected the union and made the choice to unionize. This election may have taken place forty or fifty years ago, but the union still has the power to represent all current and future workers—until the union is decertified, which rarely happens. The unions’ collective bargaining power tramples the worker’s right to sell his own labor.
Current workers didn’t choose to bargain with their employers collectively—the union is already representing them whether they want it to or not. When it comes to employment, your relationship with the employer is supposed to be consensual. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution bars slavery and involuntary servitude. If you’re being forced to work for a union—which in essence is what happens when you take a job at a unionized employer and are forced to pay union dues—you’re not giving your consent to that relationship. You should not have to pay a middleman at a private organization like a union just to get or keep your government job.
With collective bargaining, the union also inserts itself between the government employer and its employees, and sours the relationship. The union sets up an “us versus them” mind-set by casting its demands as a fight for employees’ “rights” against the employer. As a result, employees tend to be more connected to their union than to their employer. The government has transferred part of its “boss” function over its own employees to the union, while retaining its full responsibility to pay their salaries.
One of the arguments against privatizing a lot of government functions like the police, jails, and schools is that these functions are too important to be subject to market forces. But if these critical functions shouldn’t be subject to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of the market, they certainly should not be subject to the “iron fist” of the labor unions.
One of the arguments against privatizing a lot of government functions like the police, jails, and schools is that these functions are too important to be subject to market forces. But if these critical functions shouldn’t be subject to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of the market, they certainly should not be subject to the “iron fist” of the labor unions. The market—in contrast to the union—would keep salaries, benefits, and retirement packages for government workers at market norms, would increase productivity, and would improve the fiscal health of our nation significantly.
Good Faith Leads to Bad Bargains
Another important right that the government gives up when it lets the union fox into its hen house is its right to walk away from the table in negotiations with the union. The terms of the collective bargaining agreement compel the government to bargain with the union in good faith. So, the government employer cannot walk away from the bargaining table, but must continue bargaining with the union until agreement is reached, or in most cases, face binding arbitration. This means unelected arbitrators can get the final decision on the terms of employment contracts between our government and its employees.
Unlike the government’s own negotiators, the arbitrators make the decision based on what they consider fair, regardless of its cost and how the state will pay for it. This means arbitrators actually have the power to force a state or municipality to raise taxes by granting costly concessions to the unions and government employees. As economist Charles Baird explains, “An arbitrator in government-sector labor disputes is unelected but has power unilaterally to determine the size of government payrolls and thus significantly affect state fiscal priorities. Some states have been forced to raise taxes to pay arbitrators’ awards.” Baird calls this a form of “taxation without representation.”
Once the arbitrator approves a concession, the state or locality is left to figure out how to pay for it. But politicians may not mind arbitration because they can blame the arbitrator for overly generous terms in union contracts, giving politicians political cover against criticism from other constituents.
The biggest problem with unionization of government workers is strikes. In theory, organizing workers into labor unions is supposed to promote “labor peace” because there is an organized procedure for workers and employers to work out their differences. In reality, unionizing workers increases the number of work stoppages and strikes, whether legal or illegal. A frequently quoted labor truism is “The only illegal strike is an unsuccessful one.” When strikes are successful, the strikers negotiate for amnesty for their illegal strike activity. So, no-strike clauses don’t have the teeth needed to actually prevent strikes.
Strikes are not only a problem for our nation, but also for the workers themselves. Union members don’t have any rights to vote on whether or not their union calls a strike. Unions themselves decide how to call a strike which may include a vote by union members, but may just involve a decision by union officers. And of course, if the union calls a strike, union members lose their pay and receive only “strike pay” from the union, which is generally a lot less, so a prolonged strike can cause members significant financial hardship.
Strikes are more pernicious when undertaken by government workers than in the private sector. If workers in a toothpaste factory go on strike, using one of President Reagan’s favorite examples, people can just buy a different type of toothpaste. The business owner loses, but the community doesn’t suffer much. But what happens when the police or firefighters in your city go on strike? Other than a few private security firms out there, the government has a monopoly on protecting citizens from crime and fire. If the police or firefighters in your community go on strike—whether their union-negotiated contract permits them to do so or not—who are the citizens in that community going to call?
The power given to the labor unions over government workers is far more ominous for public safety workers than for mere pencil pushers. As one commentator put it, collective bargaining is less of a problem when “the maintenance men of a public zoo are authorized to compel public bargaining than when soldiers, policemen, firefighters, public-school teachers, and garbagemen have such authority.”
If government workers who provide essential services to our nation are organized and can strike, whether legally or illegally, the community faces a real threat. This is one of the reasons that Congress prohibited collective bargaining over certain national security employees—the FBI, the CIA, and the Secret Service. We just can’t have the men and women who are responsible for our national security called off the job for a strike. But as we will see in Chapter 4, the Obama Administration permitted the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to unionize, creating a big chink in our national security armor. Other national security employees and civilian military employees have been unionized as well, which could leave our nation defenseless and exposed in case of strikes.
Problems with Right-to-Work States
If you are lucky enough to live in a right-to-work state, you probably don’t think these points really apply to your state. After all, you think, we don’t even have unions in our state.
Wrong. As you will see in nearly every chapter of this book, right-to-work laws protect most workers in your state from the worst union ill—forcing workers to pay union dues to get or keep their job. But government employee unions are still operating in every state in America and affecting policy and elections there. Right-to-work laws are good, but we must do better if we are going to defeat the government employee union menace that is plaguing our nation.
Excerpted from Shadowbosses by Mallory Factor Copyright © 2012 by Mallory Factor. Excerpted by permission.
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