Prior to joining Heartland, Marc was a graduate student at Purdue University studying political psychology and education policy. He enjoys defending liberty, writing about education and technology, music, designing websites, and is a fan of the NFL team in Indianapolis. Go Colts!
Maureen Martin, Bruno Behrend, and a host of other conservative and libertarian thinkers have offered some truly insightful arguments against my post supporting public sector unions. On a vast majority of issues these folks and myself share identical positions. By-and-large, I agree with the ideas they’ve laid out in their posts. I don’t think they’ve been able to make a convincing and cohesive argument against public sector unions. They have, however, made a host of interesting arguments against other problem policies.
There are 2 major complaints about political discussion: (1) Those who assume because I believe X, I inherently belong to whatever group also believes that and inherently subscribe to all other views of that group (not a problem here), and (2) those who fail to address the root cause of a problem (for instance, “We should have teacher merit bonuses in order to create accountability.” Where the clear way to create accountability is to open the market.)
What I’ve decided to do with their posts is to cut-and-paste their main arguments and retort, offering a brief conclusion at the end.
Bruno tells a compelling little tale about his father’s union work.
He told me about how he was pulled aside by a union rep, and told not to lay so many bricks, because it might lead to the management asking that every one up their level of work.
I doubt this is necessary for Bruno or Maureen, but I want to offer a short disclaimer. In supporting the freedom to collectively bargain in a free market, I am not inherently condoning the actions of every and all unions. This example is anecdotal, for one, and doesn’t support an argument for removing the freedom to collectively bargain, for two.
The fact is that unions exist to (a) withhold labor from the market, for the purposes of (b) extracting the least amount of labor for the most amount of money/benefits.
You’ll note at the end of my post I made an effort to talk a bit about this. Yes, unions are collusive by their very nature. They attempt to monopolize quality labor in effort to raise prices. They try to find a point of equilibrium by getting the most money per unit of their service as possible. This is a free market concept and I think to “fix” this sounds like this: “The government should regulate how, to what extent, and with whom individuals can sell their labor in the market. Sound big government to me.
They are essentially monopolists who must first use government to restrict the supply of labor in their favor, so that they can command a higher than market price from the employer.
I don’t know where this comes from. Will they try to advocate for policies in their favor? Yes, of course. So do auto manufacturers, banks and lending institutions, and every other logical entity known to man. Here we see a failure to address the root of the problem. Is the problem that unions are trying to get government support or that government is giving support to unions.
I would never advocate for a policy that gives unions some unfair advantage, but admit those do exist. The logical conclusion of this line of reasoning is NOT that the government should create policies that take away freedoms from people to create and utilize unions, but rather that the government should play NO role in this aspect of the market.
You are a scab, deserving to have your tires slashed, your family threatened — or, if you are employer using scab labor — your project sabotaged or destroyed.
The logical fallacies are piling up here. Not all unions operate like the mafia. More importantly, because unions sometimes do operate like the mafia is not a good reason to take away the right to have a public sector union (which is what is happening when you take away the right to bargain for non-wage compensation). Again, a failure to see the root of the problem. This is the equivalent of saying, “some Tea Partiers vandalize property at demonstrations (rare if any), therefore we should limit the right to demonstrate or form Tea Party groups.
Under the law in effect before the Taft-Hartley amendments, an employee who ceased being a member of the union for whatever reason, from failure to pay dues to expulsion from the union as an internal disciplinary punishment, could also be fired even if the employee did not violate any of the employer’s rules.Read that section, folks, and tell me who is going to the government to “interfere with contracts.”
Imagine we passed the Freedom to Walk on Public Streets Act which allows us to walk on public streets freely. Have “walkers” been given some preferential treatment here? No, its just reaffirming a right we ought to have. The NLRB is no different. If Suzy wants to enter into a contract that binds her to only hiring unionized workers, why shouldn’t she be allowed to do so? She wouldn’t agree to it if it was of no benefit to her. This IS the free market at play.
Again, the first step required for “unionism” to work is to establish a government created and protected monopoly of labor for that workforce.+
No, it isn’t. The first step is to form a group of like-minded empoyees or potential employees and begin negotiating on a set of agreed-upon stipulations. There is NOTHING INHERENT to a union that uses government intervention. The same CANNOT be said of the supposed “right to work” laws, which are big government and regulatory by their nature and offer unfair competitive advantage to certain states, robbing others.
Government has the right ( the responsibility, actually) to control and balance its budget. In the case of Wisconsin, the employer is merely saying “here is what we are prepared to negotiate.”
This is a non sequitur. Of course government has the right and responsibility to control its budget. By passing a law to limit a group’s right to ask for something, you aren’t simply saying its not something you’re willing to negotiate. You’re instead using government intervention and regulation to stack the deck in your favor. And while I certainly support cutting wasteful spending, I don’t condone increasing the regulatory power of government as a means to that end. Instead the could ACTUALLY DO what Bruno suggests they are doing: Just dig down deep for a little spine and say, “we won’t give you any greater benefits.” Don’t just hide behind yet another piece of legislation.
Any law preventing me and that business from entering a contract is “government intervention in the marketplace,” and should be repealed. If that business says, “no, we have freely entered into an agreement with Joe’s union,” then there isn’t much I can do.
Here Bruno has upended almost the entirety of contract law. The same logic could be applied to non-competes, intellectual property laws, and the like. The fact is, and I can’t stress this enough, there is no law “preventing me and that business from entering into a contract.” There is a previous contract.
As you may have surmised, I don’t even like private unions. I concede that they came about for a reason, and that they grew because they balanced a power equation against business collectives.
This is an oft-cited argument that makes no sense to me. You get why they came to be, but not why the exist now. Those reasons are one in the same. How can you see their benefit but want to remove their power to create that benefit? It should not matter whether all unions are terrible or all are great. I’ll cede that many are bureaucratic and problematic. To legislate them out of existence removes the blame from the buyer of labor (where we should have focused it all along).
The argument is a simple one. If a company, in order to be profitable, cannot spend more than $35K on labor, but I negotiate them up to $40K, who is in the wrong? The answer is simple: the company. Apply the same logic to a union and the government.
Now Maureen’s argument:
First, public sector unions can buy off their bosses – the politicians with whom they negotiate their collective bargaining agreements – with campaign contributions.
Here Maureen isn’t getting to the root of this issue. The idea that unions can give politically is not an argument for taking away their power to negotiate. It is a great argument about revamping campaign finance. I don’t have the solution there, sadly, but would love to take that up next. As I pointed out in my comment on Maureen’s first post, we see this same ethical issue when candidates are financially supported by any company that might be affected by legislation they create. This conflict of interest exists everywhere, but it IS NOT a product of collective bargaining power, but rather one of campaign ethics.
Second, the political bosses have no skin in the game. It’s not their money at stake; it’s the taxpayers’ money.
Indeed it is taxpayer money. I would go a step further and suggest that taxpayers are the employers in this instance. As such, it is incumbent upon taxpayers to elect leaders who will make the correct (often hard) decisions as employers of public employees. More simply, we should elect people that have the guts to say no to public unions when its in the best interest of the public. This is the single most important thing that I think Bruno and Maureen aren’t considering. Voters are making these decisions. As attractive as it is to duct-tape a solution, we should err on the side of freedom.
Third, when public employee unions make campaign contributions, they make them with union dues deducted from government employees’ wages, as Marc points out. But ultimately, this is taxpayers’ money, not private money.
This is a pretty big stretch. Individuals formed a union to operate in their best interest, the union bargained for certain things, those things were contractually agreed upon with the employer. One of those things was the exact structure of how the union would get their dues. Since the union is essentially just a group of the individuals I fail to see a problem with any mutually agreed-upon structure of union-dues payment.
If we think that we should have a say over this “taxpayer money” at this stage, why shouldn’t we at the next stage? Why shouldn’t we ban all public employees from giving to political candidates–or “buying off their boss” as I think Maureen put it earlier? What is it inherent to a group of individuals that makes them subject to different regulations than the individuals that make up said group?
And how well are strike ban laws working for us in Wisconsin, where thousands of teachers effectively went on strike by calling in sick and shutting down schools?
It sounds like you’re advocating a slavery of some sort. Public employees ought to have the right to strike just as any other employee. We cannot legally compel people to attend their jobs, that’s slavery by definition. What is a strike if not exercising your freedom to not sell your labor that day?
Taxpayers are employers. We have the right to elect an official that will stop granting wasteful and bloated contracts to public unions. We do not have the right to limit fundamental freedoms.
I think Maureen, Bruno, Jim, and a host of other who’ve debated this topic with me are failing to address the root of the problem. I, sadly, think it sounds like we’ll have to agree to disagree. I can say for sure one thing: The posts of Bruno and Maureen were well thought-out, interesting, and the debate has been truly interesting.. hopefully for all parties involved.