(Jim Clark) – The stranglehold that public employee unions have over elected officials seems headed for a perfect storm. Recent events in Wisconsin associated with a GOP legislative effort to greatly curtail the lawful scope of collective bargaining seems to have educated the public. Scenes of unionized teachers playing hooky to storm the state capitol day after day, doctors from the University of Wisconsin on the streets dispensing phony written excuses and Democratic state senate members “fleebaging” across the state line all playing on national television gave pause.
People without a dog in that fight must have been wondering who was teaching the kids while all this went on and who’s going to pay for the damages to the state capitol. The scenes were reminiscent of Al Capp’s comic book hero Lil’ Abner trying to deal patiently with Students Wildly Indignant About Nearly Everything (S.W.I.N.E.). And of course the battle ended the only way it could . . . when you counted the votes, Governor Walker and his GOP won.
According to the Washington Post, the whole union ruckus was orchestrated from Washington, DC, by the Democratic National Committee. Why were the fat cats interested in obscure legislation in an obscure state? Money, that’s why. Unions contributed over $400 million to the Democratic Party during the 2010 election. The biggest public employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees gave Democrats $90 million in 2010. All collected from union dues.
And what do Democratic elected officials do for the unions? That’s where it gets interesting. In general, collective bargaining contracts forbid the state or city employer from looking elsewhere for employees when the union and the government entity come to an impasse over wages and benefits. Readers may recall when President Ronald Reagan fired striking air controllers after he first took office. Federal law prohibits collective bargaining, so that option was available to him.
But in Wisconsin, collective bargaining contracts tied the hands of the state and municipal governments so the only alternative was a shutdown of services when a dispute arose. Weeks and weeks of no refuse collection and/or empty schools don’t sit well with voters. Now there will at least be the threat of termination when union demands are excessive.
Michael Barrone recently authored a piece showing how collective bargaining actually results in taxpayers subsidizing the Democratic Party. The unions’ generous contributions to Democratic office holders’ campaign funds often result in union members enjoying taxpayer funded, outsized benefits awarded by sympathetic city councils and school boards, which allows unions to increase dues, which in turn find their way into Democratic candidates’ coffers, and so on.
We only need to watch the City of Reno struggle to stave off bankruptcy as its police and firefighter unions fight fiercely against erosion of fat benefits, work rules, and generous overtime pay bargained for in headier financial times.
A recent Nevada Policy Research Institute analysis documents how collective bargaining actually hurts Nevada students. If you agree that the most important school-controlled factor in student achievement is the quality and effectiveness of the teacher, then the NPRI analysis is spot on. Under union contract rules, when finances are tight, teachers must be laid off by seniority. This results in the newest and most enthusiastic teachers getting thrown into the unemployment lines while those with tenure enjoy total job security.
As Governor Sandoval said in his recent campaign, “We need education reform . . . now!” You might want to include all unionized public employees, Governor.
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates, a vice chair of the Washoe County GOP and a member of the Nevada GOP Central Committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )