Arizona new ground zero in fight against public unions

| March 16 2012
Christopher Cook

It is because of the magnificent propaganda campaign that unions—and their comrades on the political left—have unleashed over the last century that I stayed my hand briefly before choosing that particular headline. When you say that you are “fighting” against public unions, it is immediately asserted that you hate teachers and oppose brave police and firefighters, and thus by proxy you hate children and are rooting for arsonists.

None of that is true, of course, but it doesn’t stop them from using that kind of attack as a cudgel to beat from the public square anyone with the temerity to oppose their agenda.

As with all unions, the basic agenda is this:

  • Negotiate for the highest wages and benefits possible, even if the wages exceed the amount that the market can bear and the benefits saddle the business (or the taxpayer) with unsustainable pension liabilities, and
  • Close the market to other workers.

Public sector unions bring unique weapons to bear in this fight. Here is George Will:

In the private sector, unions are not effectively on both sides of the negotiation table. Collusion between the employer and the employees union is inherent in public-sector unionization, particularly because public-sector employers and employees have congruent interests in increasing government budgets.

(At the end of this post is a video that helps explain the dynamic Will is describing there.) The purpose of Will’s post is to bring to his national reading audience’s attention the efforts being undertaken in Arizona, as they have been in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and elsewhere, to curtail some of this inordinate influence.

This clause has been largely vitiated by Arizona courts’ decisions allowing entanglements of government and private interests that supposedly serve a “public purpose” or provide a “public benefit.” These are loopholes large enough to drive a truck through — a truck carrying $900,000. That is the estimated value of the release time taxpayers are funding just for the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA), the police union. The $900,000 pays union officials to work exclusively performing undefined union business, including lobbying, on the city’s time and the taxpayers’ dime.

Mark Flatten of the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank, says that all six of the top PLEA officers derive full pay and benefits from the city, although each is assigned full time to the union — and each is also entitled to 160 hours of annual extra-pay overtime. Officials of the six other public employees unions also have full-time city jobs. All told, the annual bill for 73,000 hours of release time is $3.7 million.

In 2007, Phoenix voters endorsed a sales tax increase to pay for more police and firefighters. DiCiccio, who is working for better contracts, knows that few voters knew about the existence, let alone the costs, of release time.

[ . . . ]

In January, however, a series of bills were introduced in the Arizona Legislature to end release time and even end collective bargaining.

Another measure would end the practice of state and local governments collecting dues for the unions by deducting them from employees’ paychecks.

Will ends sounding a hopeful note:

As a percentage of the workforce, private-sector unionization peaked in 1954. Now, thanks to events here and in Gov. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, Indiana and elsewhere, and thanks to local officials like DiCiccio, public-sector unionization, which began in the 1950s, may have passed its apogee.

Needless to say, supporters of unions will hear such things and deem them monstrous. But they have incorrectly assumed that such positions are anti-worker, and that unions are pro-worker. Neither is the case. Unions are only for a small subset of union workers, and they don’t even always treat them with particular respect. Opposing collective bargaining for public unions is not anti-worker, it is a rational response to a profoundly unfair situation. Workers, in the public or private sector, have a right to assemble, and thus the right to form unions. That does not translate to an inherent right to force anyone to bargain with them, via state power. It certainly does not give them a right to sit on the same side of the negotiating table as government and collude with politicians to bilk taxpayers of ever-increasing amounts, in a never ending cycle of votes for cash for votes, all at the expense of people who aren’t even in the room.

0 comments