Collective Bargaining: Right or Ridiculous?

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BY FRANCES NUAR – Wisconsin has been the topic of heated debate for the last few weeks, as protests have clogged the streets and Democratic legislators have fled the state, literally running away from their obligation to the people of Wisconsin.

What’s at stake? Governor Scott Walker (R) is looking to take away collective bargaining from the public sector unions, claiming the unprecedented power of the unions has taken the power of negotiations completely away from the state and placed it into the hands of a few key union powers. And he’s right.


Collective bargaining by public sector unions can no longer be afforded by Wisconsin, or by any state for that matter.  Public employees in Wisconsin for example are paid 74.2 cents for ever dollar they receive in salary in retirement and health benefits. The corresponding rate for employees of private firms is 24.3 cents.

What exactly makes these public sector workers deserve 3x more in benefits than their private counterparts? Even FDR, famous for greatly expanding the role of government and entitlement benefits said there was no room for collective bargaining in the public sector:

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.

As the Wall Street Journal teaches in its piece on “Union Education“:

Unlike in the private economy, a public union has a natural monopoly over government services. An industrial union will fight for a greater share of corporate profits, but it also knows that a business must make profits or it will move or shut down. The union chief for teachers, transit workers or firemen knows that the city is not going to close the schools, buses or firehouses.

This monopoly power, in turn, gives public unions inordinate sway over elected officials. The money they collect from member dues helps to elect politicians who are then supposed to represent the taxpayers during the next round of collective bargaining. In effect union representatives sit on both sides of the bargaining table, with no one sitting in for taxpayers. In 2006 in New Jersey, this led to the preposterous episode in which Governor Jon Corzine addressed a Trenton rally of thousands of public workers and shouted, “We will fight for a fair contract.” He was promising to fight himself.

14.2% of workers in Wisconsin are members of a public union; here in Hawaii that number is 21.8%. Maybe its time to not only take away the collective bargaining power of unions, but eliminate them altogether as Mark McKinnon argues:

America doesn’t need public unions anymore—they silence voters’ choice, redistribute wealth, and clog the political system.

The debate has more than started in Wisconsin. It’s going to spread throughout the country. Will Hawaii be next?





  1. The more power public employee unions get the harder it is to turn back the clock. Grover Norquist’s Leave Us Alone is a well-written explanation of both why it’s important to fight this form of collectivism and why it’s increasingly hard to do so in America, esp. in a heavily regulated, non-right-to-work state like Hawaii. I am increasingly reminded of a common salutation offered up in the former Soviet Union, namely: “Welcome Comrade to the worker’s paradise. Here everyone has a job and no one works.”

    It’s too bad that many Hawaii seem to think it can function forever on Inouye’s pork, oil-fueled tourism and the state’s dishonest cash v. accrual accounting. So in the meantime, the state encourages the city to build a fiscally insane train… and let’s increase state spending while we’re at it! Federal pork is now pretty much gone and the doomsday clock counts down for Hawaii’s fiscal prevarications. Some advise buying guns and hoarding food. Sadly, they may be right.

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