Wagener: Hold off the unions

Praxis Makes Perfect

The news is filled with images of protests and riots around Madison, Wis. One could be forgiven for comparing the crowd sentiment in Madison with the revolutionary fervor engulfing the autocracies of the Middle East. That is, except for one critical detail: in Madison, the courageous rebel is under siege, and the forces of the status quo are rioting in the streets. Governor Scott Walker has lined up the votes needed to pass a critical reform that would reduce public sector unions’ stranglehold on Wisconsin’s coffers. But the state’s Democrat lawmakers have abandoned their offices, denying the Senate a needed quorum. As union thugs converged on Madison, the Democrats ran, fittingly, to Illinois — a state that has already been fiscally destroyed by its public sector unions.

Liberal leaders have screamed on that Governor Walker’s attempt to weaken public sector unions is an attack on the middle class. This argument would make sense if government coffers were filled with manna from on high rather than money forcibly taken from taxpayers working in the private sector. The reality is that public sector workers have been receiving overly generous compensation packages at the peoples’ expense. The large size of this particular special interest group — all of Wisconsin’s state and municipal government employees — does not change the fact that unionized public sector employees are a special interest group nonetheless, one that has been living large on the taxpayer dime.

All this in an economy with a 9 percent unemployment rate, while government employees remain notoriously difficult to fire. Private sector workers often get no pension at all, and have little but their savings and Social Security to retire on. Furthermore, private sector workers cannot retire until they are at least 65. Public sector employees, however, face retirement ages below 60 if they have worked for the government for at least 25 years. They receive pensions worth more than the entire salaries of most current government workers. All that in addition to Social Security.

Liberal opinion leaders almost universally reject Governor Walker’s push to limit collective bargaining rights for public employees, as they claim that collective bargaining is a sacred right. But Walker’s move represents little more than an attempt to bring state government workers in line with federal government workers, most of whom lack the right to strike or bargain collectively themselves.

President Obama criticized Governor Walker by alleging that he is engaged in an “assault” on basic worker rights. Luckily, Obama was forced to change gears when conservative intellectuals pointed out that Governor Walker is merely trying to get the powers President Obama already has himself: to control labor costs in government. Indeed, Governor Walker’s proposal only eliminates collective bargaining on pension and retirement benefits; public employees will still be able to bargain collectively on their salaries. Since federal government employees tend to lack any collective bargaining power, President Obama presides, by his own definition, over a much more rigorous “assault” on government workers than Walker’s.

The Left’s distortions have painted government employees as identical counterparts to private sector workers. It’s worth noting that unionization has collapsed in the private sector because of the need for a more flexible labor market; nonetheless, no one would deny that private sector workers have a right to organize a union if they so desire. Most private sector employees don’t want to unionize their firms because they know that the move will raise labor costs, necessitating either layoffs or outsourcing of jobs to cheap markets abroad. Public sector employees and unions, however, have no such limit: there is no competitor, no outside force that will discipline them and force them to make reasonable demands. If they strike, the government must halt operations and inevitably cave. Indeed, while private sector workers must negotiate with profit-oriented management, public employees negotiate with the elected politicians they often control.

It is no secret that public sector unions are the most potent organizing force for many Democrat legislators. Consequently, a very large number of legislators are beholden to them, and in negotiations deliver the largest concessions the public will allow rather than negotiating to get the best deal for taxpayers. It’s the principal-agent problem at its worst: politicians, the managers of public sector employees, often negotiate to give as much taxpayer money as possible to these unions. In other words, due to the electoral power of unions and their campaign season foot soldiers, public sector unions enjoy a massive edge that the rest of us don’t have.

Governor Walker has made a brave stand. Hopefully he will get some sort of bill passed that restrains public sector unions and gives taxpayers a fair shake. If he fails, it will be a blow to all of us and a gift to a long-subsidized special interest.

Trevor Wagener is a senior in Pierson College. His column runs on alternate Mondays.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    Collective bargaining hasn’t done much for us; 8-hour day; 40 hour week; overtime. Way too liberal. Roll it all back.

    Same with Affirmative Action: who cares about a century of slavery and a century of Jim Crow. Suck it up.

    Same with Equal Pay for Equal Work: women should stay home anyway.

    Let’s go back to Dickens’ 19th century. Put the kids to work. Who needs school? That’ll get rid of those greedy teachers. Pensions? What a stupid idea. Let the old go to poor houses. “If they’re going to die, let them do so and decrease the surplus population.” (E. Scrooge)

    And while we’re at it what about the EPA? (wasn’t that that evil Nixon’s idea?) More liberal B.S. Who needs clean air.

    Throw it all out.

    Grow up and be a man. Thanks for the reminder, Mr. Wagener.

    PK

  • Gregg Gonsalves

    Trevor Wagener’s column on the current struggle between the governor and public employee labor unions in Wisconsin was amusing. Here is someone who hasn’t worked a day in his life, getting on his high horse and indignantly rehashing Republican Party dogma about organized labor. The sad thing though is that being a Yalie, Mr. Wagener has a disproportionate chance of ending up in elected office or running a corporation someday. Pity the poor workers who have to deal with him then.

    My parents were public school teachers in Bedford-Stuyvestant neighborhood of New York City for 30 years. They loved their jobs, worked hard and saved enough over time to send their three kids to college, and retire with a little something for themselves. You don’t go work for the city or state to get rich. The picture of schoolteachers, policemen and firemen as union-coddled brats or labor unions as a drag on the economy promoted by Republicans and by Mr. Wagener is just the vision of someone who has never been on the workers’ side of the negotiating table.

    It’s not our public sector unions, nor teachers, firemen or policemen that need to be reigned in at this moment of history. It’s the fat cats on Wall Street and their Republican Party cronies who seek to shift wealth in this country even further into the hands of the very few, who want to strip down government services to the poor and needy and push aside regulations that have held corporations responsible for their bad behavior for decades.

    Mr. Wagener has aligned himself with those on the political spectrum who seek to roll back social and economic policy to the turn of the 19th century—lower taxes, fewer rights for workers and few programs for the poor, sick and elderly. This is the wing of the Republican Party that is in the ascendancy now: they make Eisenhower, Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller and Connecticut’s own Lowell Weicker look like bomb-throwing anarchists. Mr. Wagener and his ilk represent a conservative and corporate radicalism, which will not serve this country well.

    Gregg Gonsalves
    BK 11

  • commentator

    What a ridiculous column. You obviously don’t know what a riot is. OED:

    a. A violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd; an outbreak of violent civil disorder or lawlessness.

  • FreddyHoneychurch

    Total nonsense.

  • cappi

    I thought Yale kids were supposed to be bright. Check out some labor history, hmm?

  • jnewsham

    So much of this is just factually wrong and cherry-picked. Public workers do not get social security. Their pensions are generally not larger than a current worker’s salary, and they fund the pensions entirely by deductions from their own wages. I mean, seriously? It takes a special kind of tool to refer to a Koch-funded puppet as a “revolutionary.”

  • whoknows

    Hold off the unions? What’s left to hold off? Unions have been decimated by years by this kind of snake oil for years.
    Not to mention Trevor, you’re not even good at selling it.
    Some of my favorite lines:
    “The Left’s distortions have painted government employees as identical counterparts to private sector workers.”
    OoOoOoHHHH, not the left’s “distortions”–no excuse for that kind of weak sauce when you’ve got a whole pantheon of suited gurus to pray to for guidance.
    “The large size of this particular special interest group — all of Wisconsin’s state and municipal government employees — does not change the fact that unionized public sector employees are a special interest group nonetheless”
    Boy, with hard hitting observations like that I can totally see why the YDN thinks you’re worth publishing.
    All in all another self important post from a self important Yalie who thinks because he can be published he should be.

  • River Tam

    Unions are monopolies.

    > Here is someone who hasn’t worked a day in his life, getting on his high horse and indignantly rehashing Republican Party dogma about organized labor.

    I *have* worked a day in my life, and the Republican Party “dogma” about organized labor is largely correct.

  • Hieronymus’ Bosh

    I have worked since I was 12 (yes, yes I have)–and at jobs far worse than “school teacher” or “community organizer.”

    I reject GESO in particular (*gawd* they are annoying–although the thug tactics abated somewhat after they were waxed in their own rigged election…) and, for the most part, unions generally.

    One cannot disprove the “good” wrought by unions (what is the control group?), although I will point out that many emerging markets are seeing worker reforms sans collective bargaining. Also: I point out that collective bargaining can eventually bankrupt otherwise good employers, e.g., GM… your local government…

    As for teachers: My mother was a high-school teacher for twenty years (a university prof prior to that, with time out for children)–she ignored the union and to this day laughs about how easy her job was and how most teachers would do better to focus on *teaching* rather than workplace agitation. Oh–and she is otherwise and in most things a *wicked* liberal (much to my chagrin).

  • The Anti-Yale

    Hieronyus’ Bosh:

    I doubt that your mother “laughs about” her colleagues’ decisions. That sounds a bit smug if not churlish. If she is old enough to be the mother of a recent Yale graduate, I’m sure she is wiser than that.
    Perhaps you are projecting your own feelings on to her?

    PK

  • syhwt

    Yes Paul- the loss of collective bargaining for teachers in Wisconsin is clearly an assault on the 40 hour work week and the eight hour day. We need the unions in place to make sure teachers don’t stay up nights grading papers and making lesson plans. Who knows what might happen to summer, winter, and spring break without collective bargaining.

    I will concede, though, that your deductions re Mr. Wagener’s views on Jim Crow and the EPA are likely spot-on. All you’ve got to do is read between the lines.

  • RexMottram08

    There is a reason why our state capitols are not usually flooded by cash-strapped farmers on tractors ditching their work when the price of wheat crashes. During a power outage, electric-company linemen do not often call in sick. Those who walk nimbly between IEDs in the Hindu Kush or who braved RPGs in Fallujah did not in mediis rebus pause to suggest that they had gotten a raw deal on their far too frequent deployments. Very few corporals and privates ask medics to write false medical excuses.

  • Hieronymus’ Bosh

    PK,

    No, she laughs. She also laughs about the tremendous and more or less free retirement plan they gave her. She also loved her summers off and has pretty much nothing but disdain for most of her “colleagues.” True dat.

  • The Anti-Yale

    What state are we talking about?

    My Vermont retirement plan is paid for by my OWN contributions—-no employer contributions, although the State administers it..

    I couldn’t work in a place where I felt disdain for others. It is a self-corroding emotion.

    Summers off?

    I spent 7 summers from ’91-’97 (one as an NEH fellow in Theatre) at Bread Loaf School of English getting an M.A. from Middlebury College; In the last 12 years I attended Civil War Institutes at Gettysburg College five summers in a row, a Gilder-Lehrman Institute on Slavery at Amherst College and an NEH Institute in Law and Jurisprudence also at Amherst (5 weeks) also an NEH Institute at the shakespeare Festival in Ashland Oregon, Southern Oregon University.

    The remaining summers from 1987- 2009 I painted classrooms with teachers from 7 AM to 3:30 PM M-F. ZERO summer vacation. In fact, last summer — my 66th — was the FIRST summer I didn’t work or attend school in 25 years.

    I can be forgiven after having half a kidney removed. Painted the house instead.

  • The Anti-Yale

    NB:
    According to the following gobbledy-speak, the State of vermont also makes some kind of contribution to teacher retirement.
    PK

    Type of Plan and Contributions
    VVSTRS is a public employee pension plan and trust qualified as a tax-exempt organization under Sections 401(a) if the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). It is a contributory, defined benefit plan to which its participating members make regular contributions to a trust fund and the State of Vermont deposits an annual appropriation (contribution) based on a recommendation resulting from an actuarial assumption of liabilities.

  • syhwt

    PK, I had always assumed you were retired based on the frequency of your posts on the YDN, but alas! You’re a teacher.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “retired based on the frequency of your posts”

    .Hyper-active: Most of my posts are around 4:50 AM when I rise.

    Retirement? Sounds like a nightmare to me.

    “Alas?”

    Some people think I’m pretty good.

  • ignatz

    If we could return to the subject at hand, Mr. Wagener is quite correct that public sector unions were a bad idea in the first place, and have brought financial distress to more than a few states and cities. Indeed, total state and municipal unfunded pension liability now runs into the trillions of dollars — thanks in large part to public sector unions. So . . . why exactly is it that government workers must have the right to strike and shut down essential public services?

  • The Anti-Yale

    “So . . . why exactly is it that government workers must have the right to strike and shut down essential public services?”

    Opposition to Tyranny. Changing the rules in the middle of the game is tyranny.That’s the reason. That’s why the Middle East has been “striking”. Do as I say, or get out. That’s tyranny.

  • graduate_student

    >Those who walk nimbly between IEDs in the Hindu Kush or who braved RPGs in Fallujah did not in mediis rebus pause to suggest that they had gotten a raw deal on their far too frequent deployments. Very few corporals and privates ask medics to write false medical excuses.

    Obviously never served a day in your life.

  • AndyCantu11

    ” [...] unionization has collapsed in the private sector because of the need for a more flexible labor market.”

    Tell that to your dining hall workers. Or the Ironworkers renovating the art gallery. Or the literally tens of millions of other cab drivers, plumbers, flight attendants, pilots, mechanics, artists, athletes, engineers, longshoremen, farmers, nurses, care-givers, truckers, miners, hotel maids and other service workers who struggle to make a living and provide for their families.

    “Most private sector employees don’t want to unionize their firms because they know that the move will raise labor costs [...]”

    No, most private sector EMPLOYERS don’t want to unionize their firms because it tears into their profits. While I agree that teachers should be held more accountable and that many of the thug tactics used by union bosses has tarnished the image of unions in general, eliminating something as fundamental as collective bargaining is a ploy whose only goal is to weaken the power of workers and inflate the already bloated pockets of corporate brass and the politicians they bankroll. There are measures that can be taken to reform the problems of unions, and indeed there are problems, without resorting to something as drastic as the governor’s proposal. Instead of asking firefighters, police officers, and other brave men and women to sacrifice further, we could easily narrow the deficit by (gasp!) taxing the rich and corporations like Wal-Mart that deny their employees a living wage or benefits. Painting public sector employees as fat cats is totally disingenuous. It was my mother’s PUBLIC sector benefits that provided for her cancer treatment, that helped pay for my private school education so that I could escape the violence and drugs that plagued my district’s public schools. It’s my father’s PRIVATE sector union pension that allows him to enjoy a modicum of security and a respite from years of manual labor that have exacted a huge toll on his body.

    It’s because of unions that there’s even a middle class for governor Walker to abuse. You’re so wrong it’s embarrassing.

  • RexMottram08

    Companies are PRODUCERS first, and employers second.

    Why does a company form? Not to provide jobs, but to provide a product/service to a customer and a profit to an owner.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Good (and I emphasize the MORAL quality of that word) companies, like Ben and Jerry’s, are producers and employers, hand in hand.