Public Sector Unions: How Do They Work?

Professor Clark opened his political science honors class by nodding at Alison and saying, “What are your thoughts about my statement that public sector unions are and will be a problem for the Trump Administration, agree or not?”

“I was surprised to see that public-sector union membership is greater than the traditional private sector unions that have been shrinking while the teachers union and government employees have been increasing their membership. So, in that case, when you plan to shrink government and cut the costs of government personnel other than the military, there must be some serious negotiations done with the public-sector unions.”

“Okay, Alison. Good thinking. Now someone tell me who will be conducting these negotiations. But first let me provide a few ground rules. We all know that when the UAW is involved in negotiations the party across the negotiating table is not the government. The UAW is in direct talks with the major car manufacturing corporations. While the issue being negotiated can be other issues than wages, let’s limit our discussion to negotiations over wages. Now Robert, tell us with whom the UAW will be conducting its collective bargaining negotiations?”

“Professor, are you setting me up? Everyone knows of the historic negotiations that have been conducted between the UAW and the big three auto corporations.”

“Of course I am. I want to make it clear that regardless of all the charges and rumors that are floated during private sector union negotiations the issues are clear. Both parties have the power to meet the obligations accepted during the negotiations. One side gains and the other loses. If the UAW wins, they reward their members with increased pay and or changes in working conditions or benefits. The auto corporations, constantly challenged by competition, have the challenge of absorbing the increased cost per unit of production, usually by passing the costs on to the consumer, the auto buyers.

“Both parties have a clear choice. The union leaders can shut down production with a strike and the corporation can refuse union demands and hold out until the union is forced to renegotiate a compromise solution. The strike may impact the growth of the national economy, but it would not be a national crisis. My point is that both sides have the freedom to either authorize a strike by the workers or to cause a work strike by refusing to comprise on their respective positions. Does that same freedom of action apply to all public-sector unions? To answer that question someone needs to tell me to whom the public-sector union leadership presents its demands. Who wants to take that issue on?”

“Paul, the floor is yours. Go!”

“I’m from Wisconsin so I’ll use the Teachers’ Union case in my answer. If the Teachers’ Union wants a wage increase or a change in working conditions, they must deal with the state government officials who were appointed or elected to be the go-to point for the Union. In the case of Wisconsin, the state had designated the points of contact for the Teachers’ Union. Unlike the case of the UAW and the auto corporations, the negotiators sitting across the table from the public sector union representatives had no skin in the game. All increased costs were passed on to the states’ taxpayers who were only remotely connected to the negotiations. Since nearly all the union members and officers were also state employees, the State of Wisconsin collected union dues and passed them on to the Union. The State negotiators often depended on Union financial contributions to fund their election and re-election campaigns. The Teachers’ Union negotiated with itself until the governor stepped in. I do not believe any public sector union truly has an adversary with skin in the game at the negotiating table.”

“Thank you, Paul. The question under discussion here is, do public sector union government employees who work for all citizens have the right to strike the same as workers in the private sector? The people pay the bill but have little or no direct say in the negotiating process. How can you have a negotiating process when only one side is represented?”

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Filed under Barry Kelly, Capitalism, Conservative views, Eight Decades of Insights, Intelligence & Politics, political solutions, trump

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