[Revised and bumped again]
Kim had the pleasure of debating Eliot Seide from AFSCME(see below). It was a civil debate and the audience listened carefully. Kim argued that collective bargaining for public employees is inconsistent with a representative democracy. When it was time for questions from the audience (largely law students), there were two. The first was from a woman who said her Mother worked for the post office. Her Mother’s advice? Skip school and work for the post office; the pay and benefits are great–and you cannot be fired. She spoke of employees who no longer did anything except “show up.” The second question was from a man who came from a family of teachers; he had left the field and his younger sister was fairly new to it. He spoke of rigid work rules that favored older teachers over younger ones—and did not recall his union membership with great fondness. I don’t recall what Eliot Seide said but I noted in both cases that we need to shift our thinking on public employment so that we reward talent and performance—not just showing up for years and years and years…you get the idea. On some days, no matter how much you love your job, it is just work that pays the bills. But how sad, that we have encouraged such a depressing model for public employment. We need to shake it up—both for the taxpaying public and for our public employees.
Here are some further (Federalist) thoughts on collective bargaining:
Should public employees have the right to engage in collective bargaining?
28 states have agency shop rules, 22 are right to work states.
I would reframe the question and ask whether collective bargaining by public sector unions is consistent with a representative, constitutional democracy. In a letter to federal workers in 1937, President Roosevelt said “Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relations and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government….The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.” (FDR in a letter to federal workers in 1937)
I agree with FDR. I also think that the union should have to collect its own dues—and that Minnesota should become a Right to Work state where employees the freedom to work without being compelled to join a union.
Why? First and foremost, collective bargaining disenfranchises the voter; it places public unions between the voter and their elected representatives. The interests of the voter as a taxpayer and the interests of a public employee as a recipient of tax dollars, are sometimes wildly divergent. By giving public employees the right to collectively bargain, the state has given public employees a right to interfere with, thwart and even veto the will of the voter. (See, for example, the situation in Wisconsin.)
The right to collectively bargain when combined with the power to strike forces elected officials to answer not the will of the people who elected them but the will of the union. Please note that I said “the will of the union” and not “the will of public employees.” I do not believe that public employees are always well represented by their unions; the union has its own agenda. Witness, for example, the willful violation of the U.S Supreme Court’s Beck decision that prohibits unions from using union dues for political purposes opposed by its members.
Second, the financing of public unions with tax dollars is an indefensible use of the coercive power of taxation that denies voters representation in taxation. The power to tax is one of the most fearsome powers granted to government. Like the power to deprive someone of their liberty through arrest or imprisonment, it should be treated with great care. The collection of union dues from public employees is really the collection of union dues from taxpayers and voters. Before the state pays its employees with tax dollars, it sends a portion of those tax dollars to the union just like private employers withhold for FICA and taxes; the union then uses those tax dollars to extract more tax dollars and other benefits from the taxpayer. To add insult to injury, the union uses its political power to elect lawmakers who are friendly to its agenda—and to punish those who are not. This cycle is a corrupt shakedown that has weakened our democratic state and frustrated the will of the voter.
Anyone who has run for political office in Minnesota knows what I am talking about. If you have the backing of AFSCME, for example, suddenly you have a campaign team that will take care of your lawn signs, lit drops, parade teams, letters to the editor and so forth. If you are viewed as unfriendly to the union, you can count on serious opposition.
Big business and small business employ lobbyists to represent them in the political process. You pay for lobbying fees to the extent that you buy their goods and services. The difference is that you do not have to buy their goods or services—you have a choice. Whereas with public unions, you have no choice. If you do not pay your taxes that go to support the unions, you will be fined or go to jail.
Collective bargaining should, therefore, be rejected as a matter of principle; it is simply inconsistent with the rights of both voters and employees in a representative democracy. It is also bad public policy. Unions contracts are not only driving government budgets, they are also driving public policy especially in the field of education.
On Thursday, Feb.24 at the University of Minnesota Law School:
Kim Crockett and Eliot Seide (Executive Director of AFSCME Council 5) will offer their different perspectives on public employee compensation and collective bargaining at a lunchtime debate (12:15 pm, Room 20) sponsored by the Student Employment & Labor Law Association and the Federalist Society. Parking and Directions. A “free lunch ” is promised but based on past experience, we advise getting there very early for the food or bringing your own! Hungry law students descend like locusts; the pizza is gone in minutes.