Is PA Next Union Target?

Member Group : Jerry Shenk

Governments have commonly raised taxes to cover increasing costs. But in most large governments, tax increases are often an indication of mismanagement, of government taking on never-envisioned responsibilities or both. In a tight economy, budgetary problems demand that legislators and government executives change their attitudes about governance and taxpayers.

Influential groups have lined up on opposite sides of the budget and tax debate, among them grassroots organizations and public sector unions. Only the unions openly encourage tax increases. Inspired by a commitment to limited government, tea party activists and the sizable bloc of voters who support them want to avoid deficits, reduce debt, cut spending, control taxes, reinvigorate the economy and limit government intrusion.

For the last half-century, public sector unions have benefited from growth trends in government that have produced deficits, debt and out-of-control spending that motivate grassroots sympathizers. The unions want to preserve the status quo.

The debate is over how many jobs should be dependent upon government and how public jobs should be compensated. Public sector jobs increased during good and bad economic times at rates far in excess of private sector employment, compensation and benefits. Keeping public sector jobs and benefits in this economic climate is a difficult sell to overburdened taxpayers who see the jobs they fund paying more and offering better benefits than most taxpayers receive.

Public sector unions argue that, generally, only lower-level workers earn more than private sector counterparts. Higher-level public employees, they say, are often better educated, but are compensated less. It’s not persuasive.

Public school kids are cynically used as "poster children" for the union cause. Teachers unions began organizing in the 1960s with little opposition. The teaching profession, overall, was respected. But teachers unions adopted the industrial model. Through decades of agitation, walkouts and union coercion, public goodwill was lost.

For decades, teachers unions have accused taxpayers of cheating the children for objecting to ever-increasing teacher pay and benefits. Unions have played the same card so often that it’s no longer trump. In fact, through 50 years, the number of teachers in American public schools has increased by a rate three-and-a-half times that of the student population while average academic achievement has declined. Taxpayers are paying a premium for poor results.

Increasingly, taxpayers see public sector unions as the adversary because unions still advocate tax increases to continue increasing member pay, benefits and head count.

Budget fights in Wisconsin, Indiana, New Jersey and other states revealed despicable behavior by public sector union members and their supporters: protesters trashed public facilities, legislators fled their states to avoid votes, teachers walked out on students, and physicians violated their oaths to write excuses for AWOL protesters.

Can it happen here? State public sector union contracts expire soon. The Legislature is considering a right-to-work bill to guarantee that every worker has the right, but not the obligation, to join a labor union. Right-to-work is a necessary, but modest start.

But a right-to-work law doesn’t place limits on public sector unions’ "right" to collective bargaining and striking, nor does it stop the practice of payroll deductions on members’ income remitted to their unions or place restrictions on the political uses of union money. Right-to-work doesn’t address the Cadillac benefits plans enjoyed by public sector union members. Right-to-work is meaningless in controlling state project costs as long as prevailing union wages are mandated for government projects.

State employees enjoy civil service protections in Pennsylvania. They don’t need contracts. Together, unions and politicians are a problem. Public sector unions fund the campaigns of the politicians who OK union contracts. As long as this bargain is allowed to continue, the taxpayer will be odd man out.