Private-sector unions have a long history in America, and apart from occasional problems involving union violence, mob racketeering, and intimidation by union bosses of rank-and-file workers, they have often served as a legitimate part of the American workplace.
In a proper legal context, unions can sit across the table from employers, haggle over pay and benefits, and come to mutually beneficial arrangements that can increase workplace productivity.
But as the American public is learning from the ongoing turmoil in Wisconsin, government-worker unions are more problematic. Government unions do not sit across the table from their employers. In many cases, those unions actually use the political process to select their employers.
Figuratively speaking, they sit on the same side of the table as their employers, with no one at the table to defend taxpayers. This is most clearly the case with school boards, whose members are overwhelmingly selected and controlled by the teacher unions.
The main danger posed by government unions is that they tend to oppose reforms that would help workers and protect taxpayers. Here are some examples of Arizona reforms that are imperiled by union lobbying:
• Arizona’s government unions oppose SCR1028, a measure that would protect the ability of Arizona workers to make their own decisions in the political process by prohibiting employers from deducting payments from any employee’s paycheck for political purposes without the express annual written consent of that employee. Police and fire unions oppose this reform (and have sabotaged the companion version SB1365), even though the reform is designed to protect the paychecks of all Arizona workers, including rank-and-file police officers and firefighters.
• Arizona’s municipal worker unions oppose SB1322, which would require large cities in Arizona to open up city services to competition from the private sector. Municipal unions oppose competitive bidding, even though it would free up scarce resources for city budgets, create private-sector jobs, and provide great opportunities for small businesses.
• Arizona’s government unions oppose spending-limit reforms such as SCR1019 and SCR1026, which would allow Arizona voters to implement spending curbs strong enough to protect future taxpayers and to keep future legislatures and governors from getting back on the roller-coaster spending pattern that has put the state in such dire fiscal straits. Unions even oppose SB1408, which would merely require budget transparency and alert taxpayers when legislators plan to increase state spending at an unsustainable rate.
• Government unions oppose real pension reform. With defined-benefit union pension plans going bankrupt all around the country, state and local governments need to get their pension systems on a firm fiscal footing. SB1340 would phase out defined-benefit plans for Arizona’s government workers, and ensure that future workers have access to defined-contribution plans with adequate funding. But government unions oppose SB1340.
Government unions have a role to play in the Arizona economy, but they should not stand in the way of important pro-worker and pro-taxpayer reforms.
— Tom Jenney is Arizona director of Americans for Prosperity (www.aztaxpayers.org).