Labor unions, politicians, taxpayers and freedom

February 13, 2011|By LLOYD WATERS

Some years ago, when the Monday night football game was out of reach, Don Meredith would always break out into singing his favorite song that included the words, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.”

As I recently completed reading a piece in National Affairs magazine by Daniel DeSalvo about “The Trouble with Public Sector Unions,” it seems like the author was beginning to hum a similar song to the public sector union.

Public sector unions specifically were organized within the structure of local, state and federal governments to represent workers in those areas.

DeSalvo chronicled the history of public sector labor unions and talked at length about the relationship of these organizations with politics at the expense of the average taxpayer.

In the early history of these unions, the concern was always directed at the member’s working conditions, wages and benefits. As the work force increased, the status of the organization also grew.

With the union’s increased growth in membership came money and the ability to influence politics. As they contributed to the winning political candidate or party, certain rewards were expected.

Public sector unions and local, state and federal government bureaucracies grew at a phenomenal rate because of this relationship.

Some political rewards for union support often included wage increases for its membership. When wage increases were not provided sometimes working conditions improved or pension plans got better. Sometimes all three occurred.

More labor contributions resulted in more and more political concessions.

As states like Illinois, New Jersey, California and others continue to wrestle with serious budget deficits, they are beginning to realize that some of the lucrative benefits and promises given to public sector employees are now beginning to add up and cause huge problems.

The average taxpayer who is not a member of a public sector union nor has a high wage or equivalent pension plan is being asked to help solve the problem.

DeSalvo seems to be making the argument that public sector unions and their embedded relationship with politics has helped to create the large existing deficits now facing many states, and are looking for the average taxpayer to provide a remedy.

In Maine, however, the legislature there is threatening to abolish the labor committee which now has jurisdiction over wage laws, work place safety and a pension system, which is 4.4 billion in the red. The Maine legislature also is looking to revisit “the right to work” legislation; Gov. Christie in New Jersey is singing a similar song.

In California, because of a strong public sector union and its strong relationship with politics, 11 percent of that state’s budget is now spent on public safety.  
In reading another article from the Washington Post, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that unions lost 771,000 workers in 2008, and another 612,000 members in 2010.

As the economy worsens, our political leaders today, I suspect, will be more inclined to respond to the average taxpayer’s voice over that of the public sector unions’ desires to garnish more benefits.

Maryland seems to be hanging on to some of the old habits and has apparently conceded to a public sector union that most state employees should now be required to pay a fee for their representation.

Several federal courts in reviewing the new health care program have found it troublesome that individuals without health insurance will be compelled to either purchase this health coverage or pay a penalty for not purchasing it.

If the government can mandate your participation in its health care program, or require you to pay a penalty for not participating, are they then in some way violating your “freedoms” guaranteed in our constitution?

Lincoln once reminded us, “those who deny freedoms to others deserve it not for themselves.”  
Maryland seems to have decided that state employees no longer deserve the freedom to choose. I wonder what’s next.

Lloyd “Pete” Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes columns for The Herald-Mail.

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