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Lloyd Waters: Public sector unions often worse than management

December 04, 2011|By LLOYD WATERS

When I was a new correctional officer back in the 1970s at Maryland Correctional Institution (MCI), it was a very difficult time for a lot of reasons.

One reason was that management always had a tendency to cram more inmates into MCI than its rated occupancy. As the inmate population increased above capacity, the problems, too, increased. Couple that with little or no training for staff and you had a recipe for disaster.

Riots in 1970, 1971 and 1972 were vivid examples of this era.

In my estimation, management contributed to those unsafe working conditions and the resulting violence.

As a new employee, I found it practical to belong to a public sector union and paid my dues voluntarily.

Management, it seemed, had a tendency to overstep the bounds of reason.

As I continued my career in corrections, I proceeded up the ladder and became a warden and began to see both sides of the operation more clearly.

Some of the issues that the unions had defended so nobly in the beginning became increasingly unreasonable as the years passed.  

Today, it has further escalated to the point that public employee unions in Maryland are permitted to collect dues from all employees whether they support the union or not.

Although union staff will tell you that all employees should contribute as they all receive benefits, I suspect, the majority of state employees do not agree with this argument.

Indiana has abolished this practice and so should Maryland.

Some of the behavior of public sector unions today demonstrates also that they, at times, are no more reasonable than management.

Case in point.

In a Nov. 9 article in the Wall Street Journal, Phillip K. Howard shares a few examples that place public sector unions at direct odds with the American taxpayer.

Howard cites the recent indictment of seven Long Island Rail Road workers for disability fraud as an example of how some government agencies are operating these days. Until recently, he goes on to say, "Over 90 percent of these railroad workers retired with a disability," which included even those with desk jobs.

The cost to the New York taxpayers — a whopping $300 million dollars over the past decade, or an extra $30,000 a year for each disabled employee.

Legitimate disabilities are one thing. Fraudulent ones, however, are something else.

I can't fully define the extent of Maryland's problem, but I suspect many disability cases are also lacking real merit. While serving as warden, I remember receiving a call from a neighbor of an employee who was on extended leave. The neighbor complained about the employee, saying, "It seems they can't come to work, but you ought to see how they move and climb around the house."

I suspect the caller was a disgruntled taxpayer.

Many people in local, state and federal governments will receive disability from their regular job, then obtain employment in another job.

One investigator of the fraud case in New York indicated that some of those indicted employees would gather in the doctor's office and brag about their disabilities while simultaneously talking about their golf games.

Remember the protesting union employees in Wisconsin who possessed bogus sick slips. Public sector unions routinely defend many of these same behaviors.

Their unreasonable demands, at times, have been equal to or worse than management's.

The abuse of sick leave policies, accident leave and disability programs, I suspect, routinely occur in many workplaces.  Because of these abuses, millions of dollars are added to local, state and federal budgets.

As Howard's article suggests, it seems that public sector unions today are more an obstacle than a cure to a more effective and efficient government.  

It might also be interesting to examine the actual current statistics of disability usage in Maryland.

Then again, it just might make you really "sick."

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Lloyd "Pete" Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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