Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 1:41 PM ET, 02/21/2011

You can't separate public and private unions

By Ezra Klein

One of the themes some commentators have adopted is that private-sector unions are fine -- important, even -- but public-sector unions have to be stopped. Or at least it's all right if they're stopped. The difference, as Joe Klein puts it, is that "Industrial unions are organized against the might and greed of ownership. Public employees unions are organized against the might and greed ... of the public?"

I don't think this really holds up. Labor unions organize to get the best possible deal -- or what they think of as the best possible deal -- for their workers. This usually pits them against managers who want to get the best possible deal -- or what they see as the best possible deal -- for their institution. Unions are not just about challenging the "might and greed" of private-sector CEOs, but about recognizing the different incentives faced by managers and workers, and about correcting the tremendous power imbalance between those who can be fired for asking too many questions or demanding a different bargain and those who get to do the firing and would prefer a more submissive workforce and a status quo that they've created and defined.

And let's let go of the idea that the public is on the hook for unions made up of government workers but not for unions made up of janitors in Las Vegas hotels. If private-sector unions negotiate higher wages that lead to higher corporate costs, those costs are passed on to the consumer. If public unions negotiate higher wages that lead to higher taxes, those taxes are paid for by the taxpayer. If public or private unions negotiate work rules that stifle innovation or impede good service, the public bears the brunt of that, too.

But that goes in the other direction, too: Just as the public pays some of the costs of unions, they also reap many of the benefits. The weekend is one of those benefits, and so too are the pensions and health-care packages that many employers offer. A lot of the safety rules that many workers take for granted were the product of union agitation and pressure. Plenty of industries have had to increase their wages because unions took root in certain companies and the threat of their spread forced the non-unionized companies to give their employees gains similar to those made by the unionized workers. Unions are also the most powerful lobby fighting against things like tax cuts for the rich and for things like universal health care. And those benefits, just like those costs, have come from the labor power provided by the combined strength of public and private unions. Solidarity, and all that.

For the record, I'd happily take a deal wherein the collective bargaining rights of public workers were weakened but private workers were given card check and the other labor-law reforms needed to create some semblance of fair elections. But that deal is not on the table. For a variety of reasons -- some relating to international competition, some to the changing nature of the American economy, some relating to political decisions -- private-sector unions have been all but destroyed in recent decades. In fact, it's the opposite of the deal on the table, which, by weakening public-sector unions, would accelerate the destruction of private-sector unions.

American labor -- and all the good and the bad that it does -- is one unit, combining the density and dues of both its public- and private-sector members. If public-sector unions had never been founded, labor would've been much weaker in the 20th century. If they're killed now, a resurgence of private-sector unions becomes even more unlikely going forward. The stakes here are for American labor -- and the public -- as a whole. They are not limited to a few public-sector unions.

By Ezra Klein  | February 21, 2011; 1:41 PM ET
 
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: How to read the president's budget
Next: Wonkbook: Are Republicans overreaching? Or just negotiating effectively?

Comments

This is a fascinating debate, and here's where it the rubber meets the proverbial road:
I think we all can sympathize with the frustration over a person who renegs on a deal made in good faith. The unions made current salary concessions to get their great benefits and pension packages, right? And if the bosses came back and wanted to retroactively break that deal, then they were negotiating in bad faith to being with. But with public unions, the bosses are not hired by a board of directors, they are elected by the public and their deals can be reversed by subsequent administrations. So, while United, GM, etc. MUST declare bankruptcy to break those union deals, the states cannot afford to. The answer, from Gov. Walker's perspective, is to remove all collective bargaining rules to prevent this from happening again. It's reminds me of cutting off the hands of a shoplifter. Sure, it'll solve the immediate problem of lack of self-control, but it's a bit extreme and irreversible.

Look, the pubnlic employee unions have stepped up to the plate on the current budget crisis. It's entirely unfair for the Governor to try and shoehorn legislation that hinders those who follow. At least until a Democratic Governor is voted in to reverse the entire thing. Of course, who knows how many families will be hurt in the process.

Ain't democracy grand?

Posted by: ToddinHB | February 21, 2011 2:10 PM | Report abuse

This is a fascinating debate, and here's where it the rubber meets the proverbial road:
I think we all can sympathize with the frustration over a person who renegs on a deal made in good faith. The unions made current salary concessions to get their great benefits and pension packages, right? And if the bosses came back and wanted to retroactively break that deal, then they were negotiating in bad faith to being with. But with public unions, the bosses are not hired by a board of directors, they are elected by the public and their deals can be reversed by subsequent administrations. So, while United, GM, etc. MUST declare bankruptcy to break those union deals, the states cannot afford to. The answer, from Gov. Walker's perspective, is to remove all collective bargaining rules to prevent this from happening again. It's reminds me of cutting off the hands of a shoplifter. Sure, it'll solve the immediate problem of lack of self-control, but it's a bit extreme and irreversible.

Look, the pubnlic employee unions have stepped up to the plate on the current budget crisis. It's entirely unfair for the Governor to try and shoehorn legislation that hinders those who follow. At least until a Democratic Governor is voted in to reverse the entire thing. Of course, who knows how many families will be hurt in the process.

Ain't democracy grand?

Posted by: ToddinHB | February 21, 2011 2:11 PM | Report abuse

I truly don't get it. Three years ago Wall Street greed-mongers nearly destroyed the U.S. economy, so now we're talking about busting unions? Over ten years ago Bush gave the super-rich a Trillion-dollar-plus raid on the U.S. economy that created NO jobs, and now we're talking about scuttling a health care plan that costs 1/2 that, because we can't afford it?

The inmates are running the asylum. When they finally manage to break the backs of the middle class and poor, the end will be very much as you are seeing in Egypt -- and that will not be pretty to watch, either.

Posted by: jcbarrett44 | February 21, 2011 2:13 PM | Report abuse

As I read your post, it says

"unions are good for a variety of reasons that everyone agrees on;

public employee unions are particularly important because they are politically involved and support all the liberal ideas i happen to like"

From a pragmatic liberal POV, I agree with your assessment, but I don't see where any conservative will be convinced.

The problem with public employee unions is that, by the virtue of being the only special interest that is specifically concerned with public employee compensation, they tend to end up at a negotiating table against...themselves. Where private unions can expect an adversarial negotiating table which will allow for some equilibrium to be reached.

Posted by: eggnogfool | February 21, 2011 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Only five states do not allow collective bargaining for educators. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores: South Carolina, 50th, North Carolina, 49th, Georgia, 48th, Texas 47th, Virginia, 44th. Wisconsin, with its collective bargaining for teachers, is 2nd. It helps when the state shows some respect for teachers and education.

Posted by: LillithMc | February 21, 2011 2:40 PM | Report abuse

@LillithMc:

Link please?

That's an awesome stat.

Posted by: eggnogfool | February 21, 2011 2:44 PM | Report abuse

It is an illusion that free markets are free. They are at the mercy of whomever can amass sufficient financial and political power.

The labor movement arose — and was blessed by FDR — as a means to counter the wealth and influence of corporations. It succeeded in changing free markets into fair markets.

Without government support of unions — whether local, state or federal — we will revert back to the literal labor warfare of the 19th and 20th centuries. Do we really need to fight that fight again?

Posted by: tomcammarata | February 21, 2011 2:49 PM | Report abuse

edit:

found it.

http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/states/USCHARTsat.html

Posted by: eggnogfool | February 21, 2011 2:54 PM | Report abuse

eggnogfool: What you said about public employee unions isn't true. Management within the public agencies are NOT represented by the unions, and frequently are under pressure from above to do whatever the people holding the reins of power feel is a priority... often, bonuses are tied to performance goals determined by people further up the chain. That means special interest priorities, ideological priorities, and so on. My understanding is that a lot of public employee unions organized as a countervailing force against political patronage, pressure to toe the management line, etc. You can imagine this is especially important for people charged with the task of acting in the public interest (which is true of most, if not all public employees).

Posted by: ScottK_DC | February 21, 2011 3:12 PM | Report abuse

"And let's let go of the idea that the public is on the hook for unions made up of government workers but not for unions made up of janitors in Las Vegas hotels. If private-sector unions negotiate higher wages that lead to higher corporate costs, those costs are passed on to the consumer. If public unions negotiate higher wages that lead to higher taxes, those taxes are paid for by the taxpayer. If public or private unions negotiate work rules that stifle innovation or impede good service, the public bears the brunt of that, too."

I don't think this is a valid comparison. If Vegas hotels are pricier because of their higher labor costs, I can just go to Atlantic City, or spend my recreation/gambling money elsewhere. On the other hand, because public services (and their unions) there are only two ways to avoid those higher taxes: move, or elect politicians with a platform of reducing salary and benefits of unionized public employees. But the former has far more significant costs than does eschewing a Vegas vacation, and the latter will be directly challenged in the political arena by those same public unions, who are also voters. So, the analogy is flawed.

Posted by: Foxtrot45 | February 21, 2011 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,

Please follow up on the Wisconsin energy legislation - it's real economics, and it is a big part of this story.

http://rortybomb.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/the-less-discussed-part-of-walkers-wisconsin-plan-no-bid-energy-assets-firesales/

The inmates aren't running the asylum, the crooked and powerful corporations are trying very assiduously to screw the working man, with GOP dupes complicit. How can these 'some-of-the-time' thinking conservos think this is a good thing? The middle class in America is going down fast.

As someone who crafts legislation, I have never seen a more transparent redefinition & transfer of "the public interest" in any sort of legislation. Pure giveaway to Koch Industries...

As a public employee for over two decades in the northeast, I have given back hugely in the last four years, wages and medical, and my middle class taxes are going up, with a fatter increase than the Benz & hedge fund crowd is seeing.

It's about turning everyone into serfs, into Walmart greeters....

Posted by: SouthernWreck | February 21, 2011 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Maybe the author is incapable of separating the two groups, as they're both extortionary to their core, but it's quite easy for those with an understanding of how P&Ls and business works.

The main, among so many, problems with public unions is the same with people that frivolously sue their child's public schools: they are taking money from taxpayers, which was never meant to be allocated for self-indulgence and comes at the cost of their neighbors' lives. (For those that I'm sure cannot think metaphorically, "lives" represents the time and life spent earning the money to be paid to such people)

The well is considered bottomless to public unions, and Democrat politicians are happy to take as much as they can; their voter base is comprised heavily of such dependents, and the unions, in turn, donate back the taxpayer money given to them in exchange for more concessions to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, for the next round of "gimmes."

The literal losers? Americans that are independent and desire to succeed on their own. The proverbial losers? Those that cannot do on their own and has to have a bully do it for them.

Posted by: mbmusgrove | February 21, 2011 3:43 PM | Report abuse

This post is pure, 100% fiction.

The Wagner Act of 1935 already separates public and private unions.

Private unions grew for about 27 years after the Wagner Act was passed even while the public sector did not unionize.

In 1962 John Kennedy wanted to consolidate power in the Democratic Party and reward his supporters, so he signed an executive order allowing the unionization of federal employees.

Posted by: krazen1211 | February 21, 2011 3:45 PM | Report abuse

"But that goes in the other direction, too: Just as the public pays some of the costs of unions, they also reap many of the benefits. The weekend is one of those benefits, and so too are the pensions and health-care packages that many employers offer. "


This is also pure, 100% fiction.

The state of North Carolina has barred public sector unionization since 1959. Yet private sector employment there is still flourishing, and the private sector people of North Carolina have weekends and health care benefits.

Posted by: krazen1211 | February 21, 2011 3:47 PM | Report abuse

"As a public employee for over two decades in the northeast, I have given back hugely in the last four years, wages and medical, and my middle class taxes are going up, with a fatter increase than the Benz & hedge fund crowd is seeing. "

The middle class increases are mostly to pay for your fellow union bloat.

Public sector unionization is worse than regressive taxation. It is reverse Robin Hooding.

In New Jersey we increase property taxes mostly on the poor in order to transfer wealth off to the much wealthier union bosses in the NJEA and other education related union bosses, all of which make 6 figure salaries with pension and benefits.

Meanwhile, Corzine slashes transportation spending and increases taxes on the poor.

Posted by: krazen1211 | February 21, 2011 3:51 PM | Report abuse

http://www.nctq.org/tr3/scope/#interactiveMap

Posted by: vlmpgh2 | February 21, 2011 4:00 PM | Report abuse

--*So, the analogy is flawed.*--

You are correct, but Klein is not in the business of constructing valid analogies.

I would add that in the private sector, unions do not contribute heavily to the campaign war chests of particular managers.

Posted by: msoja | February 21, 2011 4:00 PM | Report abuse

--*but private workers were given card check and the other labor-law reforms needed to create some semblance of fair elections.*--

How does "card check" make elections fair, Klein?

Posted by: msoja | February 21, 2011 4:03 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if Mr. Walker had proposed significant restrictions on the actions of the press in Wisconsin whether Joe Klein would agree because when the press criticizes the government, they really criticize the pubic that the government represents. When applied to the press, the slogan is completely absurd.

Posted by: windshouter | February 21, 2011 4:12 PM | Report abuse

--*Only five states do not allow collective bargaining for educators. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores: South Carolina, 50th, North Carolina, 49th, Georgia, 48th, Texas 47th, Virginia, 44th. Wisconsin, with its collective bargaining for teachers, is 2nd.*--

What about the kids who don't take the ACT or SAT tests?

"Wisconsin has the second highest high school graduation rate in the country for whites. In contrast, Wisconsin has the worst graduation rate (50th out of 50 states) for African Americans."

http://dpi.wi.gov/pld/adultliteracy.html

Is the Wisconsin teachers union a bunch of racists?

Posted by: msoja | February 21, 2011 4:35 PM | Report abuse

High school Graduation rate for African Americans in Wisconsin is 40%.

http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_baeo_t1.htm

Posted by: krazen1211 | February 21, 2011 4:50 PM | Report abuse

The private sector union members I know have taken cuts inpay, benefits etc. to keep the "waters" flowing.
My local taxes keep going up, up, up. Nothing to do with private unions..the public worker unions are on "my" payroll.

Posted by: njtou | February 21, 2011 5:37 PM | Report abuse

There is no causal relationship between SAT+ACT scores and collective bargaining rights. The top 6 states by the SAT+ACT scores are:

Iowa
Wisconsin
Minnesota
Kansas
Nebraska
North Dakota

Meanwhile, Florida requires collective bargaining and ranks 47th.

The relationship is quite clearly geographic.

Source (aforementioned): http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/states/USCHARTsat.html

Posted by: olivercrownwill | February 21, 2011 8:08 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, my union, SEIU, represents me as a public employee, and also represents private workers such as janitors and blackjack dealers. There is no division.

Posted by: Riggsveda | February 21, 2011 8:20 PM | Report abuse

All Kleins are not created equal. There are Kleins that are deeply analytical. And then there's Joe Klein.

Posted by: fredbrack | February 21, 2011 8:21 PM | Report abuse

You could up to 1962. And you can now in seeing the disparate power that public sector unions have that private industry unions don't. What a nonsensical posting from Ezra

Posted by: cprferry | February 21, 2011 8:27 PM | Report abuse

The "disparate power" that public unions have often comes from the fact that localities can't take the jobs overseas. However, they can choose to privatize. The delicious irony is that if Repubs succeed in both their cherished goals of destroying public unions and privatizing public services, those private companies could in fact unionize. Which would lead to the next Republican goal of outlawing unions.

Another benefit that unions have given to the public is to create wage earners that do not depend on food stamps or medicaid to survive. And yeah, I'm looking at *you,* Walmart.

Posted by: ciocia1 | February 21, 2011 8:34 PM | Report abuse

Wow... No difference? The public unions contribute money to the people that they will be negotiating with. That is called bribery in some circles. I also find it curious that no one brings up that FDR was against public unions. Like in Wisconsin now they can extort a government by stopping service until they get their way. This article makes me question whether Ezra is on the take in some way. There are huge checks against private unions and very little for public when their party is in power. We need to get all money out of politics.

Posted by: sphereya | February 21, 2011 8:34 PM | Report abuse

In fact you must separate them for this reason, they are too important to have a monopoly on the labor in the essential services that are the reason (capitalize that word in your head) for the government managment of those services. For instance, auto workers go on strike and corporations lose profit. But MTA workers go on strike and a people are crippled. And the laws against striking are not respected by unions; the "flu" epidemic ensues.

On the flip side, we the people can judge without undue coercion what's a fair salary; unions in the public sector exploit our vulnerability to get more than what's fair. The Wisconsin teachers get $100,000/year in benefits for a 7 month/year job (180 school days) and have virtually unsupervised tenure. It's absurd.

Your article is a well written reason that you want public sector unions, but not a justification for them, i.e., just because you want corporations to be weaker generally, that is not a justification for this system. Work for those laws directly and stop this which is a travesty for school children, the taxpayer, and social justice among workers nationally.

Posted by: Commenting1 | February 21, 2011 8:46 PM | Report abuse

"Only five states do not allow collective bargaining for educators. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores: South Carolina, 50th, North Carolina, 49th, Georgia, 48th, Texas 47th, Virginia, 44th. Wisconsin, with its collective bargaining for teachers, is 2nd. It helps when the state shows some respect for teachers and education.

Posted by: LillithMc"

Except that the mean SAT/ACT score have decreased over time as investment in teachers and their benefits have increased. And, likewise, the achievement gap between whites and blacks has remained flat over 30 years of constant expensive efforts to narrow it further.

Posted by: cprferry | February 21, 2011 8:50 PM | Report abuse

cprferry--What is your point? The point the origional poster made was that, contrary to current folklore, the absence of collective bargaining--and its protection of incompetent teachers--does not make education better. If it did, those places would be soaring in educational stats by now. The correlation is nonexistent.

Posted by: ciocia1 | February 21, 2011 9:06 PM | Report abuse

Collective bargaining - and its protection of incompetent teachers and endless costly concessions rewarded by the legislatures they buy off - doesn't make education better either. Else we'd see an increase in SAT/ACT scores, graduation rates or the racial achievement gap.


This exchange reminds me of the whole DC vouchers debate. The vouchers didn't live up to promises but they also displayed no worse results. The vouchers were offered at a third of the per-pupil expense of public schools and somehow considered called a failure. Since when was doing the same job at 1/3rd of the cost worse? Only could pro-government liberals come to such a conclusion.

Posted by: cprferry | February 21, 2011 9:22 PM | Report abuse

And wha ... ?!?!

Who in their right mind does not recognize card-check to be for the purposes of intimidation of workers voting? It's positively fascist.

Posted by: Commenting1 | February 21, 2011 10:22 PM | Report abuse

And wha ... ?!?!

Who in their right mind does not recognize card-check to be for the purposes of intimidation of workers voting? It's positively fascist.

Posted by: Commenting1 | February 21, 2011 10:23 PM | Report abuse

I am continually amazed at Klein's ignorance when it comes to US history and law. The Wagner Act of 1935--one of the seminal legislative acts in the history of the labor movement--differentiates between private and public sector unions. It's not a "theme".

Coming on the heels of the "Constitution has no binding power" and the "Constitution is over 100 years old" comments, Klein seems destined to continually reinforce the impression that he is ignorant about the very topics on which he offers commentary. Surely WaPo can find someone better than Klein to argue the perspective of the left. Maybe someone who has actually taken a history class?

Posted by: law_dog | February 22, 2011 12:07 AM | Report abuse

"Labor unions organize to get the best possible deal -- or what they think of as the best possible deal -- for their workers. This usually pits them against managers who want to get the best possible deal -- or what they see as the best possible deal -- for their institution."

And this misalignment of incentives is why unions should not exist. It is far better to align the incentives of the workers with the long term inventives of the organization.

The other false dichotomy here is that it is somehow suggesting that managers can't be fired or aren't as deserving of protection. How do managers get their pay? How do managers get fired? As you go higher in the corporation, at some point, your salary is defined by a compensation committee of the board of directors, elected by the owners.

The whole premise of unions is not relevant to the modern workplace, and completely irrelevant to the federal workforce.

Posted by: staticvars | February 22, 2011 12:57 AM | Report abuse

Ezra, you are so right. Chris Matthews made the ridiculous statement that it was about government employees vs. non-government employees. Totally false and ridiculous. All middle-class and working poor employees are in this fight together.

Let us not forget the history of a very dark past, when....

On May 2nd, 1933, the day after Labor day, Nazi groups occupied union halls and labor leaders were arrested. Trade Unions were outlawed by Adolf Hitler, while collective bargaining and the right to strike was abolished. This was the beginning of a consolidation of power by the fascist regime which systematically wiped out all opposition groups, starting with unions, liberals, socialists, and communists using Himmler’s state police.

Fast forward to America today, particularly Wisconsin. Governor Walker and the Republican/Tea Party members of the state legislature are attempting to pass a bill that would not only severely punish public unions (with exception for the police, fire, and state trooper unions that supported his campaign), but it would effectively end 50 years to the right of these workers to collectively bargain.

Collective bargaining is a process of voluntary negotiations between employers and trade unions aimed at reaching agreements which regulate working conditions. Collective agreements usually set out wage scales, working hours, training, health and safety, overtime, grievance mechanisms and rights to participate in workplace or company affairs. -wiki

http://newsjunkiepost.com/2011/02/20/may-1933-hitler-abolishes-unions/

Posted by: wdsoulplane | February 22, 2011 3:56 AM | Report abuse

I guess without Orzag to give the requisite talking points, Klein really is shown to be complete nitwit. Let's see if I can explain:

Take a successful company: Apple. Apple's designers are a big part of the firm's generating $60 billion in cash over the past decade. If Apple's designers want more money, they can form a union, demand wage increases, etc. Price of newest i-Whatever goes up. I might not buy it. But they're welcome to it.

Now, compare that to Montgomery County schools. Money spent on education in this county has doubled in 10 years, while enrollments and test scores have stayed pretty much flat. MCT have a union, and if they want more money from me, they'll do some kind of "ZOMG, have to close special ed," while keeping wages "competitive"--meaning teaches are still getting raises.

Now, mind, my kid'll be going to private school, one likely sponsored by a more established religion than the Church of Climate Change, so I don't benefit from MCT staying "competitive" with other bankrupt jurisdictions like PG or the District. However, if I choose not to pay "my fair share" in the form of a recent property tax hike, or otherwise "spread my wealth," the police will come to my house, bust the door down, shoot my dog, seize my new shiny Mac, and possibly attach a lien.

It's the coercive power of the state that makes public sector unions so unpalatable to the productive class, and why I'm enjoying Wisconsin... though I confess I'll enjoy next month's shutdown more.

Posted by: twarrior | February 22, 2011 5:44 AM | Report abuse

A lot of thoughts here about the wonderful things unions do to protect employees. Okay, fine.

Government employees back in the '70s used to work happily with the knowledge that although they made a little less than their civilians counterparts, that they had a very good retirement package to retire on. It looks like that's changed over the years, and now government workers are making more than their civ. counterparts AND have a very good retirement package.

So, on one hand, the unions have done a great job getting excellent benefits for their people. On the other hand, though, whoever allowed these great deals in the various states did a terrible job of negotiating, and now these benefits have to be pared back so the states can pay them when they're due.

So mostly what I've heard here is the feel-good comments about how wonderful unions are. But it looks to me like they're done their job too well and left the states stranded. Now even in the fact of looming major deficits including unsustainable retirement benefit costs, the unions are trying to KEEP these unsustainable packages. (I'm not talking about Wisconsin specifically here.)

I believe the fault for these budget shortfalls lies with the idiots at the various states who agreed to these overly generous benefits in the first place. And now it looks like mostly Republican governors are going to take the "blame" for trying to cut back on these benefits so their states don't go bankrupt.

What a mess!

It's too bad that Ezra only wrote about the wonderfulness of unions, and left out the part about having to fix the mess caused by being overly generous with these benefits in the first place.

That's what I expected, though. Ezra speaks and writes as an "authority" on many issues, and cleverly leaves out or minimizes selected information that may be supportive of the conservative opinion.

Posted by: JoeP55 | February 22, 2011 6:34 AM | Report abuse

Government employee unions are an abomination that should have NEVER occurred. 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. A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to obstruct the operations of government until their demands are satisfied. Such action looking toward the paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it is unthinkable and intolerable.

Posted by: illogicbuster | February 22, 2011 7:57 AM | Report abuse

Klein's rationale is without rigor. For the definitive analysis of the significant differences between collective bargaining in the public sector and that in the private sector, read today's column by David Brooks.

Posted by: hankmatt3 | February 22, 2011 8:04 AM | Report abuse

Klein's rationale is without rigor. For the definitive analysis of the significant differences between collective bargaining in the public sector and that in the private sector, read today's column by David Brooks.

Posted by: hankmatt3 | February 22, 2011 8:06 AM | Report abuse

"Labor unions organize to get the best possible deal...for their workers. This usually pits them against managers who want to get the best possible deal...for their institution."

True, but here's what liberals like Ezra either fail to realize, or do realize but determine they will attempt mislead people.

In a corporation, the workers and their unions generally have no say or power in determining who the 'managers' are...the shareholders and elected BOD do. (unless, of course, the company happens to be an auto company who received a Democrat-fashioned bailout that used taxpayer money to turn large amounts of ownership of the company over to the labor unions, and the managers they are dealing with are appointees of the Democrat leadership who structured the union-friendy bailout terms....but I digress)

In the public sector, you have an incestuous relationship between the labor unions on one side of the table, and the 'managers' on the other....who are elected officials, and whose elections can be heavily influenced by the very labor unions sitting on the other side of the negotiating table.

That you-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours relationship is what has allowed public sector union employees to continue to garner ever-increasing benefits and even wages, while their private union brethren have been having to give large concessions in order to retain jobs.

Just look at the states and cities who are facing the largest budget deficits, and then answer this question: has their leadership in recent years/decades been mostly Republican, or Democrat?

And there's your answer...

Posted by: dbw1 | February 22, 2011 10:31 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: SouthernWreck
The inmates aren't running the asylum, the crooked and powerful corporations are trying very assiduously to screw the working man, with GOP dupes complicit. How can these 'some-of-the-time' thinking conservos think this is a good thing? The middle class in America is going down fast.
*******************************************
I simply disagree. Public Unions are dangerous to the business of government. The business of government is supported by the taxpayers, mostly non-union workers (All unions add up to about 20%).
We all need to take a breath and determine why all of us have had to cut back our expenses. Is it fun? NO, but, under the current $14T debt we are facing today (rising every second), we have got to get our own houses in order. When public workers are making on average 20-30% more than the non-union taxpayers, it's hard not to think something is really wrong here.
Public unions are not in the countries best interest. X-Politicians have given in to union demands because they want their money and votes, not because it is best for America.
I live in a Right To Work State. Anyone that wants to work should be able to without undue requirements to join a union. Yes, unions have been good at times, but, just look around you. Companies, that must make a profit to stay in business are forced to employ union workers @ 4/3rds of what the employee makes. If the employee doesn't like the politics of the Boss', seeing their dues spent to gain political favor and overseas organizing to compete with the American Union Worker, the union employee has no say. Unions and corporations have both been on the side of abuses in the workplace. Corporations want the best for the least, but, they also know that the best employees will need to be rewarded to retain their services because they can go elsewhere if they are not being compensated accordingly.
You see, as never worked through a union, I was taught that even if you are digging a ditch; if you dig more ditch than the fella next to you, it won't be long before you are outside that ditch watching the others dig it. Individual responsibility is what has made this country great. I just don't see it as much anymore. Instead, so many are looking to a corrupt government to bail them out. (And, yes, I thought Wall Street firms that helped to create this whole we are all in should have been allowed to go under based on their own risks and behavior).

SILENT NO MORE!

Posted by: leasador | February 22, 2011 11:53 AM | Report abuse

What twarrior and many others do not understand is that comparing a shiny new Mac to a student is very misguided. Students are not products. To compare education pratices to business practices is misguided. It is a shame that much of the American public needs to be reminded of this important fact. These are our children. Just who do you want teaching your children?

Posted by: vpientka | February 22, 2011 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Mr Klein.
Public Employee Unions are paid for by the tax payers. I guess Mr Klein you had not realized this little tidbit?

Posted by: yokohlman | February 22, 2011 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Another thing that makes me very sad, is that prior to the financial meltdown created by Wall Street and the Banksters, the public never had a word to say about public worker pensions. Now that their 401K's and pensions are depleted, they want the same for the unions. Very sad, America. I guess the Banksters and the Wall Street thieves aren't the only mean, greedy folks out there.

Posted by: vpientka | February 22, 2011 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Did you know that an unemployed worker in Wisconsin needs to pay 12% income tax on their unemployment benefits in order to pay for the relatively high salaries and benefits of the public workers in that state.

FACT!

The public taxpayers are too weak in the negotiation with public unions who know how to buy off political support in ways that taxpayers never can. Enough is enough.

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 22, 2011 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Ezra - I know that its tough for you to comprehend US History, but did you know that the original American Progressive Himself FDR was FIRMLY against unions and collective bargaining for government workers!

FACT!

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | February 22, 2011 4:56 PM | Report abuse

"If private-sector unions negotiate higher wages that lead to higher corporate costs, those costs are passed on to the consumer."

Ezra, those costs passed on to the consumer are done after the consumer CHOOSES to do business with said corporation. Taxes, last time I checked, weren't voluntary. Neither are union dues, btw.

Why don't you lefties understand this? More proof that liberalism is a mental disorder.

Posted by: petmal1212 | February 22, 2011 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Let's have a Reagan moment: Don't give in to the union bandits. Instead, fire the strikers and hire replacements. CASE CLOSED!

Posted by: SickandTired2 | February 22, 2011 5:05 PM | Report abuse

No difference?
When private employers sit down across the table from unions you have negotiations; when politicians sit down across the table from unions you have a Conga line.

Private sector unions are all but gone too. You can't really call auto workers private sector anymore. They are buoyed up by tariffs and outright support by government. Steelworkers are protected by tariff (so we all pay). Longshoremen, railway workers, do a little digging and you always find government involvement.

Posted by: thestalkinghorse | February 22, 2011 5:13 PM | Report abuse

The Myth:

Only five states do not allow collective bargaining for educators. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores: South Carolina, 50th, North Carolina, 49th, Georgia, 48th, Texas 47th, Virginia, 44th. Wisconsin, with its collective bargaining for teachers, is 2nd. It helps when the state shows some respect for teachers and education.

Is exposed as pure bunk here:
http://studentactivism.net/2011/02/20/sat-act-unions/

Posted by: SayWhat4 | February 22, 2011 5:19 PM | Report abuse

Who is this guy that knows so much and understands so little. I would suggest that he needss to go find a real job that requires more than just pontificating.

Of course the rights of public employees are different from the rights of private workers, in one case they strike against private ownership, and in the other they strike against democracy and the electorate. If we do not control public sector unions, they will control our government, period.

Posted by: normsti000 | February 22, 2011 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Ezra the problem is the public sector unions are negotiating with themselves for pension, benefits and wages. They have learned how to get multiple pensions known as double dipping and early retirement on the backs of the tax payers. This is what led FDR to speak out against them.

Posted by: wbindner | February 22, 2011 5:31 PM | Report abuse

The problem with any public sector union is that the employees (union workers) get to pick the ones who pay their salary, effectively they get to pick their bosses (State elected officials). So the bosses who promise the most tend to get elected. It doesn't work that way in the private sector. Employees do not get to pick their boss when they choose to work for a private company.

If you want higher wages, you don't get to vote in a new boss who promises them. You have to ask for them based on the merit of your work or go work for a different company who is willing to pay you more. But in government there are no other employers. You either work for the State or you don't (or a different government entity (local or Federal)). The point is, public employees are there to serve the public good and are already covered by a number of laws that protect them from unfair treatment. No public employee should be allowed to unionize and subsequently hold the public hostage when they decide their already lavish compensation is not lavish enough. Period.

Posted by: tomwingo70 | February 22, 2011 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Unions are, on the whole, good for the economy, in my opinion.

In fact I would like to see this attempt at restriction taken to the Supreme Court to permanently NEGATE its plausibility.

Posted by: DGJeep | February 22, 2011 5:42 PM | Report abuse

EK, you wrote: And let's let go of the idea that the public is on the hook for unions made up of government workers but not for unions made up of janitors in Las Vegas hotels. If private-sector unions negotiate higher wages that lead to higher corporate costs, those costs are passed on to the consumer. If public unions negotiate higher wages that lead to higher taxes, those taxes are paid for by the taxpayer.

This is not well-argued. If prices go up in Vegas, one can not go to Vegas. If taxes go up, one can ... ? Earn less out of spite?

Vote in politicians who promise lower taxes? Ah. Yes, that's precisely what one can do. *There* is the element of choice that makes your parallel work.

You're watching a free-market response to public unions, and you might as well rail against Adam Smith's Invisible Hand.

Posted by: TheotherJeff | February 22, 2011 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Everyone seems to be missing the BIG picture here. The Clinton – Bush economic policies were horrendous for America!!! NAFTA, Globalization, Repeal of Glass Steagall, and Real Estate collapse. Our country suffers from 16 years of BAD economic policies.

Now that Wall Street gambled away everyone’s pension money, WI wants to balance their books and blame teachers for the mismanagement of our economy. It’s bad enough that the tax cheat Timmy G bailed out his friends on Wall Street. Now Republicans want to put the nail in the coffin for all of us by busting unions. Then we can all compete with GUEST WORKERS at half our pay. So you see not one person went to jail and now teachers get blamed for deficits that Clinton and Bush caused.

Well at least Warren Buffet got his Medal of Freedom from President Obama because after all, if not for Uncle Sam ole Warren would have been eating at McDonalds for Thanksgiving. Call me if you want to learn something!!!!

Posted by: coastie2 | February 22, 2011 5:42 PM | Report abuse

There are consequences to being too greedy. When private unions bankrupt a company, then they are out of a job. Pensions for public unions are bankrupting states and getting benefits/pay greater than the private sector. They should "share the wealth" as the Wisconsin Governor will have them do, so he won't have to fire their co-workers.

Raising taxes on taxpayers that are getting less benefits/pay is unacceptable.

Obama said "I won" when Republicans were concerned about spending in 2009. Well, these Republican Governors won and they were clear during their campaigns what they were going to do when elected.

The Democrats are attempting to use mob rule, not democracy, to get their way. These Democrats that are shutting down state governments are pathetic hypocrites. This will help the Republicans in 2012.

Posted by: poppaduc | February 22, 2011 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Klein, as has Paul Krugman and virtually all of the talking heads I've heard on TV, fails to note the moral hazard that is inherent in having politicans set benefits for public employees. For years, venal politicans have, with electoral impunity, given what seem to be "costless" favors to unions in the form of guaranteed and often extravagant retirement and health care benefits, to be paid by future generations of taxpayers. The politicans get re-elected with union support,and everyone is happy. This is why Wisconsin wants to end collective bargaining for benefits. Salary is not the problem. An alternative would be having an independent board deal with benefits. It is far too easy for pols and unions to pull the wool over the eyes of an electorate that does not understand pension accounting. FIgures lie and liars figure, as they say.

Hell of a way to run a welfare system.

Posted by: Wilburpup1 | February 22, 2011 5:54 PM | Report abuse

Klein is now making up his own debate to justify the protests. Worse, he argues that public and private union negotiations have the identical public impact on the cost of goods: "If private-sector unions negotiate higher wages that lead to higher corporate costs, those costs are passed on to the consumer. If public unions negotiate higher wages that lead to higher taxes, those taxes are paid for by the taxpayer." Here's a memo to Klein: the public are both consumers and taxpayers. Where they occupy the role of consumer, there is a deliberate choice if and how to spend their money. As a taxpayer, there is no choice in how to spend that money: they must pay their taxes. The public can opt out of contributing to the janitor's salary but cannot opt out of paying the teacher's salary. It's really not that complicated.

Posted by: vectorandraster | February 22, 2011 6:06 PM | Report abuse

I'll accept the conclusion that private and public unions are the same when you show me how a state can relocate to avoid having to deal with a bad union and how a state can go out of business if its labor costs becomes unaffordable.

Posted by: rayinmn | February 22, 2011 6:14 PM | Report abuse


If you can read this thank a teacher. If you know one of the many who cannot, tell them to thank a teacher also! If it was not for teachers, them who cannot read may not have learned any trade at all. By example teachers are teaching new trades like lying, to acquire time off with pay for being mad and cheating, getting doctors to write excused absence notes so they can get time off with pay! Then there is a lesson to be learned from the senators such as being derelict of your duty to the people you represent is good government behavior. Come to think of it being derelict of duty is one of the lessons the teachers are recently teaching. No doubt these Democrat Senators must have all got A+’s from that class and they too want to get paid more for their wages than them who they serve. This is the kind of learning center I want my offspring to attend so they can get a real education. Sign them up for: Better Living Ethics Using Fraud 101 or
Modern Thug Tactics 101 so they can become future Democratic Senators or
Practical Lying 101
Then on the other hand let’s fire them all an put honest people in their places servants we can trust

Posted by: BillyHobe | February 22, 2011 6:24 PM | Report abuse

Who's representing the taxpayers? The Democrat who just got elected with union money and (called in sick) manpower??
Pardon me while I laugh out loud.
FDR was right. No public unions.

Posted by: backsds | February 22, 2011 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Who's representing the taxpayers? The Democrat who just got elected with union money and (called in sick) manpower??
Pardon me while I laugh out loud.
FDR was right. No public unions.

Posted by: backsds | February 22, 2011 6:30 PM | Report abuse

Your basic premise is flawed from the start. Public employees work for an employer who has a monopoly on public service. If I don't like the services provided by my state and local government, I'd don't have the right to buy them elsewhere or stop buying them. I'm stuck. In contrast, if I don't like the product or service provided by a private employer, I can chose to go elsewhere. For example, I can buy a Toyota product instead of one from General Motors. I can fly Southwest instead of Continental.

So, public employee unions can force up wages from an entity which can force up costs - i.e. taxes - for which we as consumers must subsidize and support. For this reason, FDR and others who supported private unions in the 1930's recognized that they should not be applied to the public sector.

Further, your list of factors contributing to private unions' decline noticeably left out their destructive effect on businesses they organize and industries they dominate. Workers have noticed this and are increasingly unwilling to entrust their economic futures, in competitive markets, to union bosses - who don't invest money, develop products, innovate production methods or otherwise contribute to a firm's success. Public or private unions are not declining because of the evils of employers - they are just losing the argument.

Posted by: gjhuff1 | February 22, 2011 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Ezra Klein all but lost most of his credibility with his involvement with the 'JournOlist' group.

I am surprised that the WaPo did not fire him then. Moreover, his last article questioning the accuracy of Wisconsin's budget woes was a complete mischaracterization. In fact, that same night, on the Rachel Maddow show, Maddow, took this liberal meme and ran with it, unabashed.

Of course, Ezra is a paid commentator for MSNBC. It's almost like: Center for American Progress' (ThinkProgress Blog) gets dirt, Klein repeats it in his opinion pieces and MSNBC, where he offers opinion, carries forward the story.

Posted by: Polemical | February 22, 2011 6:39 PM | Report abuse

Mr Klein is either ignorant of market forces or willfully misleading. I don't think he's stupid, so I'm guessing it's the latter. When he writes; "If private-sector unions negotiate higher wages that lead to higher corporate costs, those costs are passed on to the consumer. If public unions negotiate higher wages that lead to higher taxes, those taxes are paid for by the taxpayer." he ignores an obvious truth. If private sector unions negotiate overly beneficial terms causing higher costs consumers can simply choose to purchase their products from a lower priced competitor, which can ultimately lead to the company going out of business. So their demands must be tempered by market forces or they will ultimately pay the price. However, for public unions this dynamic is not in play. Customers (taxpayers) cannot choose a competitor, because there is none. And public sector unions need not worry about their employer going out of business so their demands are unfettered. The result is essentially unbridled greed and a sense of entitlement, as we are seeing in Madison. So while Mr. Klein argues that you can't seperate public and private sector unions his inablity to address this most basic difference undercuts his entire argument.

Posted by: MikeG1832 | February 22, 2011 6:51 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, absolutely you seperate them. Private unions negotiate with managers/owners that are NOT beholden to them. Public unions negotiate with politicians that are beholden to them. Public unions "bosses" are politicans that used union dues to get elected and therefore that game is rigged...

Posted by: idgafkurt | February 22, 2011 7:05 PM | Report abuse

Wrong! Public Sector Unions spent more than $171,000,000 influencing the 2010 mid term election (all on the liberal left). The problem is THAT'S TAXPAYER MONEY being funneled back to buy special favor from the politician who then is held hostage by the Union. That's as corrupt as it gets! This issue will expose how deeply Barack Hussien Obama is in the Union's pockets.. this should be fun to watch.

Posted by: rhipp01 | February 22, 2011 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Klein simply doesn't know what he is talking about. He states that casino workers negotiating higher wages that are passed on to customers is the same as public sector unions negotiating higher wages that result in higher taxes paid by the consumer (i.e. taxpayer). Big differnce is that public sector unions are a monopoly whereas the private sector casino customer i.e. gambler can choose another establishment where costs are lower. Also in private sector bargaining both parties have different and competing agendas that must be balanced. With public sector unions the parties, the unions and the politicians they support a literally in bed together with the only party being screwed being the tax paying sclubs in the private sector.

Posted by: jkk1943 | February 22, 2011 7:11 PM | Report abuse

How flawed is the logic - let me count the ways...

Public sector unions are not negotiating with their bosses, they are negotiating with their employees - that is the difference you wish to ignore. The "boss" they are negotiating with just got elected in part to a million dollar contribution from the public sector unions. Do public sector unions wish they hadn't mentioned during the last election they are some of the largest donors to political campaigns. It's OK, people like Ezra Klein have already forgotten!

If janitors in Las Vegas hotels decide they need to be paid ridiculous amounts of money, I'm not going to Las Vegas. How does that relate to the public schools in my town? I should be able to choose whether to pay taxes? Hmmmmm...?

The weekend, pensions, safety rules,... but what have unions contributed in the last 50 years? Oh yes, the monstrosity of government waste called Obamacare - no thanks.

There will be no resurgence of private unions until unions determine they want to contribute to private enterprise. As long as they define themselves in opposition and never make a positive contribution they will not grow, except by government mandate. And that doesn't work in a global economy. Look to Europe where unions actually contribute to their company's success, not public unions in the US where they only survive due to de facto monopoly.

Posted by: mnemos | February 22, 2011 7:29 PM | Report abuse

The problem with Klein, Krugman and all the Jornolist pundits is that they are either terribly uninformed or they purposefully slant thier stories by excluding important facts that don'e support their positions. FDR who signed the Wagner Act that guaranteed the rights of private sector unions to organize to bargain collectively and even to strike to achieve their goals. FDR specifically excluded public sector unions from the protection of federal law because he correctly believed that public sector unions could not strike against the public interest and that the very act of bargaining in the public sector would impinge on the ability of elected officials to carry out their duties. This principle is no less valid in FDR's day than it is now. Public sector unions pour millions into Democratic Party coffers and are rewarded with sweet heart deals from the politicians they buy, er I mean support. This results in public sector employees earning wages and benefits far in excess of the private sector whose taxes support them. The public gets this, no thanks to the DNC dopplegangers at NYT and WPO.

Posted by: jkk1943 | February 22, 2011 7:38 PM | Report abuse

Walker has a clear record as Milwaukee County Executive and pulled no punches about his intent to restore control over their budgets to local governments and school districts throughout the state.

You can translate this all you want to "making war on public workers" or "union busting" if it spins your wheels for you. But what he is proposing is necessary to correct a monstrous imbalance between public and private sectors as a result of the corrupt bargain between public employee unions and politicians they helped get elected.

Is the Governor to follow the mandate he was given by the millions of voters or cave in the the noisy rabble that show up in Madison? He learned his lesson in Milwaukeeh This is democracy at work...as Obama arrogantly stated when it suited his purposes: "Elections have consequences." Sobeit.

The "right to organize" is a logical extension of the actual "right to associate" and "freedom of speech and assembly."

What is not a right is the requirement that states and local governments engage in collective bargaining. What is not a "right" and is the quintessential "wrong" is the requirement that government employees submit to the extortion of union dues as a condition of employment.

And equally wrong is the corrupt alliance between public employee unions and those they support for election and then sit down with at the "bargaining" table to collect their just desserts at the public expense. The corruption is not the sole source of government bankruptcy but it's a powerful contributor.

Posted by: CincinnatiRIck | February 22, 2011 7:47 PM | Report abuse

Ezra:
“And let's let go of the idea that the public is on the hook for unions made up of government workers but not for unions made up of janitors in Las Vegas hotels. If private-sector unions negotiate higher wages that lead to higher corporate costs, those costs are passed on to the consumer. If public unions negotiate higher wages that lead to higher taxes, those taxes are paid for by the taxpayer. If public or private unions negotiate work rules that stifle innovation or impede good service, the public bears the brunt of that, too.”

----------------------------------------------------------------

Good God why is this kid still prattling on and somehow collecting a check as a journalist. What concocted, twisted reasoning skills this guy has! Ezra, the only way not to be on the hook for public sector unions is to move to another state! If Joe Smutz’s pizza parlor wants to pay his janitors 50 grand a year resulting in an all cheese pizza costing 30$ all I have to do is find a pizza parlor where the owner does his own cleaning up and get the pizza for 10$. Ezra, who do I go to in order to get fire protection service from a competing fire department?

There is no place for unions in the public sector. Even FDR knew that. There is nobody at the table that has the taxpayer as their prime interest. The politicians want support at election time and the union wants the goods, they both set on the same side of the table. That is not negotiation that’s conspiracy to commit extortion.

Burn the public unions to the ground, plow the ground and throw salt on it.

Posted by: mogar | February 22, 2011 7:49 PM | Report abuse

I guess Ezra is a smart guy.

Therefore, I know he is aware of the GIGANTIC gaping holes in his propaganda piece.

Point 1: When union workers negotiate with private companies, there is a win/lose dynamic that sharpens the negotiations. All things being equal, every additional dollar spent on compensation costs subtracts from profit.

Point 2: In the public sector, the union is "negotiating" with politicians whom they have purchased with campaign contributions. I remember the feckless Jon Corzine giving a speech to public union workers saying that he was going to "fight for them." Um...what? Can you imagine Neutron Jack Welch making that speech to a GE union?

Point 3: If I live in City X, then I am forced to consume certain services provided by monopoly public unions, especially if I am not rich enough to send my kids to private schools. In the private sector, I can elect to fly on say, Southwest Airlines, or buy a car made by someone other than the UAW.

Point 4: Credible studies show that government workers make more than their private sector peers, when pensions and benefits are included. Why should the private sector bear both sides of the recession - paying higher taxes to support public unions while suffering the hit to their pay and retirement accounts?

Point 5: Why is it OK for the White House to provide astroturf support for the WI protests, but it is horrible if the Koch Brothers or Freedom Works to help the Tea Party?

Point 6: Why is awful if the House Republicans to demand real spending cuts to fund the continuing resolution buy OK for Democrats to leave town to prevent a vote that would save money for the taxpayers?

Posted by: JohnBoy3 | February 22, 2011 7:56 PM | Report abuse

When you look at incentives, there are huge differences between public and private unions. Public union members work, in essence, for a company that can't declare bankruptcy or go out of business. They have no incentive to limit their demands. Union members working for a private company know that their continued employment depends on the company being a going concern. They also know that if a company goes into bankruptcy, a judge may throw out agreements they have made with management. Management at a private company has an incentive to resist union demands for wages and benefits: profit. Where is there a similar incentive for politicians?
Klein has a rich history of arguing that the obvious isn't true, but this column takes the cake.

Posted by: invention13 | February 22, 2011 8:20 PM | Report abuse

There is a way around this problem for Walker: simply separate the Collective Bargaining portion of the Budget Bill from the Budget itself. It is only the budget that requirers the quorum. In this way, a simple majority can pass the Public Employee Collective Bargaining Bill. This would leave only the Budget remaining...which Democrats insist is not the issue. So they can come home and everyone is happy....including the clear majority of Wisconsonites who understood Walker's commitment and voted him into office based on those plans. This entire matter was decided last November and democracy requires that the voter's wishes be honored.

Posted by: CincinnatiRIck | February 22, 2011 8:21 PM | Report abuse

Public sector unions feed off the taxpayers and help elect their own "bosses". They are no way comparable to private sector unions, contrary to what Klein imagines.

Posted by: joelammers2000 | February 22, 2011 8:32 PM | Report abuse

Ezra Klein can't pass eighth grade US history. Here he claims that the Constitution is "100 years old" and that "nobody can understand it."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPNe6-f4b-Y

Klein thinks there is no difference between a West Virginia coal miner union member, and Women's Liberal Arts College Philosphy professor, who is in the faculty union.

Posted by: cpameetingbook | February 22, 2011 8:38 PM | Report abuse

The self proclaimed boy wonderkind Klein has enlightened us again with the wealth of knowledge that he has gathered in his 26 years. How does a guy who has accomplished nothing in his life other thsn writing a blog online rate getting a column in the Post. To listen to him pontificating and often repeating and citing "facts" which have no basis in reality is unbelievable. I can see where he fits on MSNBC but I expect more out of a once great newspaper like the Post. This expert who gained part of his higher education at that renowned institution, the University of California at Santa Cruz, has no clue as to what he is talking about. I think he must have taken it literally when they told him it was higher education as that campus certainly has a high percentage of their students who spend their time getting high. Why anyone would listen to anything this guy has to say is a mystery to me.

Posted by: RW24 | February 22, 2011 8:41 PM | Report abuse

Public sector unions, like higher strata of the tax predator ruling class, do tend to monopolize the provision of services that are "essential" and/or lucrative. In the case of public sector unions, education and protection of person and property (in the case of the higher levels of the ruling class, money and credit, banking, healthcare, national defense).

They don't actually produce any of the services well, with constant failures (dropout rates, 9/11, etc. etc.). They don't show the flexibility or innovation of a market provider of a service or good. Their production usually creates enormous other social costs, e.g. state schooling's being the central engine of residential racial segregation (and hence racial segregation of economic opportunity) in America. (Indeed schooling in America appears to be a modern day slave trade where black kids are rounded up and sold to educrat unions for (mainly Democratic Party) campaign contributions.)

But the predators latch onto essential services in part so any threat to their monopoly or demands for more tax funding can be met with threats to stop providing the service temporarily, leaving the community vulnerable to crime, fire, (even more) illiterate children etc. The frequent use of this threat alone is a reason to abolish not just public sector unions but public sector jobs and institutions.

Posted by: BruceMajor | February 22, 2011 9:45 PM | Report abuse

If you want to kill a vampire, you hammer an oak stake through its heart. The heart of the Democratic Party is the unions - both public and private sector. The public sector unions are the dominant group in the Democratic Party, and have been for at least 4 decades. So, if you are a Republican and you have a temporary legislative majority (ALL majorities are temporary), your mission is to kill the public sector unions. When you hammer in that oak stake, you should expect the vampire to fight back with everything it has. Thus, the events of the last few weeks are no surprise.

Posted by: andrewp111 | February 22, 2011 10:08 PM | Report abuse

"The difference, as Joe Klein puts it, is that "Industrial unions are organized against the might and greed of ownership. Public employees unions are organized against the might and greed ... of the public?"

Will wonders never cease? Joe Klein is actually right about something. I thought I would never see the day. Unfortunately, Ezra Klein has maintained his record for being 100% wrong on every single issue.

You need to read what your heroes Franklin Roosevelt and George Meany said about public employee unions, Ezra. Joe must have.

Posted by: DarrelB | February 22, 2011 10:39 PM | Report abuse

As usual, Klein is way off the mark.

Let me put this very simply for those subject to believe Klein's drivel:

The unions have totally corrupted the Democrat Party. Period. Their influence in the Democrat Party is a total perversion of what our Founding Fathers set forth in the Constitution, and even the patron saint of liberals ("progressives/socialists") FDR, warned against allowing public employees to unionize.

Labor unions have destroyed the US steel industry, the US auto industry, have sent hundreds of thousands of jobs overseas, and are bankrupting our cities, states, and our country.

Federal laws have been enacted to negate the need for labor unions. They are no longer a force to protect workers, but a greedy, power-hungry entity, bent on bullying the US into becoming a Socialist state. We can do just fine without them.

It is an indisputable fact that te states with strong right to work laws are in much better shape financially than the heavily unionized states. It's a no-brainer. Unions are job killers.

Posted by: samadams25 | February 22, 2011 11:39 PM | Report abuse

As usual, Klein is way off the mark.

Let me put this very simply for those subject to believe Klein's drivel:

The unions have totally corrupted the Democrat Party. Period. Their influence in the Democrat Party is a total perversion of what our Founding Fathers set forth in the Constitution, and even the patron saint of liberals ("progressives/socialists") FDR, warned against allowing public employees to unionize.

Labor unions have destroyed the US steel industry, the US auto industry, have sent hundreds of thousands of jobs overseas, and are bankrupting our cities, states, and our country.

Federal laws have been enacted to negate the need for labor unions. They are no longer a force to protect workers, but a greedy, power-hungry entity, bent on bullying the US into becoming a Socialist state. We can do just fine without them.

It is an indisputable fact that the states with strong right to work laws are in much better shape financially than the heavily unionized states. It's a no-brainer. Unions are job killers.

Posted by: samadams25 | February 22, 2011 11:40 PM | Report abuse

Another insipid post by Ezra Klein. Government workers are the servents not the masters. The Constitution recognizes the people as sovereign, but its like, over a hundred years old and stuff.

Posted by: wildbillcuster | February 22, 2011 11:58 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Klein demonstrates a surprising level of naivety regarding markets and pricing. He argues that there is little difference between public and private unions because in either circumstance the union negotiates "against managers who want to get the best possible deal." Reality is that skilled negotiators representing unions and the private sector routinely negotiate their most lucrative contracts with government entities.

The reason that the area around Washington DC has experienced dramatic growth in in the past few decades is because corporations of all stripes are so eager to obtain new and even more lucrative contracts from the ultimate mark - Uncle Sugar.

Bureaucrats at all levels of government rarely negotiate from a position of strength and they have no incentive to maximize taxpayers interests. If this were false there would be numerous examples one could readily cite in which government entities had gotten the best of the other side. There are thousands of union / government negotiations conducted throughout the United States each year, yet I've never read a news story about a union being taken to the cleaners by a hard nosed municipality or state government.

Mr. Klein also states that if "private-sector unions negotiate higher wages that lead to higher corporate costs, those costs are passed on to the consumer."

A dollar is always a dollar. The outcome is the same when the price of product X increases by a dollar if the reason for the price increase is the desire for higher profit or the firm is passing on higher labor costs. Either way, product X is now a dollar higher.

So what keeps firms that aren't saddled with higher labor costs from raising the price of their product or service simply because management unilaterally decides they wish to increase their profit margin from 15% to say 20%? The obvious answer is that firms understand or soon learn that market share for most goods is extremely sensitive to price. The notion that firms can simply increase prices in order to increase profits is preposterous. So if firms can't pass on higher profits at will, how is the mechanism different when the input is higher labor costs?

Mr. Klein's logic and reasoning is neither.

Posted by: thephil | February 23, 2011 12:17 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Klein demonstrates a surprising level of naivety regarding markets and pricing. He argues that there is little difference between public and private unions because in either circumstance the union negotiates "against managers who want to get the best possible deal." Reality is that skilled negotiators representing unions and the private sector routinely negotiate their most lucrative contracts with government entities.

The reason that the area around Washington DC has experienced dramatic growth in in the past few decades is because corporations of all stripes are so eager to obtain new and even more lucrative contracts from the ultimate mark - Uncle Sugar.

Bureaucrats at all levels of government rarely negotiate from a position of strength and they have no incentive to maximize taxpayers interests. If this were false there would be numerous examples one could readily cite in which government entities had gotten the best of the other side. There are thousands of union / government negotiations conducted throughout the United States each year, yet I've never read a news story about a union being taken to the cleaners by a hard nosed municipality or state government.

Mr. Klein also states that if "private-sector unions negotiate higher wages that lead to higher corporate costs, those costs are passed on to the consumer."

A dollar is always a dollar. The outcome is the same when the price of product X increases by a dollar if the reason for the price increase is the desire for higher profit or the firm is passing on higher labor costs. Either way, product X is now a dollar higher.

So what keeps firms that aren't saddled with higher labor costs from raising the price of their product or service simply because management unilaterally decides they wish to increase their profit margin from 15% to say 20%? The obvious answer is that firms understand or soon learn that market share for most goods is extremely sensitive to price. The notion that firms can simply increase prices in order to increase profits is preposterous. So if firms can't pass on higher profits at will, how is the mechanism different when the input is higher labor costs?

Mr. Klein's logic and reasoning is neither.

Posted by: thephil | February 23, 2011 12:18 AM | Report abuse

Ezra, you're being disingenuous. I'll take just three of your more blatant misrepresentations and show how far they are from the mark.

1) Bosses can easily fire workers. Sorry, not any longer. In the private sector, "wrongful termination" is a phrase no boss wants to hear; it's lawsuit talk. And in the public sector, civil service laws make firing employees unthinkable, union or no union. Meanwhile, employees can quit whenever they want, leaving their employer in the lurch. That's the real world, not your fantasyland from some Charles Dickens novel.

2) Private sector pay raises are paid by the consumer. True to an extent, but only until the consumer feels he's paying too much for too little value. The consumer then takes his custom elsewhere, and the private employee and his boss are now both out of work. This doesn't work in government. Are you going to quit going to the DMV to get your license renewed because the service there is awful? You wish, I wish, we all wish. But the DMV is a monopoly, so we all end up there anyway.

3) The unions invented the weekend. What a crock. Go read Genesis "and on the seventh day, God rested." What union negotiated that break for the Almighty? You can be an atheist and still admit that feudal serfs of medieval Europe were given Sunday off so they could go to mass. Weekends are older than the English language, not some modern-day present to us from the AFL-CIO.

How's that outline for your novel coming along, by the way? Looks like you've already started writing fiction.

Posted by: Crooktooth | February 23, 2011 12:58 AM | Report abuse

Compare the salaries and benefits of unionized public school teachers with those of non-union private schools .... they are much HIGHER. Compare the student scores of public schools to private schools ... they are much LOWER. Hmmmmm.

Posted by: usr105 | February 23, 2011 6:24 AM | Report abuse

Klein is either an unserious person or a simple liar.

The state can come to my house and take my money at gunpoint. The Bellagio cannot. There's your difference.

Posted by: getjiggly2 | February 23, 2011 4:58 PM | Report abuse

What fun is is to see the Right praising Franklin Delano Roosevelt! Even George Meany. And their words on how wonderful private-sector unions are will surely come back to haunt them. Reminder: you give yourselves away when you call the Democratic Party the "Democrat Party."

Posted by: MaryFloyd | February 23, 2011 11:27 PM | Report abuse

Thank you.Not.

John F#!?ing Kennedy for letting Federal Employees Unionize !!! In 1962? So, now we know who stuffed the Taxpayers. So, he could consolidate/secure his Campaign funds.... ?

FDR DID NOT! I Repeat DID NOT! support Unionized Government Workers!

It should be illegal. They are the definition of Fascism. They are NOT Democratic! They have NO Competition in the Workforce competing with them. They are Closed Shop, On The Waterfront type organizations. They don't carry guns, they carry Lawyers.

My Point GREECE... where Government Unionized Workers all of them Closed Shop, wrecked and Gangsterized the whole Country and Economy.

People there have polled 60% against they're own Civil Workers to LOOSE they're jobs, not just take pay cuts!

We need Honest, Democratic, Competitive, Unions in the Free Market. Better Work, Better pay.

The Taxpayer is the Boss, and he knows a Crooked Deal when he and she see's it.

P.S.How about Fixing The Wall Street and Insurance Problem, while your at it.
Ie., Glass-Stegall and McCarran-Fergussan Acts.

Goodnight and goodluck.
lorenzoX

Posted by: enzolox | February 24, 2011 6:47 AM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge washingtonpost.com's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.




characters remaining

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company