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Posted at 1:33 PM ET, 02/23/2011

On and on and on Wisconsin

By Charles Lane

Harold Meyerson has promoted me from Scrooge-like to Kevorkianesque. Awesome! But let's stick to the issue at hand. That issue, very simply, is whether collective bargaining for employees of state and local government is in the public interest. I say no. It's bad economics: As years of experience have demonstrated, public-sector unions raise the cost of vital government services while reducing efficiency and innovation. And it's bad democracy: Collective bargaining, by its nature, moves public policy decision-making out of the legislature and into a smoke-filled room -- where an interested party, unelected and unaccountable, has undue leverage.

Harold says yes, for two reasons: His first claim is that public sector workers have a fundamental right to collective bargaining -- but such a "right" does not exist under American law. His second, and weightier, argument is that the public sector unions are the linchpin of the Democratic Party and progressive politics more generally. Without their get-out-the-vote drives, especially in minority communities, a whiter, richer electorate will dismantle "civil rights, environmental reform, infrastructure development, financial regulation, consumer protection, and on and on."

The first thing to note is that, unlike the "fundamental right" claim, this is not a principled argument. It hinges on the fact that public-sector unionism leads to support for progressive causes. Presumably, if the unions had a different policy agenda, then we would have to be against collective bargaining. In any case, it is a straw man. Harold warns of the public sector unions' "abrupt absence" from politics. But Walker's bill would not deprive any employees of their fundamental right to free association. They could still band together, pool their dues money, help get out the vote, and lobby the legislature on the issues that concern them -- to include their own pay and benefits as well as the rest of the agenda Harold supports. They just could not count on the state government apparatus to do the organization and dues-collection work for them.

Think I'm setting up a straw man? Well, there's no public-sector collective bargaining in Virginia, and there never has been. But the state has two Democratic Senators, elected the nation's first black governor, went for Barack Obama handily in 2008 -- and pays its public employees pretty decently. Unlike the public-union-dominated county in Maryland where I live, where only union-endorsed, union-financed Democrats have a chance to win public office and voter turnout is on the wane, the state of Virginia is a model of a vigorous, competitive two-party system.

Think Virginia public employee unions have no voice? They have the same voice as everyone else, maybe more. Look at this discussion of "Lobby Day 2011" from the Virginia Educational Assocation's Web site. Meyerson says unions are needed more than ever in a post-Citizens United world; but that decision liberated unions as well as corporations to spend on politics.

Then there's the question of whether unions use their power for the actual, as opposed to rhetorical, benefit of minorities and the poor -- once they're done turning them out to vote for union-backed candidates on Election Day. Many of us who have witnessed the tooth-and-nail teacher union battle against public charter schools would say: Not necessarily. Another example: Union rules that require school districts to fire younger teachers first when layoffs occur -- even if they're better at their jobs than older ones. The resulting staff turnover is especially hard on minority children, because the younger, newer teachers are often sent to struggling inner-city schools. In Meyerson's own home town, Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat, a Latino and a former teacher union organizer, had to file a lawsuit, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, to win even modest reforms to this harmful practice. The teachers union is fighting the court order, arguing that it "tramples the rights of teachers."

Meyerson sees public-sector unions as the financial and organizational engine of a big-tent Democratic Party, but I would argue that, for every vote they turn out, they probably drive another one away. The Democrats' dependence on the public-sector unions gives them a conflict of interest on one of middle class's most basic concerns, the tax burden -- a public-union-money-addicted party has a built-in bias toward higher taxes and has to keep crying "tax the rich," even after states and local governments have run out of rich to tax.

To be sure, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, a Democrat, has adopted a different course and one can hope that he is a harbinger rather than the exception that proves the rule. But a public-sector-union-dominated Democratic Party will always find it harder to be the party of innovative, cost-effective government. At a time of sweeping change in both the U.S. and across the increasingly competitive world, public-sector unions chain the Democrats to an expensive status quo. Over time, that will drive independents who aren't necessarily right-wingers but who do worry about spending, deficits and sluggish bureaucracy into the arms of the GOP. Come to think of it, isn't that part of the reason that Scott Walker and a Republican-majority legislature got elected in Wisconsin in the first place?

Political analyst Kevin Phillips invented the perfect term for this kind of progressivism: "reactionary liberalism." The public-sector unions, and Meyerson's apologia for them, epitomize it.

By Charles Lane  | February 23, 2011; 1:33 PM ET
Categories:  Lane  | Tags:  Charles Lane  
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Next: Wisconsin governor's -- and the GOP's -- strange 'budget discipline'

Comments

What do you think Gabby Giffords thinks of this?

Posted by: tjtucker | February 23, 2011 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Not that you'd have any idea, Lane, but the middle class generally shoulders its tax burden cheerfully and look forward to their refunds each year. It's the investor class, the millionaires, who cry and moan about paying their fair share while they're hiding assets offshore, laying off workers, and setting up phony charitable foundations as a tax dodge. The middle class has seen its ability to make an honest living destroyed by the greedy investor class.

Posted by: dnahatch1 | February 23, 2011 1:51 PM | Report abuse

tjtucker -- I think that Ms Giffords would have an open mind about it.

I agree with this article. Disband all unions, now!

Posted by: thevoiceofreason3 | February 23, 2011 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Lane’s arguments against unions ignore some basic realities. If there is no public union, that means that every single one of the thousands of state employees would have to take up their own time, as well as their boss’s time to individually negotiate their pay, healthcare insurance contributions, and pension benefits. Imagine the lost productivity. Oh, wait, no, I am mistaken, because what, ultimately, people like Lane really want, is for public employees to become functional slaves, who have absolutely no say in anything that affects their livelihood. Just shut up and take whatever miserable crumbs Walker, Lane, Christie, and their ilk choose to bestow upon you. Way to spring into the eighteenth century, guys.
Ask yourself one question; would any of the retarded blowhards railing against union contracts be willing to work for the pittance they want the union employees to accept? There is a term for people who require you to do as they say, but ignore what they do … immoral hypocrites.
Walker, Lane, et al, are feeding out disinformation, exactly as Big Brother did in 11984 - if you mean left, say it is right; if you mean unsafe, say it is safe. The Walkers and Christies in this case are complaining of unions waging class warfare, when, in point of fact, it is Walker and friends who are trying their hardest to widen the gaps that already exist between the rich and the working classes. Only a moron would argue that there is no such divide already.
Huge corporations, like the ones Walker thanked for his election, by giving large tax breaks, which is really where the states immediate financial woes started, often pay no income tax whatsoever … and get government subsidies to boot. But, let a public worker bust ass all day long and make just enough to pay his mortgage and put food on the table, and suddenly he is a greedy, lazy, communist pig.
These fools need to be dragged out of office and sent to a gulag, so that they can’t harm the body politic anymore, as quickly as possible.

Posted by: totallyaware | February 23, 2011 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Can we look forward to Lane piece about the wonders of using live ammo on protesters soon?

Posted by: tjtucker | February 23, 2011 4:54 PM | Report abuse

That issue, very simply, is whether collective bargaining for employees of state and local government is in the public interest. I say no. It's bad economics: As years of experience have demonstrated, public-sector unions raise the cost of vital government services while reducing efficiency and innovation. And it's bad democracy: Collective bargaining, by its nature, moves public policy decision-making out of the legislature and into a smoke-filled room -- where an interested party, unelected and unaccountable, has undue leverage.

=========================================

That's the best explanation of the situation so far. I'm not optimistic that Meyerson will respond to the fact that the teachers union effectively screw over minority children in Los Angeles (and in many other places).

Posted by: bbface21 | February 23, 2011 6:54 PM | Report abuse

"As years of experience have demonstrated, public-sector unions raise the cost of vital government services while reducing efficiency and innovation."

The Post is paying for this right-wing boilerplate? I'd make my 11-year-old re-write any essay he wrote citing "years of experience" as his only data in support of a sweeping assertion like this. The Post's standards are apparently much lower.

Posted by: steveandshelley | February 23, 2011 7:15 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: hellslittlestangel1 | February 23, 2011 7:26 PM | Report abuse

"His first claim is that public sector workers have a fundamental right to collective bargaining -- but such a "right" does not exist under American law."

No, but it is part of our social contract. You can push this line of thought. But the Republicans may find they have gone over the line.

Again.

Tone deaf to the end.

Just like Mr. Lane.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | February 23, 2011 7:59 PM | Report abuse

Lane is right as usual and Meyerson and Dionne just can't seem to grasp that this is not 1950's America anymore. Unions are dead and the only detail is firmly driving the stake into their hearts.

He is right about Virginia. We are a low tax, low debt ($895 per person after 405 years of existence), high service state with NO public unions. Imagine that! Our revenues are growing, we have a surplus and we are ready to start on major transporation plan that has 600+ shovel ready projects, unlike what those liars, Obama and Biden, promised us two years ago.

When you people in Maryland get tired of paying bribes to your overpaid unionized civil servants, call the moving truck and cross the Potomac River...you will be welcome (just don't bring your crack pot liberal beliefs with you).

Posted by: dcmowbray1 | February 23, 2011 8:15 PM | Report abuse

Funny how Obama ran on the change thing, but seems the democrats really just want us to go back 50 years to when the unions were very powerful. Like normal, private industry leads the way. Private industry, less than ten percent unionized, public employment at the state/local level, 40 percent? Come on, get on board and move into the 21st century.

Posted by: Marin823 | February 23, 2011 10:47 PM | Report abuse

Funny how Obama ran on the change thing, but seems the democrats really just want us to go back 50 years to when the unions were very powerful. Like normal, private industry leads the way. Private industry, less than ten percent unionized, public employment at the state/local level, 40 percent? Come on, get on board and move into the 21st century.

Posted by: Marin823 | February 23, 2011 10:48 PM | Report abuse

As years of experience have demonstrated, public-sector unions raise the cost of vital government services while reducing efficiency and innovation.

--

Issuing dogmatic right wing propaganda with no evidence does not speak well for this writer. Raise the cost compared to what? Compared to paying public workers minimum wage or less with no benefits? Sure. Compared to compensation received by people in comparable positions in the private sector. The evidence is ALL the opposite of this. How can a person claim to be a respectable professional journalist when he spews dishonest propaganda which has been proven false over and over again.

http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/new_jersey_publicsector_workers_are_undercompensated/


http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/indiana_publicsector_workers_are_undercompensated/

http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/6785/

http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/ohio_publicsector_workers_are_undercompensated/

http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/10/federal_pay_myths.html/index.html

Posted by: twm1 | February 23, 2011 11:26 PM | Report abuse

totallyaware writes: "If there is no public union, that means that every single one of the thousands of state employees would have to take up their own time, as well as their boss’s time to individually negotiate their pay, healthcare insurance contributions, and pension benefits. Imagine the lost productivity. Oh, wait, no, I am mistaken, because what, ultimately, people like Lane really want, is for public employees to become functional slaves, who have absolutely no say in anything that affects their livelihood."
---------------------------------------
What a dumb argument. Thousands of people negotiate and accept jobs EVERY DAY in the private sector. As in the private sector, the state would decide what compensation and benefits they want to offer for a given position, and the prospective employee can decide to accept, negotiate or reject it. If the state employee doesn't like what's being offered, they ALWAYS have the option to find another position somewhere else. If the state can't find enough candidates to fill open positions, they'll have to make the compensation more attractive. It works like this every day in the private sector, and works well. Lane is right - collective bargaining inhibits cost effective government and ultimately is a disservice to the taxpayers funding their salaries.

Posted by: Illini | February 23, 2011 11:29 PM | Report abuse

Totallyaware is obviously totallyclueless! So by his argument, ALL non-union employees everywhere in the country (or world) have been screwed w/low wages and poor working conditions?? Public employee unions exist today to serve one purpose: extortion of the taxpayer, there is no other reason for their existence. To wit, the 93% of the private sector that are not union members seem to have virtually no problem working w/out collective bargaining.

The irony of this event is so rich: by fleeing the state, and effectively going on strike, 14 democratic state senators have perfectly illustrated why public unions are a terrible idea - b/c they can hold the state (or local or federal) gov't hostage by going on strike! This is EXACTLY what these senators are doing - they are preventing the legislature from functioning and fulfilling its duties and they should be thrown out of office for doing so.

Posted by: amsalty | February 24, 2011 12:16 AM | Report abuse

Remember, federal employees are unionized, but their salaries, benefits, hours of work, etc etc are all set by law. the unions have a very limited area of negotiation. No one would say federal employees are living an awful life. Don't buy into the union hype of disaster if state employees don't have to join the union. It's the unions simply trying to protect themselves.

Posted by: Marin823 | February 24, 2011 1:01 AM | Report abuse


Interest rates are simply incredible on mortgages right now. It's not uncommon to see 30 year rates down in low fours and 15 year rates in the threes. Week after week, the rates keep dropping If you are looking for rates in three then search online for "123 Mortgage Refinance"

Posted by: cindyrichter123 | February 24, 2011 3:33 AM | Report abuse

Now that Scott Walker has been unmasked as a Koch brothers stooge who is out to bust unions for purely political reasons Lane should also drop the pretense he is making a "principled argument...". The bottom line is the GOP is out to destroy public employee unions because they are the biggest contributors to the Democratic party. The rest of the argument is window dressing and noise.

Posted by: gelere | February 24, 2011 4:03 AM | Report abuse

Now that Scott Walker has been unmasked as a Koch brothers stooge who is out to bust unions for purely political reasons Lane should also drop the pretense he is making a "principled argument...". The bottom line is the GOP is out to destroy public employee unions because they are the biggest contributors to the Democratic party. The rest of the argument is window dressing and noise.

Posted by: gelere | February 24, 2011 4:04 AM | Report abuse

You're wrong Charlie,

In the five states that don't allow teachers to bargain, those five states have five of the six lowest test scores for students. Allowing workers to get a true stake shows workers that their employers find them vital in their overall success. It brings in better workers.

Public sector workers with college degrees make less in a lifetime than private workers with the same degrees. The difference in annual salary is why the benefits were needed to get the right people.

It's not the public sectors fault that private employees were duped out of fighting for their bargaining rights. Had they continued to fight, they wouldn't have seen stagnant salaries while watching profit soar and executive pay increase astronomically.

Posted by: pathfinder12 | February 24, 2011 8:59 AM | Report abuse

bbface21,

Congress votes to give themselves raises every year. Is that how public employees should do it?

How much control do you want over public employees and their salary? Do you want to dictate what a public employee can spend money on, since you consider it your money? At what point do you realize that it's really no longer your money, but money that the government uses to pay its bills.

Posted by: pathfinder12 | February 24, 2011 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Marin823,

You're right. Private industry - 7% unionized. Stagnant salaries for 30 years. Executive salaries increase 500% over 30 years. Record profits.

We should all be fighting to give the middle class less and the fat cats more.

Posted by: pathfinder12 | February 24, 2011 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Oh come on Mr. Lane. Don't give us that crap about Scott Walker being elected to get rid of collective bargaining. Look. Walker lucked out. He happened to be in the right place at the right time.

There is a fickle nature to the American electorate at the moment that no politician should take for granted. We all thought Obama and the democrat wins in 2008 were decisive. They weren't. And the election of all of those republican governors in blue states signifies nothing but the mood of the electorate at that particular instant in history and it will likely change overnight.

Republicans are busily engages as I punch this out in making precisely the same mistakes that Obama and the democrats made in the wake of their "historic" victory in 2008. This republican victory in 2010 will have the same flatulence-in-the-wind consistency.

Posted by: jaxas70 | February 24, 2011 10:33 AM | Report abuse

I say let the Dems return and do nothing with the bill and when the layoffs begin lay it at the dems feet. I'd also make sure their districts got a decent part of the layoffs

Posted by: robertbeaver | February 24, 2011 10:37 AM | Report abuse

I say let the Dems return from out of state and do nothing with the bill and when the layoffs begin lay it at the dems feet for not wantingto take the time to help the state budget. I'd also make sure their districts got a decent part of the layoffs

Posted by: robertbeaver | February 24, 2011 10:39 AM | Report abuse

I say let the Dems return from out of state and do nothing with the bill and when the layoffs begin lay it at the dems feet for not wantingto take the time to help the state budget. I'd also make sure their districts got a decent part of the layoffs

Posted by: robertbeaver | February 24, 2011 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Unions should go out on strike across the nation immediately before lives are lost in a bloody fight OF CIVIL WAR
The answer is A GENERAL STRIKE FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA!!! THERE IS NO NEED FOR BLOODSHED
WE ALREADY HAD A CIVIL WAR AND THE AFRO AMERICANS ARE STILL BEING OPPRESSED
GO OUT ON STRIKE NOW AND SEND THE OPPRESSIVE REPUBLICANS PACKING

Posted by: speedyo | February 24, 2011 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Unions should go out on strike across the nation immediately before lives are lost in a bloody fight OF CIVIL WAR
The answer is A GENERAL STRIKE FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA!!! THERE IS NO NEED FOR BLOODSHED
WE ALREADY HAD A CIVIL WAR AND THE AFRO AMERICANS ARE STILL BEING OPPRESSED
GO OUT ON STRIKE NOW AND SEND THE OPPRESSIVE REPUBLICANS PACKING

Posted by: speedyo | February 24, 2011 10:47 AM | Report abuse

In 2005 Mitch Daniels rescinded collective bargaining rights for public employees by exec order (as it had been adopted). As a result, he was able to offer voluntary HSA plan to state employees. Per a Daniels WSJ piece last March, 70% of state employees chose the plan, saving an estimated 11% on state health care costs. Indiana did not grind to a halt without collective bargaining for public employees, and saved money without forcing any insurance changes on employees.

Posted by: jpfred | February 24, 2011 10:54 AM | Report abuse

To effectively eliminate the ability of any union to negotiate for its members is to kill it, with or without dues check-off. Clearly that's the intention; if it wasn't, why also require Wisconsin public sector unions to re-certify every year (a requirement imposed on no American union today)?

Do those who want to the union movement to shrivel away think through the consequences? There is no example in modern industrial society of a stable democracy without a healthy trade union movement. Can democracy and capitalism co-exist if only employers and the ultra-rich have influence on the government? To me, such as system more closely resembles the current China than it does anything we'd want to be.

There is not a totalitarian or authoritarian regime in history that has tolerated a free labor movement. That's not an accident.

Posted by: rawson30 | February 24, 2011 11:33 AM | Report abuse

This country will be so much better when all those stupid arcane workers right rules are rescinded – like the 40 hour work week, business will be able to afford to pay their workers more if they weren’t saddled with this ancient rule, minimum wage – enough said, child labor laws, if a kid wants to work at 12 years old – SO BE IT! Shows character. Work place safety rules – if you don’t like your work environment – QUIT! BAN UNIONS – MAKE THEM UNCONSTITIONAL.

Posted by: kparc1212 | February 24, 2011 12:07 PM | Report abuse

People with names like "Meyerson" are under the impression that they are genetically pre-disposed to getting the last word on everything in life.

Posted by: ej_smug | February 24, 2011 12:36 PM | Report abuse

I have a deal for you no collective bargaining for labor in exchange no lobbying or influence peddling by corporations.

Posted by: aj1111 | February 25, 2011 1:50 AM | Report abuse

Such a dick.

Posted by: t_parker16 | February 26, 2011 8:13 AM | Report abuse

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