by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
George Leef’s latest Forbes column labels public-sector unionization “one of America’s worst blunders.”
This country has made a lot of terrible financial blunders. Easily among the top ten would be the decision to allow public employees to form unions and engage in collective bargaining. Only a little more than 50 years old, that mistake has done prodigious harm to us both economically and politically – and the worst is yet to come.
The bulk of Leef’s column focuses on Daniel DiSalvo’s book Government Against Itself.
He comes from a family with deep union roots and is represented by the CUNY faculty union – facts that add to his credibility. Having looked at a great deal of evidence, he concludes that public unionism results in “government that spends more but does less.”
DiSalvo reminds us that for a long time, there was bipartisan consensus against allowing government employees to form unions and bargain collectively. President Franklin D. Roosevelt dismissed the idea of government employees unionizing, as did long-time AFL-CIO president George Meany.
Some Democrats, however, presciently sensed political advantage in allowing, or even encouraging public employees to unionize. In 1959, Wisconsin became the first state to approve of such unions. In January 1962, President Kennedy signed Executive Order 10988, which gave federal workers the right to form unions, although not always to engage in collective bargaining.
Ever since, public sector unionism has been growing apace, while private sector unions have steadily shrunk. Damage business efficiency and both the stockholders and workers will suffer, but there is no natural check on the inefficiencies of government.
Quickly, a symbiotic relationship developed. Democratic (overwhelmingly) politicians would help the unions get what they wanted – higher wages and benefits, greater job protection, better working conditions – and in turn, the unions would give those politicians their full support. Once that relationship started, the unions learned how to exploit it to the utmost, not only squeezing government budgets tighter and tighter, but also taking over public policy making to a large extent.