Public Sector Unions: How Collective Bargaining Undermines Your Freedom and Hurts Your Wallet

Let’s play a game. Pretend that you’re paying someone to manage your finances. You sign a contract, and they take your money. You’re paying them a premium, but that’s okay, because they’re doing a job that you could never do by yourself.

Suddenly they stop working. They refuse to work again until they get more money. Why the extra cash, you ask? To do the same thing they were originally doing, of course! Nothing has changed — they just demand more.

You’re screwed. This company is the only one of its kind. No one else can do the work that they do, because they’re already a monopoly. Not only that, but they’re a monopoly that’s backed up by the force of law. Your only choice is to cave.

Welcome to the public sector union. Their job is simple: they use your tax money to demand even more of your tax money. And when they stop working, so do your vital public services. You have no choice but to give in to their demands — they hold all the cards.

See the problem yet?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt did. So did Woodrow Wilson. In fact, almost everyone on the Left used to oppose public sector unions. Their reasoning was both simple and sound: government unions are profoundly different from their private sector counterparts. It’s a difference not merely of degree, but of kind. The difference is so great that it led Wilson — a great friend and ally of the labor movement — to call a public sector strike in 1919 “an intolerable crime against humanity.”

But the Left gave in. Their principled stance against public sector unions couldn’t withstand the promise of a guaranteed liberal voting bloc. Wisconsin gave up in 1959, and LBJ’s federal government followed suit in the 1960s. Yet the moral case against this “intolerable crime” remains exactly the same. 

Consider who public sector unions are bargaining with. In the private sector, unions negotiate with a company’s leadership, executives, and boards. The public sector, however, has a different set of primary shareholders: you and me. When government employees — who only work because the American people hired them — demand more money, it can only come from one place: your wallet.

Oddly enough, we already have a place where these problems can be fixed: the ballot box. Referenda, ballot initiatives, and the laws and regulations passed by state, local, and federal representative bodies — these are the means by which government employees can ask for more money.

These should be the only means. Free government requires it. In a democratic system of government, where the sovereign people elect a government that serves them, the electoral process is the only just solution. If they’re not making a living wage — which they have every right to do — then they just have to ask the American taxpayer to help.

But public sector unions don’t ask. They only demand. You have no choice but to give them what they want. While you’re writing that check, you should remember that they’re not sticking it to the man — they’re sticking it to you.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Stephen Ford

Stephen Ford is a communication director a D.C.-based government affairs firm.

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