Nonpartisan Recognition of Public Sector Union Conflict of Interests

A very effective tactic in the war for public opinion is to accuse the person voicing disagreeable perspectives of being biased or otherwise having ulterior partisan motives. While we prefer to focus on the validity of the arguments (and the calculations) when discussing the impact of public sector unions on the sustainability of public institutions, it is helpful when someone with impeccable liberal credentials weighs in with similar viewpoints to our own.

Compare these two quotes:

“Virtually every expenditure by a public sector union, whether it is collective bargaining, lobbying, contributions to candidates, independent expenditures, or educational outreach, has one primary goal: The expansion of their membership and the expansion of the pay and benefits for their members.”

“Public employees have a private interest in taking more and more of the taxpayer-generated revenue for themselves. In other words, public employees have a private interest in diverting public funds from public services to their wages and pensions. In this sense, the increasing numbers of public employees and their increasing wages and benefits threaten to hollow out public services in our country.”

The first quote is excerpted from a recent UnionWatch editorial, the second is from a March 20th, 2012 essay entitled “Pension Ponzis: Questions About the Public Interest,” posted on the website of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities. The Arendt center, established by holocaust survivor Hannah Arendt, is about as far from the “right wing extremist” flange of political thought as one can get, but they too are recognizing that public sector unions are not acting in the public interest.

Another key point made in the same commentary on the Arendt Center’s website regards compensation disparities between public sector and private sector employees. Referencing a recent Congressional Budget Office study, they state:

“Average benefits for federal workers with no more than a high school diploma were 72 percent higher than for their private-sector counterparts.

Average benefits for federal workers whose education ended in a bachelor’s degree were 46 percent higher than for similar workers in the private sector.

Workers with a professional degree or doctorate received roughly the same level of average benefits in both sectors.

The CBO chart below shows clearly the relative overcompensation of public workers against their private-sector counterparts.  While one could turn this around and argue that private-sector workers are underpaid, the fact is that the current level of benefits for public-sector workers is bankrupting our municipalities and states. We can argue all we want about what is fair pay, but the current pay levels are clearly unsustainable. More, they are threatening to devastate public services as we continue to cut services in order to pay outsized benefits to retired public-sector workers.”

It is always important to consider the source when arguing matters of public policy. But when public sector unions find themselves engaging in all-out political warfare with Democrats such as San Francisco public defender and former mayoral candidate Jeff Adachi, and San Jose mayor Chuck Reed over public sector pensions, or, for that matter, the Governor of California and the Governor of New York over the same issue, something beyond partisan politics must be at work. Public sector unions support a big government agenda because it increases the pay and benefits for government workers and increases the number of government workers – not because of the potential value to society of a bigger role for government. Even big government liberals know there’s something wrong with that picture.

The Arendt Center is a respected non-partisan think tank with a well-deserved reputation for intellectual honesty. It is inconceivable that they would adhere to a “right wing agenda” in anything they might opine on the topic of public sector unions or the financial sustainability of public sector employee pay and benefits. And as their March 20th essay states in the concluding paragraph:

“We should be honest and contest the prejudice that public employees [unions] have the public interest at heart.”

1 reply
  1. David H says:

    Yes, it makes too much sense without even saying it. But in the age of black is white and white, black you will never get the unions or government managers to admit the truth.

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