Public sector unions should be illegal. They have very little in common with private sector unions, which, properly regulated, play a vital role in society. The differences between public sector and private sector unions are significant. For example:
1 – Private sector unions cannot be unreasonable in the demands they bring to negotiations with management, because if they ask for too much, they will bankrupt the company. Public sector unions, on the other hand, know that government agencies can simply raise taxes to fund their demands.
2 – Private sector unions negotiate with management that is either elected by shareholders or represents private owners of the company. Public sector unions negotiate with politicians who are often elected using campaign contributions that came from those unions. Politicians know that if they reject union demands, the unions will fight their reelection and replace them with a politician who will do what they want.
3 – Private sector unions are not generally pushing a political agenda that goes beyond their pay and benefits, their work conditions, and the practices specific to their industry. Public sector unions are unified in their drive for higher taxes, and more tax revenues allocated to pay and benefits for public employees. Increasingly, equally significant, and unlike private sector unions, public sector unions share an ideological agenda that favors bigger government.
The inherent political agenda of public sector unions is more pay and benefits for public employees, work rules that result in more government employees than might actually be necessary to efficiently perform government services, and more government programs and agencies in order to hire still more government employees who become union members paying union dues.
This is perfectly understandable. Organizations of all types seek to expand and grow. But translated into to the public sector, it means the political agenda of public sector unions is inherently in conflict with the public interest. They want to grow government, and when government programs fail, they want to grow government even more to fix them. And they are powerful enough to pursue this exact agenda, time after time.
The consequences in union-controlled California are obvious: high taxes, punitive regulations, financially stressed cities and counties, failing schools, and crumbling, inadequate infrastructure, to name a few.
These facts lead to a logical and completely nonpartisan conclusion – public sector unions should be illegal. And if they’re not illegal, than at the least, they should be exposed. Politicians of all parties should be willing to stand up to these unions, to refuse to accept their campaign contributions, and to explain to the public that public sector unions are NOT the same as private sector unions.
Any Conservative Taking Public Sector Union Money is NOT a Conservative
While opposing unions ought to be a nonpartisan issue, it is an issue that ought to be of particular concern to conservatives. After all, while liberals ought to be appalled at the inefficiencies introduced to government by the public sector union agenda, they’re not necessarily opposed to bigger government. But for conservatives, who support limited government, accepting public sector union money and endorsements is heresy. It is a violation of the prime directive. It demands expulsion.
Unfortunately, engaging in politics in California requires big money, and public sector unions have a lot of it. Approximately 466,000 people live within the average State Assembly District; twice that many live within the average State Senate District in California. Congressional Districts hold around 747,000 people, less than a State Senate District. And the big money to pay for these big races is all leaning in favor of big government liberals. So if you can’t beat them, join them?
This might explain the actions of Republican Assemblyman Tyler Diep, representing the 72nd Assembly District in Orange County. Now accepting contributions for his 2020 reelection campaign, Diep has already accepted over $20,000 from unions, most of them public employee unions. In return, Diep has already publicly embraced these unions. In one recent Tweet, he stated he is “proud to represent the many members of the Orange County Employees Association.”
It’s worth wondering whether or not Tyler Diep, a 36 year old Vietnamese immigrant, is fully aware of the havoc public employee unions have wrought on California’s politics. The Orange County Employees Association, for example, is affiliated with the Costa Mesa City Employees Association, which was bitterly opposed to the reform coalition that for a brief time held a majority on the Costa Mesa city council.
These reform minded councilmembers attempted to rein in the out-of-control pension costs and other compensation gaming that was breaking the city. But they were eventually outgunned and driven out of office because of the relentless onslaught of public sector union money. Public sector unions collect and spend over $800 million per year in California. No other special interest comes even close. And their agenda, invariably, is more money, more benefits, more work rules, and bigger government.
Things are back to normal in Costa Mesa these days. A pro-union majority controls the city council. The average full time firefighter in Costa Mesa now collects $256,000 per year in pay and benefits. Let that sink in. Two hundred and fifty six thousand dollars per year in pay and benefits. You can see the data here – if you find any inaccuracies, please comment. Can taxpayers afford this, particularly since those costs will rise sharply over the next few years as CalPERS enforces their plan to nearly double required pension contributions?
Did Diep, whose district is adjacent to the one that incorporates Costa Mesa, think about this when he sent this tweet, showing him rubbing elbows with members of Firefighters Local 3631? Has Assemblyman Diep thought about how he’ll stare down these union donors, and tell them he’s going to support a state constitutional amendment to right-size public sector pensions?
Everyone respects and appreciates firefighters, but taxpayers cannot afford to pay them an average pay and benefits package worth over quarter-million dollars per year. Assemblyman Diep lives in the city of Westminster, where the median household income is $60,426 per year. That is less than one-fourth what Costa Mesa’s full time firefighters make. It is unnecessary and unfair to taxpayers to continue to pay firefighters a quarter-million per year, no matter how much we respect them.
The reason they are over-compensated, along with most public employees, is because of the money they spend on political campaigns to elect the politicians with whom they then negotiate their labor agreements. As a former city councilman living in Orange County once said: “If I vote against that contract, the unions will spend a million dollars to oppose me in the next election – who else is going to come up with a million dollars?”
The Leftist Agenda of California’s Public Sector Unions
If the political problems with firefighter unions were limited to arguing over compensation, that would be quite enough. But earlier this year, California’s firefighters, in an act of stupendous and misguided arrogance, actually marched in solidarity with the United Teachers of Los Angeles. Is it financial ignorance, or actual adherence to a leftist agenda that motivated these firefighters to commit what many of us would consider the ultimate act of betrayal?
California’s children are California’s future, and teachers union leaders have all but destroyed the quality of education these children receive. They oppose charter schools, they oppose school choice, they oppose vouchers, they oppose extending tenure requirements, they oppose reform of work rules governing layoff and dismissal policies, and they support curricula that indoctrinates instead of educates.
Public safety unions may be making public safety too costly, but they have not destroyed the effectiveness of their own professions. The teachers union is guilty of precisely that crime – they have destroyed California’s public schools. Firefighters should be ashamed of having anything to do with the teachers union.
And Assemblymember Diep, particularly if he considers himself a conservative, should be ashamed of having anything to do with public sector unions. He should never accept another dime in donations from any of them. And before he even talks or meets with them, he should ask THEM to sign the following pledge:
THE AMERICAN PUBLIC SERVANT PLEDGE
(1) Americans First: We recognize that the interests of the American citizens we serve come first; before the interests of the government, government employees, or non-citizens.
(2) Citizens Before Government: We understand that sometimes government policies benefit ourselves and our union more than they benefit the general public, and we will always put the public interest before the interests of ourselves or our unions.
(3) Shared Sacrifice: During times of economic hardship or declining budgets, we are willing to make reasonable sacrifices, proportionate to what the general public is enduring.
(4) Same Rules: We do not expect our union to protect us if we have engaged in behavior on the job – through incompetence, negligence, or criminality – that would get us fired in the private sector, and we expect our union to refrain from protecting bad behavior of any kind.
(5) Same Benefits: We realize that our pension benefits far exceed private sector norms, that they are financially unsustainable and unfair to taxpayers. Consequently, for work we have not yet performed, we support reductions to our pension benefit accruals to pre-1999 multipliers.
(6) Political Neutrality: As public servants our calling is to be nonpartisan and politically neutral, and we expect our unions to limit their activities to collective bargaining.
How Vision Can Overcome Money
Being a conservative in California has to mean something. If you take money from public sector unions, the chief engineers of California’s decline, then being a limited government advocate, i.e., a conservative, means nothing.
There are two ways to cut through an overwhelming financial advantage. One is by being controversial. The other is by having a compelling vision. Controversy works quite well, as President Trump proved in 2016 when he beat 16 other candidates to secure the Republican nomination for President. Today Trump dominates the news cycle by feeding an infantile news corps Tweets that trigger Pavlovian responses which, if he were purchasing airtime, would by now have cost hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars.
You don’t have to be as controversial as President Trump to get air in California. Just tell the truth, then offer solutions, and let the media shriek and howl with indignation. Here are just few such nuggets:
(1) Truth: Public sector unions are an abomination to our democracy. Solution: They should be illegal.
(2) Truth: Overwrought environmental laws are the reason housing and utility costs are unaffordable. Solution: Many of them must be repealed.
(3) Truth: The teachers union has destroyed K-12 public education. Solution: School choice, school vouchers, charter schools, work rule reform, and eliminating teachers unions will restore quality and cost efficiencies to California’s K-12 educational system.
(4) Truth: Public sector pensions are too generous and too expensive. Solution: Public sector employee retirement benefits should be converted from pensions into Social Security, just like the citizens they serve.
Assemblyman Diep, along with anyone else, of either party, serving in California’s state legislature, is invited to proclaim these truths, and these solutions.
Assemblyman Diep, along with anyone else, of either party, serving in California’s state legislature, is also invited to offer the “public servant pledge” to anyone who wants to endorse them, especially the leadership of public sector unions.
Doing this would require personal courage and political vision. And while these steps are actually mild, moderate policy innovations, they would provoke vehement outrage from the establishment liberals and their media allies. This unwarranted and very public outrage, in turn, would awaken California’s voters, who would realize they have been conned.
They would realize that rather than being the planet killing bigots they were told to fear, conservatives are actually the people fighting for THEM, and liberals are the liars who hid behind slander, while they looted the resources of the entire state and oppressed its people.
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Edward Ring is a co-founder of the California Policy Center and served as its first president. The views presented here are strictly his own.