Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Public employee unions and the Growth of Government

Consider what happened in Washington State. After helping Democrats win full control of the legislature in 2002, the state affiliate of the Association of Federal, State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and other unions persuaded lawmakers to lift the collective bargaining restrictions. Within three years the number of union members had doubled. With more state employees paying dues, the amount of union dollars flowing into the coffers of Democrats running in state elections also doubled. A prime beneficiary of such union generosity was Christine Gregoire, who became governor in 2004 after one of the closest elections in the state's history. (AFSCME gave $250,000 to the state Democratic party to help pay for the recount that handed her the election by 129 votes). Once in office, Gregoire negotiated contracts with the unions that resulted in double-digit salary increases, some exceeding 25 percent, for thousands of state employees. In 2007, J. Vander Stoep, an adviser to Republican Dino Rossi, Gregoire's 2004 opponent, prophetically remarked that the unions' arrangement with the Democrats was "a perfect machine to generate millions of dollars for her reelection. .  .  . They are building something that conceivably can never be undone--at taxpayer expense." In their 2008 rematch, Rossi lost again to Gregoire, this time by 194,614 votes.

Public sector unions with political influence can negotiate detailed work rules in which they largely exempt themselves from accountability in return for providing political support for their nominal managers. In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) have created a cartel to advance their own interests at the expense of the citizens and students. The teacher's contract is over 200 pages of small print. Reminiscent of the 12,000 United Auto Workers (UAW) who were paid not to work in the heyday of the UAW, nearly 800 Gotham "rubber room" teachers who have problems on the job are being paid not to work. The UFT has also negotiated with Bloomberg, mistakenly called an education reformer, a reduction in the number of days they must work to prepare for classes before school begins in September at the same time as their salary increases have been running at better than twice the rate of inflation.