The idea that government employees can or should have the right to unionize appears absurd on the face of it. Unlike the private sector, we are forced to pay for the "product" offered by government. We can't take our business elsewhere in the same way we do in the market economy. When a private union strangles a company, we aren't compelled to pay for its overpriced, inferior product. We take our money and go.
This is not so with government; we are forced to pay the price for its mistakes. And when unions enter the picture, they redirect attention away from the provision of public services and toward bilking taxpayers for grotesque windfall benefits. Not only this, they shield their members from any accountability and work night and day to grow the agency they've captured. Whether it is the public school system, police, firefighters, librarians, trash collectors, the TSA, etc., the effect of unionization on government employees has been the same, and the public is held hostage to the demands of the union.
It is a sad reflection of how bloated the Welfare/Warfare/Administrative State has grown, and how cartelized each sector of our economy has become, that the end result should be these unaccountable organizations that are completing the transformation of our government from anything that resembles an institution existing for the benefit of its citizens. Unionized government exists for the benefit of its members at the expense of the public, and these unions will twist any arm, make any threat, to get their way.
The troubles began in January of 1962, when President Kennedy signed Executive Order 10988, a move that greatly expanded the ability of government workers to unionize and opened the floodgates that resulted in the massive public unions we have today. But it wasn't always like this. Past judges, lawmakers, and Presidents abhorred the notion of public sector unions. FDR, that progenitor of the modern Welfare State and defender of private unions, held the view that unionization of government employees was impossible without bringing along great danger. In a 1937 letter to Luther C. Steward, then-president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, FDR laid out his reasoning on the subject:
…meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government.
All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.
Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable. It is, therefore, with a feeling of gratification that I have noted in the constitution of the National Federation of Federal Employees the provision that "under no circumstances shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government.
A paper entitled "The Trouble with Public Sector Unions," by Daniel Disalvo, quotes a New York Supreme Court judge from 1943 as holding that:
To tolerate or recognize any combination of civil service employees of the government as a labor organization or union is not only incompatible with the spirit of democracy, but inconsistent with every principle upon which our government is founded. Nothing is more dangerous to public welfare than to admit that hired servants of the State can dictate to the government the hours, the wages and conditions under which they will carry on essential services vital to the welfare, safety, and security of the citizen. To admit as true that government employees have power to halt or check the functions of government unless their demands are satisfied, is to transfer to them all legislative, executive and judicial power. Nothing would be more ridiculous.
Writing at the Defining Ideas blog on the Hoover Institution's site, Richard Epstein points to unaccountable police unions as a major problem for American cities, specifically Baltimore. Unions are the problem because they "…march to a different drummer, and thus will use their newfound power to interfere with the proper operation of public forces by reducing their power to hire, train, fire, and discipline the members of their employees."
On March 23rd, CNN ran a piece entitled, "TSA union calls for arming some airport employees." Quoting the article: "J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said TSA employees are banned from carrying weapons despite being on the front lines of aviation security."
Now, the answer may be obvious to most, but that may be because we stand outside the protective sphere of a government union, and that fact may give us a reality-bias. Front lines of aviation security? An agency that hasn't thwarted any terrorist, ever, but goes out of its way to treat airline passengers like cattle, now feels the need for a lethal weapon? The article states that the TSA agents need the guns for "protection," but who will protect us from them? The union that represents them has no interest whatsoever in the wellbeing of the civilians that their agency comes into contact with.
It adds insult to injury that, after all the deleterious growth in the Administrative State, these workers then have the ability to unionize. Be it the public schools or law enforcement or the TSA or what have you, unionization severs these organizations, and their employees, from any accountability whatsoever.
Public sector unions are a farce, they make a mockery out of the proper role of government and must be abolished. They transform government departments into massive make-work programs for the sole benefit of their members and, not being tethered to the profit-and-loss mechanism of the free market, they are free to balloon at the taxpayers' expense until someone puts them down. The growth of these public unions makes up a small part of the disease of Empire that the United States has languished under for the last 100 years. With the cancerous growth of the Administrative State, the Welfare State and the Warfare State, public unions were inevitable. Forbidding unionization of government workers would be a start, but the rot began within the bloated Administrative/Welfare apparatus that has been allowed to expand veritably unchecked, and that's where the focus should be.
Shane Smith is an accountant living in Norman, Oklahoma. He writes for Red Dirt Report. Liberty is his religion.