It was only two years ago that a spontaneous grassroots movement sprang up known as the Tea Party. The spark behind this was shared frustration about the high cost of government in general and specific concerns regarding the health care reform bill that was working its way through Congress. Like the ongoing union demonstrations in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states, the tea partiers gathered to protest. But that’s were the similarities end.
Back a hundred or so years ago, the men who founded the giant industrial complexes, America’s robber barons, ran these businesses with iron hands. All take and no give lead to the rise of labor unions. This gave the workers’ a voice at the negotiating tables and helped fuel the growth of great middle-class for both union members as well as the general population. However, union membership in the private sector has fallen below 7% in recent years.
Today, however, nearly 40% of all government employees are union members. Unlike the relationship between business and those representing employees in the bargaining process where market forces, competition and profitability are important elements in the negotiations, public unions have no restraints other than the common sense of the politicians involved.
The public sector unions are actually government unions. Elected officials negotiate with union bosses who determine who gets election funds, which come from the dues collected from the individual union members. Since there is no profit, competition or market forces to be considered, politicians are beholden to those who contribute to their re-election efforts. And who picks up the tab? The taxpayers, that’s who.
This quid pro quo arrangement has put the salaries of government workers above private sector workers performing similar jobs, provided free or lower cost health care benefits, bloated pension benefits (often unfunded), secured jobs on seniority rather than performance, reduced productivity. All of which has placed many local and state governments on the brink of bankruptcy.
The unions took a page from the peaceful, yet effective, protests of the Tea Party in mid-2008. These efforts made the public aware of opposition to the proposed health care bill and the government’s out-of-control spending. So unions gathered local union members in places like Madison and Columbus. Students, out-of-town union operatives and some hometown sympathizers joined the scene to swell the ranks of the crowds.
However, the union efforts, unlike those of the Tea Party, were uncivil, destroyed public property and resulted in assaults as well as published death threats. Are the union leaders the new robber barons, are the members being realistic by refusing to bend when the rest of the taxpayers suffer to survive and will the public understand the facts when the emotions settle down? The events leading up to the 2012 election will tell.