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Understanding government employee unions

When labor unions and management negotiate with each other in large corporations in the private sector, the relationship looks something like this.

private sector unions

The owners of a business (the shareholders) hire employees to do the work necessary to make a profit, and they also hire managers to supervise the employees. If the employees decide to form a labor union, the managers represent the owners’ interests in all employment negotiations. The union and the management represent competing interests, so they tend to hold each other in check. Eventually, subject to federal labor law, both sides reach a mutually acceptable agreement and work continues. The corporation makes a profit, and the owners, management, and employees make money.

Now imagine that you’re the Chief Executive Officer at a factory that has no labor union at the moment. You have no ownership share in the business, but you supervise several thousand employees. Your job is to run the place smoothly to enable the business to turn a profit, and in return you’re well compensated with pay, health care, ample vacation time, a corporate car with a driver, frequent opportunities to travel, and a much better retirement package than you’d get working for your competitors. Your life as a corporate CEO feels like neverending sunshine and lollipops.

But you’re greedy.

A small group of union organizers approaches you during a coffee break and pulls you aside. They assure you that the employees are about to vote in favor of forming a union, and the vote tally will not be close. Knowing that you would be in charge of negotiating on behalf of the owners, they hand you a thick wad of cash and discreetly suggest that you negotiate a favorable deal with them whenever a dispute arises, one that’s heavily lopsided in favor of the union. In return, these organizers promise to pay you well. If some of the shareholders get wind of your betrayal and move to replace you, the union bosses promise to protect your job by singing your praises at all shareholder meetings, and they also promise to destroy the reputations of any potential replacements waiting in the wings.

You agree, and the factory unionizes. The situation now looks like this.

government unions

Although your job still officially requires you to represent the owners’ interests and run the factory profitably, you are now unofficially on the union’s side. You still draw a paycheck from the owners, but you also secretly receive envelopes stuffed with cash skimmed from union membership dues.

Working to grow the business is much harder than simply letting things slide while collecting kickbacks from the union bosses, so you take the easy road. Every time the union gets hungry for more money, you “negotiate” in form but surrender in substance, funneling more and more of the owners’ money to your union boss buddies. The union grows wealthier and more powerful, and so do you. The business grows weaker and weaker, until it stops turning a profit and begins to shrink.

The process accelerates. You and your union benefactors become lethal parasites attached to the company. The owners are forced to cut costs to the bone and lay off employees to avoid going bankrupt, but the union demands continue. To the union bosses — and you — the business only exists to funnel money into your wallets, not to produce anything useful to society. When the factory finally grinds to a halt and dies, you and the union bosses shake your heads with mock regret, bemoan the sad fate of the unemployed workers whose jobs you destroyed, and move on to look for a healthy and parasite-free host.

Pretty offensive scenario, no? Now consider this, which is actually happening right now:

government unions

This is exactly the same setup as described in the scenario above, but now you’re the taxpayer, the Democrat politician is the manager ostensibly working for you but actually draining your wallet, and the public employee union boss is the dirtbag handing out your cash to the Democrat politician he’s “negotiating” with. Want to know what’s even worse? Not only is this legal, it’s celebrated openly.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, that icon of big government progressivism, was frequently pressured to allow government employees to form unions, but even he resisted. FDR saw the inherent crookedness in public employee unions, and objected.

Letter on the Resolution of Federation of Federal Employees Against Strikes in Federal Service
August 16, 1937
Franklin D. Roosevelt

My dear Mr. Steward:

As I am unable to accept your kind invitation to be present on the occasion of the Twentieth Jubilee Convention of the National Federation of Federal Employees, I am taking this method of sending greetings and a message.
Reading your letter of July 14, 1937, I was especially interested in the timeliness of your remark that the manner in which the activities of your organization have been carried on during the past two decades “has been in complete consonance with the best traditions of public employee relationships.” Organizations of Government employees have a logical place in Government affairs.

The desire of Government employees for fair and adequate pay, reasonable hours of work, safe and suitable working conditions, development of opportunities for advancement, facilities for fair and impartial consideration and review of grievances, and other objectives of a proper employee relations policy, is basically no different from that of employees in private industry. Organization on their part to present their views on such matters is both natural and logical, but 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.”

I congratulate the National Federation of Federal Employees the twentieth anniversary of its founding and trust that the convention will, in every way, be successful.

Very sincerely yours,

For once, I find myself nodding in agreement with FDR, especially when I got to the text I’ve highlighted in boldface. We should have listened when he warned us about public sector unions. It’s time to fix this mistake and outlaw them.

More reading: Labor Union Report