Again, this is not about opposition to organized labor. Unions have done great good for society and workers and labor conditions over the last 100 or so years.
But the goings-on in Wisconsin show us the difference between organized private sector labor and organized public sector labor.
Scott Walker and the Wisconsin took drastic steps to prevent a fiscal crisis. A significant part of that required changing the rules on what can and cannot be included in collective bargaining agreements for public sector contracts.
Remember: those are the ones where the parties bargaining with one another are divvying up tax dollars. The politician (management) is supposed to be the good steward of the public money (i.e., your and my tax dollars). The workers’ negotiators are trying to get the best deal for their workers. So far so good. The problem comes when the politicians realize that they will get more of that sweet, sweet milk of political life—campaign contributions (from Big Labor)—if they demonstrate greater willingness to give the unions more of what they want—your and my tax dollars.
And if tax dollars start running out? Well, raise ‘em. The fat cats who run private sector companies are greedy, right?
Set that in contrast to the private sector contract negotiations. In those, the management has a finite pool of money to figure out how to divvy up among all business expenses—rent, utilities, salaries, benefits, capital improvements, research and development, oh, and those aforementioned taxes—and they cannot simply raise taxes to get more money. They actually have to satisfy the market and attract customers to buy what they’re selling. So the private sector negotiations are intrinsically different. Unlike the you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-fund-your-campaign relationship in the public sector negotiations, there is an adversarial relationship, no matter how congenial the relationship between management and labor at a given company.
In Wisconsin they passed laws that, among other things, greatly curtailed the ability of politicians and public sector labor to stick it to the tax payers for their own mutual benefit. This, naturally, enraged those who liked that arrangement quite a bit, thankyouverymuch.
Well, the reforms worked, the budget deficit is gone already, and yesterday the voters of Wisconsin strongly rejected the Dems’ and Big Labor’s recall of Governor Walker.
Collective bargaining in the private sector is not a bad thing, in and of itself. It can be done poorly by the management, and it can be abused by the unions, either to the detriment of the company. But public sector collective bargaining, since the money is not earned but is taken through taxation, is an entirely different animal. Thus, the laws must treat it differently to protect the tax-paying public.
Wisconsin gets it. Let’s hope the rest of the country figures it out soon.