Collective Bargaining Is No 'Right'; What Government Gives, Government Can Take Away

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 25, 2011 | Go to article overview

Collective Bargaining Is No 'Right'; What Government Gives, Government Can Take Away


Byline: Rick Berman, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Given all the recent discussion about collective bargaining, it's surprising how misunderstood it is. The most pernicious myth - which serves as the foundation of many others - is that public employees have a right to collectively bargain over wages, benefits and working conditions.

Those employment rights (a term too loosely thrown around) are derived from various laws - not from the U.S. Constitution or that of any state. And laws can be repealed.

By definition, rights can't be taken away. So collective bargaining doesn't qualify. It's not a right. It's a privilege.

Government employees who enjoy this privilege can lose it at any time, since they're entitled only to the privileges granted by their employer. All it takes is a new statute to replace the old one.

Franklin D. Roosevelt championed the law that created private-sector collective bargaining, but he recognized that it cannot be transplanted into public service. Legendary AFL-CIO President George Meany expressed similar doubts.

Why were these liberal stalwarts wary? Simple economics.

If labor costs go up in the private sector, prices rise accordingly, and consumers can take their business elsewhere. That dynamic (usually) provides a sobering check on new competitive demands. But the government has a monopoly on most public services, so there are no market pressures to keep costs down.

If labor expenses go up in the public sector, tax increases are the usual remedy. And unless the consumer wants to move out of the state, he must pay the new prices.

The feature that most defines collective bargaining is its adversarial nature: Labor and management represent two independent, opposing sides. But in the public sector, management isn't nearly as independent. It consists of elected officials for whom replacements can be found - and whose political opponents can be funded - if unions become displeased.

This is why public unions are among the most powerful forces in American politics. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) spent more than $87.5 million influencing the most recent election cycle. The National Education Association poured $40 million into campaigns. The American Federation of Teachers added $16 million.

All that money determining political winners and losers is an incentive for management (politicians) to avoid antagonizing labor (those moneyed public-sector unions). …

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Collective Bargaining Is No 'Right'; What Government Gives, Government Can Take Away
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