Pawlenty: Public-sector unions illegitimate

posted at 9:30 am on December 13, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

Fat pensions.  Big salaries.  Civil-service job protections.  If any group of workers never needed union representation, it’s public sector employees.  Outgoing Governor Tim Pawlenty writes today in the Wall Street Journal that the moral arguments for organizing simply don’t apply to government workers, and unionization ends up putting unelected, unaccountable union bosses in control of public policy:

When Americans think of organized labor, they might think of images like I saw growing up in a blue-collar meatpacking town: hard hats, work boots, tough conditions and gritty jobs. While I didn’t work in the slaughterhouses, I did become a union member when I worked at a grocery store to help put myself through school. I was grateful for the paycheck and proud of the work I did.

The rise of the labor movement in the early 20th century was a triumph for America’s working class. In an era of deep economic anxiety, unions stood up for hard-working but vulnerable families, protecting them from physical and economic exploitation.

Much has changed. The majority of union members today no longer work in construction, manufacturing or “strong back” jobs. They work for government, which, thanks to President Obama, has become the only booming “industry” left in our economy. Since January 2008 the private sector has lost nearly eight million jobs while local, state and federal governments added 590,000.

The shift from the private sector to the public sector has had dire consequences for states and the federal government:

Public employee unions contribute mightily to the campaigns of liberal politicians ($91 million in the midterm elections alone) who vote to increase government pay and workers. As more government employees join the unions and pay dues, the union bosses pour ever more money and energy into liberal campaigns. The result is that certain states are now approaching default. Decades of overpromising and fiscal malpractice by state and local officials have created unfunded public employee benefit liabilities of more than $3 trillion.

Pawlenty had to stare down Minnesota transit workers in a 44-day strike in 2005, a story he tells in his column.  The union wanted the state to guarantee health benefits for a lifetime after 15 years of service, a ridiculous request that would have cost Minnesotans billions of dollars for workers who weren’t working for the state any longer, let alone the costs for those who do.  It took 44 days for the union to back down, and Pawlenty barely held his office the following year in a national Democratic wave election.

The governor offers a three-plank plan to reform public employees systems that comprises some familiar strategies: bring compensation in line with the private sector, reduce unfunded liabilities by using the same kind of accounting principles government requires from the private sector, and switch from defined-benefit models to defined-contribution models for pensions.  But in order to make those changes, federal and state governments will have to take on the unions.  The SEIU, AFCSME, and the NEA will not stand idly by while these actions take place.  Pawlenty doesn’t explicitly state this, but he challenges conservative reformers to “fight this challenge head on,” and calls the public sector unions the “exploiters” that require confrontation and defeat.

The pension crisis has already exploded in some states, notably California, and the federal government isn’t far behind.  It’s yet another entitlement funded by taxpayers that requires an overhaul, and needs it now.  Speaking of California, this video from October spoofing the film Dangerous Liaisons at Cafe Hayek (via King Banaian) is a particularly apropros finale for this post:


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Saw him on F&F this morning….He has it exactly right…Kudos to Gov. Pawlenty for bringing this to light..

hawkman on December 13, 2010 at 9:33 AM

It is an abomination that employees of government at any level are allowed to unionize.

Really Right on December 13, 2010 at 9:35 AM

Everyone should eat three square meals a day.

Every puppy should be placed in a loving home.

All public sector unions should be de-certified.

Akzed on December 13, 2010 at 9:38 AM

The video: ROTFLMAO

pain train on December 13, 2010 at 9:40 AM

Public sector unions need to go.

And, Ed, I know he’s your governor, so you’re partial, but this Palwenty 2012 things is just not going to happen. Let it go, dude.

Trent1289 on December 13, 2010 at 9:41 AM

Concur all…

Khun Joe on December 13, 2010 at 9:43 AM

talk the talk, words just words.

walk the walk

maverick muse on December 13, 2010 at 9:44 AM

Pawlenty is doing a lot of things right. I could vote for him in 2012. He and Palin have my respect.

beatcanvas on December 13, 2010 at 9:44 AM

I’m really, really starting to like this guy. And didn’t he pretty much OWN the DFL-controlled legislature while he was governor? Now THAT’s change I can believe in.

President Pawlenty, it alliterates!

JeffWeimer on December 13, 2010 at 9:45 AM

bring compensation in line with the private sector,

While I agree with this wholeheartedly, the problem is that most people believe that means raising gov’t workers’ pay. It does not. For the most part, gov’t workers make more than their non-gov’t counterparts.

Why do people think it is that gov’t jobs get way more applicants than any private job. the idea that gov’t workers are underpaid is a farce.

Monkeytoe on December 13, 2010 at 9:49 AM

They donate money to their elected boss’s campaign, then sit across from him to negotiate the terms of their employment.

In the Public Sector Union
All the contracts grow on trees,
And if you share the cost to elect your boss
He will sign one as you please
There ain’t no competition, nor need to work too hard
I’m a-goin’ to stay where the taxpayers pay
For a make-work job for the union slob
In the Public Sector Union

Akzed on December 13, 2010 at 9:51 AM

The data is from 2008 (the compensation of federal employees has increased dramatically since), but here’s a chart comparing the average compensation of a federal employee against the pay and benefits earned by an average American.

ironman on December 13, 2010 at 9:53 AM

Reagan broke the back of the Air Traffic Controller’s Union…and was soundly condemned in many circles for doing so…but it worked.

Federal employees should not be permitted to unionize…and we, the people, should have a very big say in the matter. ASfter all, they work for us, the people. Same for state and country and municipal workers, as well.

Our being held hostage by service workers, federal, state and municipal service workers, has to stop…sooner rather than later.

If they don’t like it, they can try to find employment in the private sector.

coldwarrior on December 13, 2010 at 9:53 AM

Akzed on December 13, 2010 at 9:51 AM

If that were true, my life would be a lot different today. I don’t know where you got this, but nothing like this happens at the Federal level.

manwithblackhat on December 13, 2010 at 9:58 AM

Pawlenty is doing a lot of things right. I could vote for him in 2012. He and Palin have my respect.

beatcanvas on December 13, 2010 at 9:44 AM

Yeah, both penned WSJ editorials in the last few days and both are pushing for the reform of state pension plans for public sector workers. In fact, I think Palin actually DID reform that in Alaska when she was governor.

A Palin-Pawlenty ticket in 2012 might be intriguing. Unlike Mittens, Pawlenty served 2 terms as governor of a bluish state and he doesn’t have a disaster like Romneycare on his resume.

Doughboy on December 13, 2010 at 10:06 AM

Guess which branch of federal employees is not allowed to unionize.

The military. They cannot and never will be allowed because of one simple fact: they might go on strike or demand special treatment. Yet they are the ONLY people who work for the government that have jobs so demanding and dangerous that organized bargaining is justified.Public sector unions are a farce.

Mord on December 13, 2010 at 10:07 AM

I like Pawlenty, but he was a big cap-and-trader at one time. He has since changed his position, but this is troubling. I would prefer him over Mitt and Huck by a mile.

Chazz on December 13, 2010 at 10:20 AM

What about police officers? They are public sector employees, and I see now reason why they should not be allowed to unionize. They work a dangerous job, often for low salaries. If not for union benefits and representation, far fewer people would be willing to take the job and we would all be worse off.

When it comes to the bureaucrats, it is a topic worthy of debate. But police officers and firemen need unions.

athenanyc on December 13, 2010 at 10:26 AM

I see *no reason. Typo. :)

athenanyc on December 13, 2010 at 10:27 AM

Government employees should not be permitted to collude.

Companies that bid government work are not permitted to collude for the purpose of fleecing the public, and neither should government employees.

Haggling them down is not good enough. They will be right back to robbing if times are ever better and people aren’t paying as much attention.

They must be eliminated.

forest on December 13, 2010 at 10:31 AM

Outgoing Governor Tim Pawlenty writes today in the Wall Street Journal that the moral arguments for organizing simply don’t apply to government workers…

There are no “moral” arguments in favor of unions whenever workers have the ability to QUIT AND WORK SOMEWHERE ELSE.

The only time moral arguments apply to employment are in the cases of slavery and Communism. As in the case of the Soviet Union, once EVERYONE is a government employee, unions will be the only form of freedom.

logis on December 13, 2010 at 10:31 AM

I doubt a majority of the voting public right now actually knows the difference in what’s paid out in average salaries, along with current benefits and retirement costs, between public sector employees and the private sector.

It’s a major vulnerability for Democrats, when the public finds out, for example, that the salary for the average government worker in California is 80 percent higher than the average salary paid by private businesses in the state. That makes it a great issue for Pawlenty to push, if he wants to find something that resonates with voters and can lift him above the potential field of hopefuls behind the three involved in the 2008 election (Sarah, Huck and Mitt). And if California or New York has the huevos in the next 18 months to actually go to Washington to ask for a federal bailout with no plans to modify their current employee salaries or benefits, the candidate on the GOP side who is out in front on this issue is going to see major gains in their popularity.

jon1979 on December 13, 2010 at 10:32 AM

The members could vote out the unions themselves. Hey, guys, just look at the instant raise you would receive if you didn’t have to pay dues anymore.

Kissmygrits on December 13, 2010 at 10:32 AM

The “good” history of unions was to provide protection from greedy, abusive bosses.

In government, who are the greedy, abusive bosses? Obviously, the taxpayers.

When the government dances to the tune of the unions, who is really running the government, the unions, or the elected representatives of the people?

Government should have only one master – We The People. Government employee unions need to go.

SouthernRoots on December 13, 2010 at 10:33 AM

Why to government workers need a union?! If it is to protect them from the mean government bosses, then that’s the very reason government needs to be kept from getting too powerful.

pearson on December 13, 2010 at 10:34 AM

I would have paid money to see him say that to MNDOT, especially just after a 16 inch snowfall….

jbh45 on December 13, 2010 at 10:46 AM

To add, basically MNDOT holds the state hostage. The state dumps billions into this agency because nothing takes away votes more than roads not cleared of snow….just say’n.

jbh45 on December 13, 2010 at 10:47 AM

Pawlenty is weak tea (just like Christie). He doesn’t call unions “illegitimate” as in your headline. He doesn’t call for their elimination.

faraway on December 13, 2010 at 10:50 AM

Personally, I like Pawlenty. He comes off mouse-y, but when he played ice hockey (in his day) he was anything but mouse-y. Only thing is, for me, he just doesn’t have a national following. He may do well replacing Steele and getting a bigger platform. I see Pawlenty in 2016 or 2020 as possibly holding an edge, but that’s a way’s off.

jbh45 on December 13, 2010 at 10:51 AM

Bore-a-Plenty – go get some private sector experience, preferably 8 (EIGHT) to 10 (TEN) years, in the field of energy to atone for your supporting of cap and tax.

It will get you out of the public sphere bubble.

It might give you a personality other than the snoozefest you are right now.

But most of all it will give you true insight into how destructive government policies can be.

Then I’ll reconsider. It will be 2020 and you will be set up perfectly to lead and govern. Until then TTFN…

Branch Rickey on December 13, 2010 at 10:52 AM

Good luck selling this to the masses. O-blah-blah is stacking the voting rolls with millions of new crimin-alien voters. Soon there will be more people on the receiving end able to vote themselves more “stuff” which you will need to pay for.

Alden Pyle on December 13, 2010 at 11:01 AM

Pawlenty: Public-sector unions illegitimate

Second look at Pawlenty?

petefrt on December 13, 2010 at 11:09 AM

It’s part of the Democrats plan for America, the unions get huge salaries and pensions to protect Democrats in the polls. Cool scam.

tarpon on December 13, 2010 at 11:10 AM

Everyone who works for the government is engaged in public service, down to the guy who cleans the toilets, and if we don’t like the conditions of our employment in public service, we should get another job. No one has ever given me a compelling justification for public-sector unions.

Attila (Pillage Idiot) on December 13, 2010 at 11:17 AM

Why does nobody think Pawlenty would be a good presidential candidate? Seems to me he’s just what the country needs. No way I’m voting for Palin or Romney.

Pablo Snooze on December 13, 2010 at 11:20 AM

Good for Pawlenty. Keep it up, and he may actually be a contender in 2012 after all.

But honestly, he still has a long way to go.

tom on December 13, 2010 at 11:40 AM

What about police officers? They are public sector employees, and I see now reason why they should not be allowed to unionize. They work a dangerous job, often for low salaries. If not for union benefits and representation, far fewer people would be willing to take the job and we would all be worse off.

When it comes to the bureaucrats, it is a topic worthy of debate. But police officers and firemen need unions.

athenanyc on December 13, 2010 at 10:26 AM

In our state, at least, Police Officers and Firefighters are among the most protected gov’t employees of all and their salaries are far greater than the market would bare. Every time their is a new recruit class announced, there are hundreds of qualified applicants for each position. The claim that the extravagent pay and benefits is necessary, and teh union protection is necessary, just is not true. My guess is the same is true in most states.

Every gov’t employee can make this claim – i.e., what I do is so important we deserve both the civil service protections that are far greater than any private employee receives, the compensation and benefits that are far greater than private employees receive for similar work, and union protection on top. For instance, teachers would make the same claim, as would TSA workers, FAA workers, OSHA workers, etc., etc. etc.

Indeed, having worked in labor and employment advising municipalities, I have found that police and fire are the worst abusers of the system. It is next to impossible to fire them for misconduct or incompetence and their pay and benefits are outrageous relative to the market. (let’s face it, we have volunteer fire departments in many municipalities. If there are people willing to do it for free, certainly starting pay for a paid department should be less than $53,000 (before overtime)).

There is no need for police or fire unions. If suddenly departments cannot find qualified applicants, perhaps changes could be made to compensation, etc. at that time. My guess is you would find no shortage of qualified people willing to do the job even without a union and at lower pay.

Monkeytoe on December 13, 2010 at 11:54 AM

Pawlenty has a very strong pragmatic streak in him that senses the shifting political terrain very astutely. He knows when to move away from a position that just isn’t going to work and he knows that the current American political landscape is shifting in the direction of more conservative ideas.
His greatest strength, in my opinion, is that he understands the most important distinction between the Executive and the Legislative job descriptions; legislation is all about making deals and mastering a shifting scenario of coalitions, while being an executive is all about gate-keeping. A legislator can’t go home without having done something, but a Governor can be very effective stopping things from getting done.
In general, he tends to be a “practical conservative” if one can imagine such a thing, but when he’s in a head-butting contest he can be as tough as nails. Don’t let the placid exterior fool you; there’s a steel core just under the surface!

Lew on December 13, 2010 at 12:01 PM

You can’t ban unions. People have a right to associate freely. But you don’t have to bargain with unions, or tolerate strikes. You can require them to fully fund their pension plans as they go. They could still make political contributions, but reforming reporting requirements could at least reveal the payoffs.

These changes would go a long way to restore balance and accountability to the situation.

novaculus on December 13, 2010 at 12:17 PM

RIGHT ON! If we can’t get government unions decertified we are headed toward a bad place. A really bad place. The unions don’t get to take the mantle of the UNION. two different entities. The south fought union. I’ll be damned if it’s going to have to fight that war again, but that’s the way it’s starting to look.

pc on December 13, 2010 at 12:43 PM

We can see an excellent case for why police should not be allowed to unionize in Greece. In the last set of riots the anarchists broke into a bank and set it on fire, and one person inside died in the fire. The police stood outside and watched the rioters, because the police are unionized and their government bennies are just as in danger as that of the rioters.

Closer to home, we saw SEIU thugs terrorize the child of a ‘banker’ at his private residence in Virginia a couple of months ago. The thugs were escorted to the home by the local police force, also members of a union, even though they had to travel outside their jurisdiction.

slickwillie2001 on December 13, 2010 at 12:54 PM

Unions played(past tense)a needed roll in our history lifting people from poverty and exploitation, that time has long past.
Unions are now up there with the greedy bankers,CEO’s,politicians, except for one thing THE TAX PAYERS ARE PAYING FOR IT.
There is no way PUBLIC SERVANTS should be paid more than their bosses( AGAIN THE TAX PAYERS) their wages and benefits should be brought in line with the public sector.
Since they are such a large portion of the working class why don’t they have to pay into SS instead of a lucrative pension plan???

concernedsenior on December 13, 2010 at 1:06 PM

Ed your continued demonization of ordinary Americans who happen to hold public jobs is really off-putting “fat salaries”, etc when I’ve struggled to make ends meat many, many years. Whether Obama or anyone else has grown the government too much is beside the point. Most federal employees, though covered by a bargaining unit, are not active members anyway. Union ability to bargain with management is severely restricted compared to a private sector union (e.g., Congress sets pay & benefits including retirement, health care, etc, NOT collective bargaining units). Most federal unions are good for not much more than agreeing as to things like local job rotation methods, designating smoking areas, setting up lunch periods, mundane things like that. None of the big ticket things are subject to bargaining in the sense that one would normally think of.

Unions came about in government service to some extent due to political interference that served to appoint and promote people based on cronyism from newly elected officials.

I’m in management so am not covered by a bargaining unit, and don’t think unions are that great. But is it really fair to act as if thousands of regular, hard working people somehow have conspired to get rich at taxpayer expense – “fleecing” the taxpayers, etc. – or whatever the axe is to grind here. My particular job happens to center around protecting the taxpayer’s interest and negotiating the best prices for contractual arrangements. To say that I am raking in a fat salary and colluding to fleece the taxpayer is ridiculous, ignorant, and spiteful.

Used to be a fan of Hotair but much of the comments anymore are in this vein.

84fiero on December 13, 2010 at 1:08 PM

Palin has already covered this. Nice that Pawlenty supports here stance.

http://www.conservatives4palin.com/2010/12/t-paw-agrees-with-governor-palin-on.html

and she actually worked on reforming the system:

“Governor Palin actually tried to address the problem by enacting some much needed reforms to the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) and the Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS). She ratcheted down obligations by using a tiered system for current employees that allots their pensions according to seniority. She also enacted a totally new system for those who are newly employed while honoring past commitments which she was legally bound to do.”

ChuckTX on December 13, 2010 at 1:11 PM

If that were true, my life would be a lot different today. I don’t know where you got this, but nothing like this happens at the Federal level. manwithblackhat on December 13, 2010 at 9:58 AM

AFSCME contributes to election campaigns.

Right?

Akzed on December 13, 2010 at 1:18 PM

As a hard-working state employee (whose hard-earned private-sector Social Security benefits will be reduced dollar-for-dollar by my state pension), I am really bothered by this automatic assumption that all public employees are freeloaders. I bring decades of knowledge and experience to bear. I provide superior customer service. If I printed out all the “thank you” emails I’ve gotten from my customers the printer would run out of ink. I don’t drive a luxury car, live in a McMansion, or vacation in Monte Carlo. I probably won’t be able to afford to retire.

skydaddy on December 13, 2010 at 3:30 PM

Pawlenty was a high priest in Al Gore’s global warming church for many years, he even had his own regional Cap & Trade plan. I guess he was afraid that the Democrats couldn’t pass Cap & Trade on their own or at least not as fast as he wanted to implement it.

Before I can support Pawlenty he has to clearly explain his position on global warming and Tax & Cap. Did he finally figure out that anthropogenic global warming is a fraud intended to necessitate massive new taxes or only that it’s now a big loser politically but he’d happily climb right back on the Cap & Trade bandwagon given half a chance?

I live in Minnesota, he was my Governor, I called his office a few times asking for answers on his global warming transformation and received only silence.

RJL on December 13, 2010 at 4:01 PM

Pawlenty: Public-sector unions illegitimate

Second look at Pawlenty?

petefrt on December 13, 2010 at 11:09 AM

Let him in the debates if he’s a serious candidate, but it’s silly to say I’d vote for him without vetting him under the bright spotlights of a presidential primary season.

Those of you who love Chris Christie will soon find out the same thing. Breath of fresh air, just like Guiliani was, but I don’t want him anywhere near the presidency.

scotash on December 13, 2010 at 4:30 PM

Ahhhhh, this week’s “two minutes of hate” towards the big, bad public employee unions. Nice to see it out good and early. Look, just because you were all too dumb to take John Derbyshire’s advice to get a government job is no reason to hate the playas. Hate the game, yo.

Heh.

Dukeboy01 on December 13, 2010 at 4:37 PM

Ahhhhh, this week’s “two minutes of hate” towards the big, bad public employee unions. Nice to see it out good and early. Look, just because you were all too dumb to take John Derbyshire’s advice to get a government job is no reason to hate the playas. Hate the game, yo. Heh. – Dukeboy01 on December 13, 2010 at 4:37 PM

So speaks the public union worker.

SC.Charlie on December 13, 2010 at 6:22 PM

Ahhhhh, this week’s “two minutes of hate” towards the big, bad public employee unions. Nice to see it out good and early. Look, just because you were all too dumb to take John Derbyshire’s advice to get a government job is no reason to hate the playas. Hate the game, yo.

Dukeboy01 on December 13, 2010 at 4:37 PM

Ah, yes, so how is life knowing that you provide no net value to society? Good job AA.

Don’t bother explaining because you are a loser, and losers don’t get to talk.

Inanemergencydial on December 14, 2010 at 1:40 AM

PLEASE COME TO HAWAII

Proud Union members all and none of it by choice.

MSGTAS on December 14, 2010 at 9:08 AM