Monday, September 27, 2010

The unholy alliance

Steven Malanga has a book coming out about how public-sector unions and community activists-turned politicians plus the Democratic Party have united to run up the rates on which taxpayer money is funneled into the pockets of unionized government workers. It's a frightening tale that the public is finally waking up to. Here is a quick summary of what has gone on in the past few decades.
Quickly, other big-city mayors and governors also began granting employees the right to negotiate with government for wages and pay -- ignoring the critics who pointed out that because government was a monopoly, public workers could hold cities and states hostage by going on strike.

The critics' fears soon came to pass. In 1966 alone, teacher strikes shut down some three dozen urban school systems. When states began limiting public employees' right to strike, unions quickly figured out a new strategy centered on becoming politically active in legislatures and city councils.

The evolution was quick. One example: In 1970s California, the most influential groups in state politics were the private-industry associations of the trial lawyers, insurance companies, doctors and hospitals. But by the mid-1980s, the biggest donors to political campaigns and spenders of lobbying dollars in Sacramento were public-sector unions for teachers, state employees, police, firefighters and prison guards.

The rise of these groups coincided with a growing public-sector ability to win big pay and benefit raises, including pension benefits. One startling result: Today, states and cities face an estimated $3 trillion in unfunded pension and retiree-health benefits for public employees -- a burden that will squeeze budgets for decades.

The big-government coalition heavily supported candidate Obama for president, and he has rewarded them. The various stimulus packages of the last year and a half have included hundreds of billions of dollars to preserve state and local government jobs. Much of this aid came with huge strings attached: Local governments that took the money committed to not cutting their program spending or reducing their workforce.

But perhaps the biggest boost to this coalition has been ObamaCare. Public unions heavily lobbied for the plan, even though most of their members already have health coverage. Their leaders know it will be good for the unions' "business": As government has increased its involvement in health care through programs like Medicare and Medicaid, politicians have written rules and requirements for these programs that make union organizing easier. That's one reason why health-care unionization rates remain above the average for the rest of the private economy.
Think how far we've come from Reagan firing the air controllers. And don't even dream of a Governor Coolidge stating that there is "no right to strike against public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time."

Alas, state and local budgets are now given over in large part to paying the benefits for government workers. That will be the next task for the tea partiers. They need to turn their sights on local government and demand that those benefits and unfunded pensions get pared back or all our communities will go under.

And if you need something to get you geared up for such a change, just remember what those public employees have done to our public schools, as Arnold Ahlert reminds us.
Quite simply, teachers unions are a "cartel," one definition of which is a "combination of commercial or industrial enterprises designed to limit competition or fix prices." The "combination of commercial enterprises" are the various state and city unions themselves, virtually all of whom get their marching orders from two of the richest and most powerful lobbying groups in the country, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). They "limit competition" by creating school zones which force parents who live in particular geographical locations to send their children to the schools in those same locations, no matter how bad those schools are.

It is impossible to over-estimate the damage of such an arrangement, and yet that damage apparently eludes most Americans. Imagine if one were forced to shop for food in a supermarket overrun by roaches, with out-of-date, over-priced food on the shelves, run by a bunch of surly customer-be-damned employees--because that market was in your government-mandated "food zone." Imagine if the employees in that store, no matter how incompetent or rude, were virtually un-fireable because the process to remove them took more than two years. Imagine most of those employees being guaranteed a job for life regardless, of their performance.

Imagine that same supermarket blaming its customers for the lousy service and high prices, even as they tell those customers that raising those prices is the only solution, even as previous price hikes have done absolutely nothing to improve the quality of that store in more than fifty years.

Now imagine a political party thoroughly dedicated to maintaining that status quo of that rotten supermarket, come hell or high water.

Take a big city. Any big city in any state across the country where schools are doing a miserable job of educating kids, where the cost per pupil is far higher than the national average, where passing "lemon teachers" from one school to the other is standard operating procedure, where drop-out rates are as high if not higher than graduation rates, and where "passing grades" are little more than euphemisms for disguising substandard work.

Democrat strongholds, one and all.

Ask yourself why, after spending $865 billion on a stimulus package, our Democratically-controlled Congress rammed an additional $26 billion worth of deficit spending down the throats of American tax-payers. Let me give you a hint: maintaining the loyalty of the teachers' cartel doesn't come cheap. This is the same Congress which killed a successful voucher program in Washington, D.C. which served 3,300 low-income children in that same city. Where do those children go now.? Back into the D.C. public school system, one of the worst in the nation.
As taxpayers absorb the sticker shock of what their communities' deals with public employees have done to those budgets, they can go watch "Waiting for Superman" or "The Lottery" and remember also what those teacher unions have done to their schools.