Monday, November 01, 2010

Why public sector union campaigning should trouble us

While we're supposed to get our panties all in a knot over the $30 million or so that Karl Rove's group has spent on the election this year, that number is dwarfed by how much public employee unions are spending on this election. Totaling up the spending from AFSCME, SEIU, and the NEA and they're spending about $172 million to elect politicians who will then turn around and work to give those union members better salaries and benefits. Jeff Jacoby explains why this is such a pernicious trend.
“It’s their money!’’ the president of AFSCME declares, and the heads of the NEA and SEIU would presumably agree, but where does “their money’’ come from? From satisfied customers paying for goods and services they voluntarily purchased? From profits earned by designing safer cars, serving tastier meals, developing cleaner fuels? From investing prudently in the marketplace?

Of course not. Every dollar the government pays its employees is a dollar the government taxes away from somebody else. As it is, public employees generally make more in salary and benefits than employees in the private economy: For Americans working in state and local government jobs, total compensation last year averaged $39.66 per hour — 45 percent more than the private sector average of $27.42. (For federal employees, the advantage is even greater.) Which means that AFSCME and the other public-sector unions are using $172 million that came from taxpayers to elect politicians who will take even more money from taxpayers, in order to further expand the public sector, multiply the number of government employees, and increase their pay and perks.

Campaign contributions from public-sector unions, National Review editor Rich Lowry writes, drive “a perpetual feedback loop of large-scale patronage.’’ Not only don’t the unions deny it, they trumpet it. “We’re the big dog,’’ brags Larry Scanlon, AFSCME’s political director. “The more members coming in, the more dues coming in, the more money we have for politics.’’

Unlike labor unions in the private sector, government unions can reward politicians who give them what they want and punish those who don’t. The United Auto Workers has no say in hiring or firing the president of the Ford Motor Company, but public-sector unions like AFSCME and the NEA can use the political process to help elect the “management’’ that will have to negotiate with them. The unions flex their muscle to push not only for ever-more-lavish wages and benefits (including the exorbitant pensions and health plans that are devouring government budgets), but also for more government hiring and bigger government programs.
That's why public sector unions are behind measures to increase taxes in Washington state. This is what they will always want - more taxes from all of us to pay for their benefits. Americans are just waking up to this dangerous cycle and we're learning how dangerous that patronage feedback loop is. Just as civil service reform to end the corruption behind the spoils system was a necessary cleansing in the 19th century, addressing the pernicious power of the public service unions is a necessity in this century.