That is a significant point

I’m always on the fence about unions – half the time, I think they serve a noble purpose, the other half I find them to be just as bad as the employers they claim to protect workers from.

However, this essay has a solid point about the value of Public Sector Unions that I hadn’t considered before.

“The thing that pundits like Andrew Sullivan, Megan McArdle and David Brooks don’t seem to grasp is that public sector unions shield public servants from political pressures. We have to interact with politically connected, powerful, influential people every day, from the building inspector who decides if a new development is up to code to auditors and so forth. We are answerable to our managers, who are not members of the bargaining unit, and they to their directors, who are also not members of the union and are either political appointees or serve at the pleasure of political appointees. Managers in public service walk a very fine line between the enormous pressures they get from legislators and executives above and from their service constituencies below. Unionization allows workers to perform their duties to the taxpayer without fear for their livelihood. It is a powerful shield from the vicissitudes of political life.”

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18 Responses to That is a significant point

  1. Rich says:

    If this is the case then these ‘public sector’ unions should not have abused the trust of the citizens.

    This is just like an unrepentant teen asking for the keys to the car after totaling the last one.

    I, and millions just like me, simply don’t care. You have thrown away any right to any trace of trust from the public.

    If it were up to me you would all be on the streets begging for scraps.

  2. Mr. B says:

    Bullshit. Civil service laws take care of the above referenced issue quite nicely.

    Anyone who tells you differently is a liar.

  3. emdfl says:

    #2 got in a nutshell. That’s what the Civil Service law did when it was passed. Public employees were “allowed” to be unionized (via an executive order) by JFK as a payoff for fixing the Illinois(think Chicago) election that got him the presidential office.

  4. emdfl says:

    Dunno why that showed up the way it did.

  5. Kurt P says:

    …And now instead of trying to weave around competing special interests- just does what his UNION steward tells him to do.

  6. Rivrdog says:

    Good thing it isn’t up to you Rich. Some of us are armed.

  7. Rivrdog says:

    OK, Civil Service. When I became a cop in 1973, Civil Service was strong, and the public employee unions were just starting out. My union never was strong, and in fact, we kicked out AFSCME after they fucked us over in the late 70’s. Strangely though, Civil Service has just about gone away, and no one wants it back, because the managerial types couldn’t harass the lower (union) workers when Civil Service was strong.

    I would sign on with something to limit the political power of unions, something that would say that they may endorse, but not transfer money to the parties, and it’s been tried. In Oregon, the boneheaded Bill Sizemore put up initiatives several times to separate the union cash from politics, but every time, the measures were either defeated or one time, it was also ruled a violation of the First Amendment.

    Whatever legislator can make a Bill on this that can stick, without actually killing the unions, will be considered a hero by many on the Union side as well.

    We just can’t make the McCain-Feingold type of mistake again.

    The “axe the unions” types like Rich above are not looking at any type of workable solution. It’s possible to limit collective bargaining, Oregon did it about 15 years ago, but you can’t end the unions or their influence in the workplace. You especially can’t do it by hammer-headed methods like Rich infers.

  8. MadRocketScientist says:

    I’m with Rivrdog on this. As much as the greed, abuses, & corruption of Unions disgusts, when they work, they do serve an important function.

    IMHO, part of what needs to happen is that the Union power structure needs to be regularly broken to prevent it from amassing too much money or power. Something like, every 10 years or so, the Union has to recertify in a secret ballot election, and if they can’t make the votes, they automatically decertify. And if they do make the votes, the entire Union leadership gets changed out, from the top down (no one who works for the Union directly in a leadership role gets to keep their job longer than 10 years), with none of the old guard being allowed to run for any Union position. Same goes for unions at the national level. I’d also make it a requirement that every Union must respect the wishes of members who do not want their dues going to political causes the Union supports.

    Might not hurt to extend this idea to state governments to some degree.

    Power often becomes entrenched in people, as much as it can become entrenched in an office (if not more than). We usually can’t easily do without the office, but we help the problem by changing out the people on a regular basis.

  9. Davidwhitewolf says:

    Well, I will just say that every business I have ever worked for was non-unionized, and when the topic came up in executive discussions it was universally acknowledged that if there was ever a serious threat of unionization (including having it imposed by state statute, this being California) that we would simply dissolve the company.

  10. Drang says:

    In an ideal world, this may be true, but in the real world, well, this is incredibly naive.

  11. jg says:

    I guess its true. Altho I still havent seen mass bussing of Union members to support Repub or Tea party rallies.

  12. DirtCrashr says:

    I don’t know what “Civil Service” is in this U.S.A. context, but India has a huge Civil Service structure inherited from the British that has turned into a humongous, paralyzing bloat and a suffocating blight, it is a fantastic and surreal layer of bureaucracy and immobility, of fiefdoms and cronyism and abuses and greed that is nearly unimaginable.
    I never worked in a Union or for one and have never understood what purpose it serves except to make mini-masters of the Union architects, a managerial layer above the actual labor.
    My brother works for a small glass-making union who’s main job is to ensure that the current working members pay the pensions of the retired ones, the guys who took the money first and are now out fishing on the Bay on their boats. It’s a dying Union as the business climate changes and soon there will be no “working members” to suck-off.

  13. I disagree with the post. Whilst private sector labor unions are naturally held somewhat in check by the danger of bankrupting their employer, public sector unions can drive the state deep into debt, and leave the taxpayer with the bill. Furthermore, whilst private sector unions are merely helping themselves to a larger share of corporate profits, public unions exist in a system of no corporations or profits. They can only enrich themselves at the further expense of the taxpayer.
    There is only one reliable protection against state abuse: shrink the state.
    Ironically, I just posted a rant on this very same subject on my own blog, not 24 hours ago (saying pretty much what I just said, but slightly less politely). It’s interesting the variety of opinions you can find in the blog world when the msm is all parroting the party line. I like a free internet.

  14. Sorry for the double post, but in retrospect I don’t feel like I addressed your point well, instead lamely parroting my own crap. Sorry about that.

    In thinking about your point more, I wonder if public empoyee unions make government more resistant to the democratic choices of the public. Consider that, when prevailing public sentiment favors government expansion, the public unions will do everything to facilitate. If the public decides, however, that spending and goverment growth are out of control, the unions only serve to make it that much harder to turn the Titanic. That same inflexibility in unions often leads to massive layoffs, as the union set wages are so resistant to necessary downward adjustments during hard times – but that is a criticism of unions in general, not just the public sort.

  15. MadRocketScientist says:


    You didn’t really address the central point, that if we for the moment ignore the question as to whether or not they should exist, Public Sector Unions potentially provide a powerful shield against political abuses of power. Ideally, yes, shrinking government would reduce the abuses of the political class, but since the GOP couldn’t care less about reducing government, and us libertarian minded folk are not yet taken seriously in politics, we have to deal with the situation in front of us.

    So, in our currently reality, if there was no union, how would you protect public sector employees from the over-reach of the politically connected. Note that civil service laws, while a nice gesture, are only as effective as the parties that choose to enforce them.

  16. I wouldn’t describe our civil service laws as merely a nice gesture. They are actually quite extensive, thanks partly to past efforts of unions, and are believed to be a leading cause for the decades long decline in union membership. Most of them were in place before President Kennedy signed the law allowing public employees to unionize.

    Your original point still stands, though. I suppose I am having trouble mentally seperating government workers with the government. I still view the situation as being one in which any victory had by public sector unions comes at a direct cost to the public, and is enforcable by the coercive power of the state. It is a power that private sector unions don’t have – their employers simply go bust.

    Ultimately, in an ideal libertarian situation (which we are not in, sadly), dissatisfied public employees would be most advised to leave the public sector, and enter the private. This would serve as the check on politicians who seek to abuse their workers – no one would get reelected who drove all public employees to quit.

  17. thebastidge says:

    I am all for people being able to unionize if they wish. I am against ANY government regulation favouring union over non-union shops. Abolish any legal requirements to join a union, no matter the field.

    I read Rivrdog, but dude, if you wanna make threats about the union being armed, don’t be surprised if people start making threats back. There are FAR more of us who do not belong to a union, and far more of us who are armed than union members. You guys comprise a very small portion of the population, and even less in rural and suburban areas outside the rust belt.

    We have the means to redress complaints with government: the voting booth and the courts. We have whistle-blower protections at all levels of government, so “protecting the worker from the political process” doesn’t fly for both that reason AND because the political process is how political decision get made. Part of the problem with major federal institutions is the entrenched bureacracy that doesn’t change from adminsitration to adminitration: witness how State worked so hard again the Bush war agenda.

  18. AM says:

    You know I’m just waiting for someone to start shouting “Workers of the World Unite!”

    The problems that Unions addressed are gone. Unions are now just a permanent scar on our cultural landscape, or possibly a vestigial organ.

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