The Problem with Public Sector Unions

[Related side comment:] In today’s landmark Janus decision, the minority accused the majority of “weaponizing the First Amendment.”  Really?  Are these political operatives on a TV show or justices of the United States Supreme Court?

Earlier this year Daniel DiSalvo, associate professor of political science at the City College of New York, published a good essay in City Journal that mentioned some of the problems with public sector unions that never seem to enter the public discussion.

Inherent Conflict of Interest

Elected officials face an inherent conflict of interest when they deal with public-sector unions.  When they are running for office they go to the unions with their hand out to raise campaign funds.  Then after they are elected they oversee or even negotiate labor contracts with these very same unions.

Ever-Larger and More Expensive Government

The general result of public-sector unions’ outsize influence in politics over the last 30 years, especially at the state and local levels, is ever-larger and more expensive government. Bigger government means more jobs and money for unions, of course, but in places where unions are strong, public finances tend to be in rough shape. Research by political scientists Sarah Anzia of the University of California at Berkeley and Terry Moe of Stanford University shows that unions increase the cost of government by boosting the salaries and benefits of public workers. My own research finds that strong unions drive up liabilities for other post-employment benefits (OPEB), which consist mainly of retiree health insurance. Higher salaries and generous benefits yield higher government debt and higher interest rates on state and local bonds. Loosening the grip of public-sector unions on some state and local governments could thus create the political breathing room that policymakers need in order to address long-festering fiscal problems in some of the nation’s most populous states and cities.

Today’s Janus Rebalancing of Power is Welcome

Unfortunately this AFSCME official’s comment about Janus leading to a crumbling of leftist infrastructure is just hyperbole, but today’s landmark Janus victory is HUGE.

Janus could also alter nationwide political dynamics. Public-sector unions are potent forces at all levels of American government. AFSCME official Naomi Walker has said that abolishing fees “could undermine political operations that assist the Democratic Party” and that “the progressive infrastructure in this country, from think tanks to advocacy organizations . . . will crumble.”

Peter Zeller is Director of Operations at Center of the American Experiment.