How to Save California: Outlaw Public Employee Unions

 

Like everyone else in California, I’m dismayed at the state of the state. The massive budget deficit, high taxes and runaway government spending, spreading unemployment, a hostile business climate, and unfunded future pensions are ruining a state that has every natural gift and advantage in resources, both human and natural. Everyone seems to agree that the way the state government works has a lot to do with these problems, but no one is sure how to fix it. I even taught a seminar last semester on reforming the California constitution to explore solutions (more on that another time).

Earlier this week, I was lucky to go to the annual dinner of the Lincoln Club of northern California, which is made up of Republican leaders in the San Francisco area. The Club was awarding its lifetime achievement award to Pete Wilson, the last governor who made state government work (and a proud alum of my law school) — believe it or not, but when Wilson left office, the state had a budget surplus. Ricochet’s very own Peter Robinson interviewed Wilson on how to save California. It was an amazing night: Wilson displayed an encyclopedic command of the policy challenges facing the state.

The one change that he said could restore the state’s fortunes wasn’t lowering taxes, cutting spending, or eliminating excessive regulations — though these were all important. He said there was a deeper root cause: the power of the public employees unions. According to Wilson, public employee unions trigger a destructive dynamic. Public employee unions take money from their members and use them for partisan political purposes. They pressure government officials to cut them sweetheart deals, especially through things like job protections and pensions, that don’t show up on the bottom line for years. They create a larger and larger interest group that demands more government spending and higher taxes, which drives out private entrepreneurship and swells their ranks even more. Reduce the power of the public employee unions, and you lower the size of government, reduce the costs of the state, and fix the looming pension problem.

So here’s my idea, and it applies beyond California. There is no constitutional right for public employees to form a union and to use their dues to pressure the government for more spending and benefits. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote while a state judge, a policeman “may have the right to talk politics but he has no constitutional right to be a policeman.” Unions only have this right because state government has granted it to them. So how about a one sentence ballot initiative, to amend the California constitution, that simply says that public employees cannot form unions — and why not do this state by state.

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  1. Profile Photo Member
    @

    That would stir some fecal up huh? John, you should write your own “Rules for Radicals” book!

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  2. Profile Photo Member
    @

    Better have at least $100 million to push that one, because the unions will spend every cent in their coffers.

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    @Palaeologus

    Yep, that’s a winner. Just imagine how much spending public sector unions would divert to fight it. And if it passes, it’s a potential game changer.

    Too fast for me Kenneth.

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  4. Profile Photo Member
    @

    So far as politics are concerned, I can think of almost nothing I would support more energetically than a ban on public unions in Ohio. Public unions are a racket, plain and simple, and unlike the unions that drag private companies under it’s the state itself which the AFSCME will eventually – inevitably – bankrupt.

    Kenneth: Better have at least $100 million to push that one, because the unions will spend every cent in their coffers. · Oct 1 at 4:25pm

    For sure, but public sector unions have a tough sell if you drag them out into the sunlight. Let’s see, desk jockeys with good pay and great benefits, who are nearly impossible to fire, need a union for… what, exactly? Union bosses “fighting for their members” against the Democrat officials whose campaigns they bankroll is a farce, and it’s one that should be ended before state governments grow any more bloated!

    Full disclosure, I am a (happily non-union) government employee myself.

    • #4
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    @ConservativeEpiscopalian

    Good idea! Let them spend to defeat the initiative. Watch out for shenanigans during the initial petition drive. You leadin’ the way John?

    • #5
  6. Profile Photo Editor
    @Claire

    Outstanding idea.

    • #6
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    @MichaelTee

    Polling places are so corrupt it’s a wonder the GOP gets elected in the first place.

    As Stalin said about the Pope: The Pope! How many divisions has he got?

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    @PaulARahe

    In time, this will happen because soon California will be unable to borrow money. In the meantime, if Jerry Brown is elected Governor, the fun will begin. The only problem is that the only folks likely to laugh are people who, like me, live somewhere else.

    But seriously we need to think, as John is thinking, radically — for the problems are deep-rooted.

    • #8
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    @Brad

    So much good could be accomplished with the abolishment of public employee unions, lower fees for all government services, better results in the classroom and maybe someone at the DMV may actually show a little hustle if there was a possibility they could loose their job if they didn’t perform.

    In Alberta, Canada, where I am from originally, the government privatized the vehicle licensing, marriage and birth certificates, etc, the change was astounding. Edmonton went from 4 DMVs to about 20 licensing stores, you could take care of your business in about 10 minutes as opposed to the 2 to 4 hours it used to take. Privatize and let the market work.

    • #9
  10. Profile Photo Member
    @

    Sounds like a great idea, but I have to admit I was a bit distracted by the thought of a dinner “made up of Republican leaders in the San Francisco area.” Did you sit at the end of the bar, or were they able to find an extra booth for you?

    • #10
  11. Profile Photo Inactive
    @MorituriTe

    Today California … tomorrow the Federal government!

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  12. Profile Photo Inactive
    @PeterChristofferson

    Daniel DiSalvo has a really fine article in the latest issue of National Affairs on this very topic. He points out that even FDR and Samuel Gompers (those well-known foes of organized labor!) were opposed to collective bargaining for civil servants. They very naturally saw how dangerous it would be for public employees to elect their own bosses, a situation about which union leaders now brag with glee.

    E.J. McMahon’s Encounter Broadside on this topic is also devastating. Read it if you haven’t already.

    • #12
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    @liberaljim

    Good idea, but pie in the sky. The CA S.C. and the 9th circuit would never give their OK and the Supremes would probably duck the case. I agree it would be constitutional, but what does that have to do with what the courts do? I view what is taking place in CA, NY, and IL as state governments de-legitimizing themselves. I hope, but have my doubts, that if/when the GOP takes over the house they will stop the bail outs of these and some other states. Unfortunately the situation needs to devolve further before the resurrection begins.

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    @outstripp

    Yes.

    The current situation guarantees a downward spiral:

    1. Public employees slowly increase in numbers

    2. They use their numbers, money, and inside knowledge to elect compliant politicians

    3. The compliant politicians grease their career paths by delivering increased benefits and positions to public employees

    4. The increased benefits make public employment more attractive than private employment.

    5. Their numbers grow….

    • #14
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    @liberaljim

    Sorry for posting twice. Why not a law or other mechanism saying that state/fed governments will no longer withhold union dues from members pay checks? This would cripple if not castrate the unions and seems more doable.

    • #15
  16. Profile Photo Contributor
    @GeorgeSavage
    Kenneth: Better have at least $100 million to push that one, because the unions will spend every cent in their coffers. · Oct 1 at 4:25pm

    Even if we lose, we can at least deplete the public employee unions’ cash and save it being spent on some other nefarious purpose; or would they just insist on reimbursement from the state in the next budget cycle?

    • #16
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    @PeterRobinson
    Daniel Frank: Today California … tomorrow the Federal government! · Oct 1 at 6:43pm

    Would that it were so, Daniel. John Yoo may have a different view of this, but I’m pretty thoroughly convinced that the federal government will prove a lot easier to turn around than my beloved but messed up Golden State.

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    @DuaneOyen

    After the judge-shopping and creative legal work that greeted Prop.8 and Prop. 187, which passed and were struck down, I can imagine how this one would be greeted. But I’d love to see it happen.

    Minnesota’s first teacher’s strike wiped out 2 months of my senior year of high school (I’m still illiterate today after suffering that learning deficit); since then, teachers have gained power and money, and the public has gained lousy, ever more costly schooling.

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    @MelFoil

    That’s John…always making new friends. :)

    I’ve always thought that public-sector unions have an unfair advantage. The people they negotiate with, over contracts, never have any skin in the game. And the unions have proved that they can’t be trusted, they’ve proved they don’t care about their fellow citizens, and they should be abolished as quickly as possible.

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    @Pilgrim
    liberal jim: Sorry for posting twice. Why not a law or other mechanism saying that state/fed governments will no longer withhold union dues from members pay checks? This would cripple if not castrate the unions and seems more doable. · Oct 2 at 8:05am

    CA is not a “right to work” state which means that once a shop/agency/school system is organized every worker has to both join and contribute to maintain employment. Efforts in that direction might accomplish what liberal jim suggests

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    @PeterChristofferson
    Duane Oyen: “…since then, teachers have gained power and money, and the public has gained lousy, ever more costly schooling.”

    Well said. Case in point.

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  22. Profile Photo Member
    @DuaneOyen

    etoiledunord: I’ve always thought that public-sector unions have an unfair advantage. The people they negotiate with, over contracts, never have any skin in the game.

    Well, EDN, they actually do have skin in the game. Unfortunately, the skin leans in favor of the unions, because higher worker bee salaries and pensions provides upward pressure on management salaries and pensions. And, don’t forget, management is always pushing to get more subordinates to rule, because civil service grades are partly set by the number of people you have working for you.

    The school district superintendents are even worse. They want bigger budgets and new construction so they can brag at the annual conferences about all the action in their districts, and apply for bigger jobs. Therefore, they surrender to the AFT because they can’t afford the wrath of parents if there is a strike. Next step- a push for increased property taxes.

    Which is why John’s dream is one for which to devoutly wish. Pray. Scheme.

    • #22
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