All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service — Franklin Roosevelt — Letter to the National Federation of Federal Employees in 1937.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the patron saint of the American labor movement, was a man of strong character and patrician with liberal progressive beliefs. One has to look no further than the heroic way he coped with his crippling polio. This dreadful disease undoubtedly made him the consummate realist he was, especially in regards to he looming threat posed by Adolph Hitler.
For example, although he had a lock on labor's vote, he expressed caution about public sector unions. In a little-known letter he wrote to the president of the National Federation of Federal Employees in 1937, Roosevelt reasoned:
"... Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the government. All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations ... The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for ... officials ... to bind the employer ... The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives ...
"Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of government employees. Upon employees in the federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people ... This obligation is paramount ... A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent ... to prevent or obstruct ... Government ... Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government ... is unthinkable and intolerable."
To get this in historical context, Congress enacted the landmark National Labor Relations Act ("Wagner Act") in 1935 - the Magna Carta of the American labor movement. It excluded federal, state and local employees. It created the National Labor Relations Board to enforce the rights of labor. Employers were legally obligated to bargain collectively with their employees. In 1937 in a Senate speech, Roosevelt intoned, "The denial or observance of this right means the difference between despotism and democracy." (One would be led to think that before 1935, America was not a democracy.)
But FDR had no inkling of what the end game would be. In 1958, New York City Mayor Robert Wagner signed an executive order allowing civil service workers to unionize. It was an obvious appeal to union voters. A Wagner aide suggested that city workers would be a large enough constituency to guarantee his re-election.
This opened up the floodgates around the country as other Democratic legislators followed Wagner's lead. In 1959, Wisconsin became the first state to enact public employee collective bargaining laws. President John F. Kennedy then followed with an executive order granting federal employees the right to bargain collectively. As journalist Roger Lowenstein wrote in his recent book detailing the explosion of government pension debt, "Membership in public unions rose exponentially."
California, the state with the largest number of public sector union members in he nation followed suit in 1978 when Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the infamous Dill Act, which gave California’s civil service workers the right for collective bargaining. Since Brown gave them a green light in the 1970s, public employee unions have become a muscular, dominating force in California politics. State employee unions spent a whopping $31.7 million on state races just from 2001-2006, according to the California Fair Political Practices commission —higher than any other group, including corporations. The majority-Democrat California legislature has voted accordingly. Also, in the 2010 gubernatorial election Brown was insured the votes of the 1.5 million unionized public sector workers in California — a number well more than adequate to give him he governorship. The largest of these unions being the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
In 2009, private sector union members were outnumbered by their public sector brethren for the first time. Some private sector union officials are warning their public sector counterparts that they are killing the goose that laid the golden egg with their greed. Click here for more information.
Federal employees have been enjoying a boom in employment and compensation and benefits at the expense of taxpayers. Local governments can't threaten to move elsewhere; nor do they have any threat from foreign competition, both of which decimated private industry, and in turn, its union membership. One expert tells us that "one-third of the so-called stimulus money went to state and local governments to avoid layoffs of public employees."
Most of us don't have a sense of where this is all heading. On the private sector side, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., proposed a massive bailout for underfunded union pension plans in March. Private pension funds are estimated to be underfunded by $165 billion. This legislation would create a special fund for unions within the Pension Benefits Guarantee Corporation (PBGC), courtesy of taxpayers, as an "obligation of the United States" rather than an obligation of the PBGC through its insurance premiums.
It is guesstimated that state and local retirement plans are underfunded by several trillion dollars. On the public sector side, we will probably see more municipalities declaring bankruptcy. Federal workers pretty much have a stranglehold over taxpayers as well as state employees.
In many states, union lobbyists made certain these benefits were contractual and constitutionally or statutorily protected. But many states - particularly the Democratic strongholds of Illinois, California and New York - will simply run out of money. Some states may simply stop paying these generous benefits; but more likely, they will press the federal government for bailouts. That means us —the taxpayers again.
What happened is precisely what FDR told the unions. "The very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for officials to bind the employer ..." Wrong. Unions make certain that taxpayers are on the hook.
The problem is there is no "collective bargaining." Public sector unions are a client of a Democratic bureaucracy that wants their vote. The taxpayer — the "employer" — isn't a player in the bargaining process.
When I was a public sector employee (1962 to 1972 — California Division of Highways) I was not a member of a public sector union. There was no Dill Act and no collective bargaining at his time. It never occurred to me that I should be a member of a union. I was a professional and believed that I worked in the public sector because I was serving the people of the state building freeways. We made less than our private sector counterparts, but we were told we had better job security.
During my tenure in the civil service I saw many abuses within the system. I saw people studying for promotional exams on state time. I saw featherbedding of employees who had no work and were transferred to the survey crews or project teams of others so they could be hidden away and have a project to show on their time sheet. I experienced having to deal with employees that did not show up for work on Mondays due to their drunken weekends and I was not able to fire them. Instead I was told to transfer them to some other crew where they could become a more tolerant and less caring supervisor’s problem. This was and still is the civil service. This is why I left the public sector and returned to private practice where I stated my own business, a business I was able to grow, with the help of very good partners, to 850 people over the next 33 years.
When I came to California in 1962 I had always worked, as a land surveyor, in the private sector. When I arrived in the state I was informed that surveyors were members of the Operating Engineers Union and I had to join before I would be hired by any form engaged in construction. When I went to the Local 12 union hall and saw the waiting room crowded with men waiting to be called to a job I was appalled. Why weren’t these men out looking for a job I asked myself? Why should they? After all they were collecting their unemployment benefits. After a brief conversation with a union representative who informed me I would have to sign on as an apprentice and would be the last one called I left never to return. It took me a week to garner a position with the Division of Highways, a job in which I would excel in over the next 10 years.
I grew up in a union family in Cleveland, Ohio — a union town. All of relatives and friends, with the exception of my father, belonged to a union. They were either members of an industrial union like the steel workers or machinists (CIO), teamsters or building trade unions (AFL). I, like my Dad, never belonged to a union. He taught me that I should make it on my own merit and not depend on a union boss for my job. He had seen enough of unions and featherbedding while working in a defense plant during WWII. He had seen men sleeping in the restroom, reporting to work while being intoxicated and passing their work of to others while taking time of the job. And believe it or not my Dad was a life-long Democrat.
My cousin John was a general foreman for the Ford engine plant in Cleveland, Ohio until his retirement in the late 1990s. While was working in this position I visited him in Cleveland and had a conversation regarding the decline of the American auto industry. John told me that you could trace the lack of quality and rising costs to the auto workers unions. He said that each year the unions demanded more money, bigger pensions, more health care and workers’ rights. He went to say that Ford, like the other U.S. auto makers rather than get tough with the unions and risk a strike would just give in to their demands and pass the costs on to the consumer. He also informed me that 40% of the engine blocks cast at the plant were rejected due to careless and haphazard workmanship — some of which he attributed to sabotage by disgruntled employees. John was right on target. It did not take long for the America car buyer to see he value in imports from Japan, Germany and Korea, as they due today. You see the ultimate judge of value — the consumer was voting the unions down with their wallets.
While I was driving to the store with John he stopped rather quickly at a red light and a .357 magnum revolver slide out from under the front seat. I was a bit taken and asked him why the gun? He told me that was for protection as he walked across the parking lot at the end of his night shift. When I inquired why he needed protection he said it for protection against a disgruntled union worker for whom he might have turned in a disciplinary action. This was the state of the unions in the late 1980s.
Over the years John’s predictions have come true. Our auto industry had to be bailed out and the unions were protected. In construction builders and contractors have gone to hiring independent contractors for their home construction, many of which are illegal immigrants. The teamsters have lost membership as more and more truckers have become independent contractors owning their own trucks and big rigs.
With the loss of our manufacturing base jobs that were once the sole monopoly of unions are gone. He firms these union jobs resided in have close shop and moved to foreign shores. We no longer make steel and the foreign auto makers building Toyotas, Nissans, Hondas and BMWs are located in right to work states and have no union workers.
So where can the union bosses and their Democrat clients get their unions dues from — the service industry and he public sector. The growth in public sector union membership has been growing a furious rate in the past 10 years. Right now we are looking at 66,000 TSA employees coming into the fold of either the American Federation of Government Employees or the National Treasury Union. This represents another $30 million dollars a year to dump into the election of Democrat politicians.
You wonder why the unions are busing in members from across the country to protest Gov. Walker’s cost cutting measures. This is a major battle for the unions. You might call it their Stalingrad. If they lose here it will be the beginning of the end. Other states will begin to follow Wisconsin’s lead as they did in 1959 when they began to give public sector employees collective bargaining rights. Right now the latest Rasmussen poll shows that that 48% of Likely U.S. Voters agree more with the Republican governor in his dispute with union workers. Thirty-eight percent (38%) agree more with the unionized public employees, while 14% are undecided. How long will it take the media to honestly and accurately report on this issue?
While these number are a bit confusing and raw they show a trend in public opinion that has not been evident for the past 20 years. The public is finally awaking to Roosevelt’s caution in 1937. Public sector unions now threaten to overwhelm our economy with financially untenable compensation packages. We are broke. Legislators should put an end to these abuses; and while they are at it, craft major structural reforms with a complete downsizing of selected government agencies.