Government Spending Run Amok - Part Two

PART TWO: Government-employee unions are initially to blame; secondary blame goes to voters.

Massachusetts is leading the nation in its support for the Democratic Party and President Obama. And these guys are endorsed and supported by labor unions, which in the public sector are paid for by the government using tax dollars. These generous salary and benefit increases are obviously payback for their electoral support.

Private-sector unions have a very strong hand to play: they can strike. Plus, there are numerous government rules protecting unions and their ability to operate. Historially, this has been a plus, overall. But the tide has turned as unions continue to seek more salaries and benefits beyond what is reasonable. That is why companies like GM could no longer compete.

President Obama spoke of the many rights won in the workplace at an AFL-CIO picnic (as reported in the Boston Globe, 9/8/09, page A10) and he is absolutely correct that important safeguards and benefits to which all workers are entited were won through union strength.

Unfortunately, he carries this same argument into the future, which is unwarranted. That would be like saying that we beat the Germans in World War Two, so we need to continue bashing their heads in forever.

Obama's support of further laws to enhance the private-sector unions will be met with some resistance, rightfully so, and one equalizer to these laws is that private-sector employers have their own tactics that they can employ if and when the balance of power shifts too far. For example, they can outsource jobs.

But public-sector unions are another matter. Anti-strike language was balanced with binding arbitration, a system that greatly favors unions. Who bargains and approves all of the giveaways at all levels of government? Is it negotiators whose own jobs are at risk if bad deals are negotiated? Is it arbitrators who rule in favor of workers? No. These entities have no real vested interest in the outcome.

Taxpayers are financially responsible and they seem too far removed to see the connection between electing politicians that are union supporters and higher taxes. But now we aren't talking about higher taxes: we are talking about $56 trillion in future obligations.

Certainly not all of these future obligations are union-driven, but a lot are. And with the unions, at least on paper, we have a contractual obligation. That makes it different than, say, Social Security, where the government could change the rules (like requiring people to retire at an older age to save money.)

Politicians have different motivations than taxpayers or private-sector union negotiators. The worse the deal for the taxpayers, the greater the politicians' rewards. It is a zero-sum game where the taxpayers are represented by people with a conflict of interest. How is this possible?

The Democratic Party and government unions have formed an unholy alliance that benefits each of them to the obvious detriment of the rest of us. These union members are a protected class that has avoided most of the layoffs and benefit reductions that have hit the private sector during this recession. And the politicians who have and continue to support them get paid back through workers and donations to their reelection campaigns. So far, the general public has seemed unconcerned about this state of affairs, which one could compare to a complicated kickback scheme. They keep re-electing the incumbents.

This is not just national politics. It also happens locally for statewide races.

When Jen Benson (D-Lunenburg) ran for state rep against Kurt Hayes (a Republican from Boxborough), I remember receiving several mailings that appeared to be paid for by union groups (the teacher's union, if memory serves). When looking at her campaign reports (http://www.efs.cpf.state.ma.us/DisplayReport.aspx?reportId=96710), one can see this directly. She received over $10,000 in cash donations and over $14,000 in "in-kind" donations, much of this from the state Democratic Party (which is heavily supported by unions) and directly from unions themselves. Maybe it was more--I'm not sure I was able to review all of the reports online.

This dwarfed the contributions to her challenger. I didn't see any union groups in Hayes' recent reports (although I did make a couple of contributions myself).

Isn't it surprising that a non-incumbent would garner so much support from organized labor with no track record?

We don't know what non-cash contributions (volunteer workers) Benson received, but she won her race overwhelmingly and one of her first votes cast was to re-elect soon-to-be-indicted House Speaker Sal DiMasi. And I am sure she is a loyal supporter of all the public-sector unions. At least, she had better be if she wants to get their support when she runs for re-election. Because that's how the system works, doesn't it?

She is clearly not alone. Our state is filled with politicians who are trading their union support for taxpayer's money to keep themselves in power, and only the voters will be able to change this state of affairs. The question is whether they care enough now, or will they wait until the damage is so deep that the cure will be worse than the disease.