Right On: Public employee unions are enemies of the state

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OPINION — Public employee unions are driving state and local governments across the country toward bankruptcy and fleecing taxpayers in the process.

How is this happening? Take a look at unions, good, bad and ugly.

The Good

All unions bargain for improved wages, benefits and working conditions for their members. That’s their reason for being.

In their heyday a century ago, private sector unions fought for an increased share of the economic pie. Strikes and violence were common but later in the 20th century a more equitable balance between workers, management and owners evolved.

Even a hardened capitalist like me will agree that unions played a constructive and important role in expanding economic democracy.

The Bad

In industries with massive capital investments, unions overplayed their hands. Steel, automobile and airline companies can’t service their large debt loads for long when union members walk out. Strikes or the threat of strikes coupled with inept management drove many capital-intensive companies into bankruptcy.

Cutting off their noses to spite their faces, many of these union members lost their jobs and the work ended up overseas.

In recent decades, union leaders have adopted more balanced tactics, recognizing that workers have a vested interest in company success.

Ironically, increasingly fewer workers have decided they need union representation. Private sector union membership peaked at about 35 percent of workers in the 1950s. Today, unions represent only about six percent of private sector workers.

This trend continues unabated. This month workers at a Mississippi Nissan plant rejected representation by the United Auto Workers, or UAW, by a margin of 2-1.

Union leadership corruption surfaced repeatedly over the decades, tarnishing organized labor’s image. Today’s UAW leaders are embroiled in a corruption scandal with a number of them indicted by federal prosecutors, further antagonizing members.

The Ugly

Private sector unions negotiate with management which represents company owners. In contrast, public employee unions negotiate with the very people their massive campaign contributions help elect.

See a conflict of interest here? Who represents taxpayers?

President Franklin Roosevelt, a champion of organized labor, recognized this inherent conflict of interest when he wrote:

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. … The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress.

George Meany as head of labor’s umbrella American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations, or AFL-CIO, in the 1950s thought likewise.

So what changed? The decline of private sector unions left union bosses looking for greener pastures. They found them in liberal states and cities where the incestuous cycle of union political contributions help elect public officials who in turn negotiate egregious wage and benefit increases for those who helped elect them.

Public officials who accept kickbacks for awarding contracts go to jail. Public officials who accept campaign contributions from the public workers they’ve enriched get re-elected.

Numbers tell the tale. Public employee unions made 90 percent of their $62 million in contributions in 2016 to Democratic candidates. They spent from $12 million to $19 million per year lobbying the Obama administration.

George Crowley and Scott Beaulier of George Mason University found that higher public employee union political contributions correlated with higher employee incomes and more public sector employees. Surprised? I didn’t think so.

Public employee unions now represent about 40 percent of workers at all levels of government, with a high of 73 percent in New York to a low of 8 percent in North Carolina. In Utah, public employee unions represent about 17 percent of government workers.

Politicians in Democrat-controlled states quickly discovered that offering public employees exceptionally generous pensions kept employees happy while pushing outlays into the future and out of the public eye. Like any Ponzi scheme, the promises made in decades past are coming due.

Illinois, Connecticut and New Jersey are nearing bankruptcy with ballooning contributions to their public employee pension plans needed. Forty percent of Illinois state education funding goes to teacher pensions. Pension payments in New Jersey doubled over the last two years and will triple over the next five.

Across the country, states are $1.75 trillion behind in funding their public employee pensions. Courts have ruled that these pension commitments are contracts and states can’t reduce benefits.

Fifty-one local government entities, including Detroit, Jefferson County (Birmingham), Alabama, and San Bernardino, California, have filed for bankruptcy since 2010 with employee pensions as major contributors.

The city of El Monte, California, has more than twice as many retirees drawing pensions as it does active employees, many receiving pensions higher than the salaries they drew as employees.

Undoing this incestuous mess isn’t easy. Ask Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

Walker proposed to make Wisconsin a right-to-work state where teachers and other public employees were not required to join a union. He endured threats and a recall election but taxpayers and common sense prevailed. Finally given a choice, public employees abandoned unions in droves.

Here in Utah, our state pension plan is about 86 percent funded, better than all but 10 states. Utah has been a right-to-work state since 1955.

I believe public employees have a right to be represented and express their concerns to elected officials. I do not believe they should be allowed to negotiate wages and benefits with those officials.

Have a nice Labor Day weekend!

Howard Sierer is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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  • Utahguns August 31, 2017 at 9:39 am

    Unions, especially at the state and national level, often take political positions with which a substantial number of members disagree (thus forcing those members to pay, with their dues, for the advocacy of policies or politicians they do not support).
    Such was the case in our last presidential election.
    Unions funneled (and wasted) tens of millions of dollars into the democratic party supporting Clinton. However, the typical union laborer saw Trump as the viable candidate for this country.
    Just think, how would those tens of millions of dollars have benefitted union members pensions instead of going to support a corrupted candidate?

    • bikeandfish August 31, 2017 at 10:17 am

      Could you provide support for your claim that a majority of members disagreed with a union’s action last election? And I mean a link to a reliable source (union member letter response to its admin with stats/signatures, etc).

      I know any representative organization will make decisions some of its members disagree with your claims are pretty strong. Unions have problems and the author highlighted specific ones to consider with public employees but leadership is only sustained for long term if they listen to voting members priorities, pretty much true for any representative organization beyond unions.

      • Utahguns August 31, 2017 at 10:37 am

        I’m not here to educate you snowflakes…that’s virtually impossible anyway. Do your own research, you’ll come away enlightened.

        • bikeandfish August 31, 2017 at 11:17 am

          I do my own research and have yet to find support for the notion that the majority of members of unions that endorsed Hillary’s losing campaign fall in line with what you are saying.

          Snowflake was never an effective insult to begin with and now all it does is signal to everyone that you listen to sources of extreme rhetoric.

          You are expected to support the ideas you state in public if its to be taken with any merit. You are saying an opinion like “I disapprove of unions” but forwarding verifiable ideas which you refuse to justify. For now they are just fabrications.

          • bikeandfish August 31, 2017 at 11:18 am

            *aren’t saying opinions

          • Utahguns August 31, 2017 at 11:45 am

            They say, ” if the shoe fits…..wear it”.
            Your past contributory comments to articles on the STGNews website profile your political stance…hence the name “snowflake”.
            Not being insulting, just calling it as I see it.

          • bikeandfish August 31, 2017 at 11:56 am

            If a snowflake is someone who values verifiable facts and reasonable conservations that don’t resort to name calling then I say let it snow. Snowflakes do pretty well in the months to come.

        • John August 31, 2017 at 1:48 pm

          Snowflakes will be snowflakes..They can’t handle a fact that’s outside their warped reality, MSM has them mesmerized and they can’t tell that they are being led around like a donkey following a carrot. last month it was Russia, that didn’t work. The MSM moved the carrot , then it was confederate statues, that’s not working. What did the statues do all of a sudden that the liberals got mad at them? Now the MSM has moved the carrot once again and it’s now all Trump supporters are racists and Nazis. See the pattern? Any day of the week you can go to occupy democrats and see what their talking points of the day are and they wonder why we just make fun of them..so predictable and so lacking a firm grip of reality..but when it’s all said and done, the kleenex and coloring book companies will have made a fortune. It’s going to be a long 7 1/2 years for the snowflakes that refuse to melt.

          • Utahguns August 31, 2017 at 2:24 pm

            Standing ovation! Well said John.

          • bikeandfish August 31, 2017 at 2:55 pm

            Sad, dismissive take on others. It definitely protects you from having to consider other worldviews.

            A couple things can be verified in your statement though:

            Concerns about Russian influence in the elections started long before last month. Manafort was released from the campaign last summer for failing to register his work with foreign agents. Previously undisclosed documents emerged in August (?) last year that showed Manafort had received payments of at least $12 million for work with Russia and Ukraine that he never properly filed for with the US government.


            Confederate statues started being an issue after 2015 when Dylann Roof decided to engage in domestic terrorism and mass murder people at a famous black church. Municipalities started voting on statue removal soon thereafter as well as some states and local governments removing the confederate flag from public property.This issue has been going on at its heated pace for at least 18 months but has existed and flared up for decades.


            And if you are getting your information from Ocuppy Democrats then that is your own failure to recognize their bias. They were named and targeted as problematic ever since the election, if not sooner. I am sure you have seen these charts around:


            Other than that your post is the same pointless insults about MSM, kleenex, coloring books, 7 1/2 years, carrots and snowflakes. Oh my. Hey, at least we might get a catchy child’s song out of this. Its as if it is “so predictable and so lacking a firm grip of reality” because if it was rooted in reality it would have facts, not lies, and support for it conclusions.

          • John August 31, 2017 at 3:27 pm

            You took the bait SNOFLAKES ..but it is rooted in reality..hahahaha!! you are a liberal and you will be needing a lot of kleenex and coloring books..the snowflakes are wrong and out of touch with reality…No Collusion with Russia, Statues didn’t hurt anybody and Trump supporters are not Nazis.. you lose ..get with the program. we are getting bored with your predictable talking points..get over it already and mostly get over yourself !

          • bikeandfish August 31, 2017 at 8:15 pm

            Always wonder what drives this sort of trolling. What benefit do you get? Does it make you feel superior? I mean clearly you don’t care about truth or respectfully talking. What do you get out calling people names that have no effect on them?

            Maybe you’ll surprise me one day and say something of meaning and value.

  • bikeandfish August 31, 2017 at 11:18 am

    *aren’t saying opinions

  • ladybugavenger August 31, 2017 at 11:58 am

    b&f I’ve been reading your comments for a week or so and I can’t help but think that the real you is hiding behind double talk and fancy words that you hope make you look real smart. Here’s my advice: come out from behind the curtain and be yourself.

    • bikeandfish August 31, 2017 at 12:22 pm

      Odd comment and request. The real me is here. The real me values fact based conversations that don’t devolve into partisan smears and name calling. The real me thinks its important to differentiate between stating an opinion, “i prefer Trump over Hillary”, and verifiable; you can only expect to state one without proof. The real me thinks inflammatory and provocative statements on the internet don’t exist in a bubble but actually affect real people and lives.

      Is that clear enough? Those who want to line me up behind some assumption of party affiliation or black-and-white ideology will be sorely disappointed. I am just as willing to name and discuss Danger’s racist comments as I am willing to call out a person’s hyperbolic and prejudiced views about Republicans.

      I think we need more of that approach and less stereotyping of those that disagree with us.

      • ladybugavenger August 31, 2017 at 12:39 pm

        Ok, nice to meet you. I don’t like politics nor do I like democrat or republican, and whatever else people associate themselves with, it’s all nonsense. I do like Trump tho I’ve liked him for a long time. Since celebrity apprentice…. Soooooo I’ll just continue to read y’alls comments.

        • bikeandfish August 31, 2017 at 12:52 pm

          No worries. I’ve read yours as well. I value learning why people vote certain ways hence just listening to yours. I don’t have to agree to learn about others in my community.

          Appreciate the thoughtful reply.

      • ladybugavenger August 31, 2017 at 1:14 pm

        You remind me of Theone and his reality and fairytale comments, except yours is facts. I suppose we never really know the facts unless we are personally involved and experience it for ourselves….until then it’s all hearsay. Are you standing on facts or hearsay? Just a rhetorical question.

        • bikeandfish August 31, 2017 at 2:29 pm

          At some point it comes down to trusted sources that have a history of vetting and fact checking information. I believe you can fact check most public policy and government action and stand firm on findings from places like Reuters, AP, etc (ie traditionally trained journalist who have consistently been rated neutral as historically possible and adhere to traditional journalistic ethics). There is good information away from those sites but you have to be willing to dig and filter out the commentary. Its more common now for those sites and organizations to accept and reference anonymous sources which makes it hard to vet personally. That said you can normally judge them by how often time has proven their sources right. Then there are just willfully biased talking heads and outlets with a purpose and perspective. Most of them still have to have some kernel of truth but they often cite opinion pieces and other talking heads, not primary sources. And finally there is true fake news which ran amok in the last election on places like Facebook.

          I stand on primary sources (ie statements directly from people, written policy, etc) and journalist that have been vetted through time to adhere to journalistic standards. Their news can have a perspective (often in what they cover not false narratives) that is easily teased out and that rests in verifiable fact. Everything else should be taken with a grain of salt.

          But at the end of the day it still requires trusting authoritative sources, which has always been the case. That is true of journalism, science, government/policy, etc.

          • ladybugavenger August 31, 2017 at 4:23 pm

            I suppose my problem is that I trust nobody.

            I wish people would just relax for a month and stop the bashing and name calling and talks about hating Trump and blah blah blah. Everybody just breath in breath out and enjoy your daily life and relax. Talk to your neighbors, be friendly to people you pass by and just chill and have a margarita and relax.
            God Bless y’all!

        • bikeandfish August 31, 2017 at 2:38 pm

          Hearsay is a legal term that is hard to translate to news. Its best example would be infotainment shows whose talking heads make statements like “but people say”. Sourced news is more like a witness giving a statement in court that is admissible.

          If we broke down news and facts the way you have stated there would be no viable knowledge in the world. Everything would be inadmissible in discussion the way some want it to be in these forums. But media literacy allows us to vet the best information available at the time to be able to make decisions that affects our country. But when we accept the idea that personal opinion has the same weight as verifiable fact then any and all public dialog becomes functionally useless.

  • ladybugavenger August 31, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    Here’s a fact: it’s windy where I am. You can either believe it or not. You can even google Tulsa weather and it will say it’s 12 mph wind. Is it? I’m standing in it and I can say one second it’s strong the next second it’s weak. Is it a maximum 12 mph wind? Idk I don’t have a wind monitor. So the only fact is is that the wind is blowing at different mph at different seconds. My point is you hearing this from me is hearsay and if you get your facts off the Internet you have no idea that it changes every second to a different mph. Is it in fact 12 mph? Or is it a fact that I’m standing in it and the speed is changing? To me the fact is what I’m experiencing, I have no way of determining the speed, but to you looking on internet would be your fact of 12 mph. The only way I would know the mph is if I had a gauge that showed me mph at the moment and place I’m standing.

    So, what is a fact? what is reality? An experience or what you read on the internet told by a 2nd or 3rd party.

    • bikeandfish August 31, 2017 at 3:29 pm

      See my statements above.

  • Bob August 31, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    It’s funny how you Trump supporters blame the MSM and call liberals snowflakes. If all news is fake news then where do you get your information from? Fox news is far from fair and balanced, maybe that’s why they changed their motto. When will everyone realize that each side is pitting us against each other and now nothing is getting done in Washington. No matter what side you are on, you have to see that the system is broke and Trump is not the answer, neither was Clinton BTW. Did Clinton do something wrong with E-mails, yes. Did her husband maybe save her by going on the plane with the AG and making a deal, maybe but it did look suspicious. As for Trump is he a dirty old man who treats women like objects, yes and we have audio evidence to prove it. Is he involved with Russia illegally, maybe, it’s not looking good for him so far. So we as a nation need to make our politicians learn that we are in charge and not just vote for who the few rich people of the party sponsor. A true candidate to drain the swamp would have been a real outsider who didn’t take the republican nomination. Trump wasn’t a politician, but he was in the republicans pocket. Maybe if we stop buying into the news and turn our TV’s off they will change their tune to the days of Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite where the news was reported and there was no opinion shows. They all do it Fox, MSNBC, and CNN. It all the same. Just turn it off and make your own opinions.

    • mesaman August 31, 2017 at 9:42 pm

      Not funny at all, Bob. Where do you get your information that is fair and balanced? The system might be broken but it won’t be restored with the democrat party in power. If Trump is not the answer, rephrase the question.

      • ladybugavenger September 1, 2017 at 6:55 pm

        It isn’t going to be restored. It will appear it’s restored when the antichrist rises up….but beware, it’s all false!

    • Redbud September 1, 2017 at 9:52 pm

      Bob, I agree with you that what Trump said was dirty, but let me ask a question. Have you ever in your life had an inappropriate thought, or perhaps said something inappropriate to someone at any time, whether it was of a sexual nature, or some other topic? If you have, does that mean no one should forgive you, even if you regretted it and gave the most heart-felt apology? Do you ever think we will have a president without flaws? Can you think of anyone who is without flaw? Now if you grew up all goodie-tooshoo molly-mormon and haven’t done anything THAT bad, then good for you, but I think everyone has done, thought, or said something that they later regret. And when we ask for forgiveness, the other person can either continue to be bitter about it, or let it go, accept the apology and move on.

  • Stephen September 2, 2017 at 5:05 am


    As I understand, federal employees have “collective bargaining” rights, but they can not “bargain” for wages or pensions. Ironically, from what studies I have seen, federal wages and pensions are higher than most, if not all state or local governments.

    My guess is, for the guys behind the anti-union push, the problem is not collective bargaining, but fair share. If CIR can get Friedrichs back to the Supreme Court and cancel out Abood, they won’t care about the unions any more. It’s all about the money… Campaign money, not “taxpayer” pension money.

    Follow the money. The so-called Center for Individual Rights is not fronting all that money and influence because they care about Friedrichs’ freedom of speech or “paycheck protection”.

  • bikeandfish September 2, 2017 at 9:53 am

    Comparing thoughts to speech doesn’t work. One is internal and happens unconsciously while another is action and behavior. By the time someone is old enough to be President they have had plenty of time to discipline themselves to match their words to their ideals and values. Trump says and does things by choice and they reflect him and his values. This is true of his: genitalia grabbing comments, whether figurative or actual sexual assault; gross, inaccurate and prejudiced statements about Mexican and Muslim immigrants; exuberant and misinformed attack on journalist; etc.

    Trump is a 70 year old whose brand has always been about obtuse, grandiose behavior. That was the case when he chose to star in a softcore porn video in the 90s when he was thriving in the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” era, his “Apprentice” days which exhibited mean-spirited and antiquated business habits, to now.

    When someone truly wants forgiveness it comes with the expectation to make concerted efforts to change. It also doesn’t mean we are expected forget. So when someone continues to behave poorly and antagonistically to many of our values we remember and hold them accountable. And Trump has always been honest and forthright about his misogyny and prejudice.

    In regards to his sexism and continuous sexualization of pretty much all women, just jump back in time to this Lifestyles interview. His comments to Billy Bush and on the campaign trail can’t be feigned with remorse when they have been so continuous and pervasive his entire life.


  • Ronald September 4, 2017 at 8:29 am

    “Defined retirement benefits” are creeping into budgets, especially when those benefits are underfunded. The unintended consequences are that it’s unfortunate that future generations, unable to vote today, will bear the costs of many enacted pension programs, entitlements and boondoggle projects, requiring them to pay higher taxes and work later into their lives to pay for these promises.

    The international business world is intelligent enough to know that DEFINED BENEFITS, neither capped nor precisely quantifiable in advance, financial disasters to any business, thus all businesses focus on the known, i.e., defined CONTRIBUTIONS alone.

    Stealing from the young who have no votes, but silently shoulder the costs and bear the burden of unfunded promises of these programs to enrich the old seems to describe the Governments expansion of entitlement benefits and other government services, along with the taxes young people will have to pay to support them, mostly to subsidize older Americans.

    Virtually all elected officials are heavily financed by unions which are focused on entitlements for their current members. The unions, government, and other bureaucrats have been very successful in manipulating the system to enrich themselves. Thus, no changes can be expected in the foreseeable future for elected officials to ever abandon their source of votes.

    It’s the inmates running the pension Asylum that are loading up system with lucrative packages for themselves, to be paid for by current and future taxpayers.

    The inmates know that debt for our future generations buys votes. Over the decades, the proven “concept’ practiced by voters is to defer as much financial responsibilities as possible from our current financial responsibilities to future generations, that have no votes on the subject. Simply stated, if we cannot afford it today, pass it off to the future generations to minimize any impact on our current lifestyles.

    Even before those young folks can vote, our Golden State schools are on track to force substantial budgetary cutbacks on core education spending, as public schools around California are bracing for a crisis driven by skyrocketing worker pension costs that are expected to force districts to divert billions of dollars.

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