Nick Dranias, J.D., Director, Center for Constitutional Government, Goldwater Institute
Byron Schlomach, Ph.D., Director, Center for Economic Prosperity, Goldwater Institute
Stephen Slivinski, M.A., Senior Economist, Goldwater Institute
The advent of legalized government-sector unionization and collective bargaining in state and local government triggered an explosion of legal and illegal strikes. From 1958 through 1968, illegal work stoppages or strikes at all levels of government increased 1,593 percent, resulting in a 33,790 percent increase in the loss of workdays. In 1967, New York City sanitation workers struck and buried city streets under 10,000 tons of garbage per day. In 1978, striking firefighters in Indiana refused to respond to a fire that burned through a downtown city block. “Blue flues” have repeatedly struck law enforcement officers in California since 1985, when the state’s supreme court ruled that public safety employees had the right to strike. And in December 2005, New York transit workers went on strike, costing the city $400 million per day in lost business and revenue.
The strike threat entailed by unionization combined with the power to force government employers to bargain over wages and benefits has empowered the average government worker to demand and receive hourly pay and benefits that are now 44 percent higher than the average private sector worker’s. Those high costs are bankrupting state and local governments—and taxpayers—across the nation.
But it does not have to be this way. More than 30 years ago, Virginia banned government sector unions from collective bargaining and entering into collectively bargained contracts. Within seven years, government employees had abandoned their unions in droves as they realized the union did little for them. Statistical analysis shows that if states prohibited all forms of collective bargaining, they could reap a total of nearly $50 billion in savings for state and local taxpayers across the country.
But more than money is at stake. Collective bargaining for public unions is particularly problematic because government sector unions help elect their employers, and their employers often return the favor by raising taxes to pay for the benefits the unions then demand. A ban on government sector collective bargaining helps disrupt this all-too-common quid pro quo. To solve this problem, more than a ban on collective bargaining and collectively bargained contracts is needed. Statesmen must restore and enforce the ideal that the American form of government is a public trust. Reform should be rooted in a legal framework that underscores government officers and employees are public servants, who owe undivided loyalty to the public.
Civil servants should serve the public. Honest politicians must end policies and agreements that put their interests and those of government employees ahead of those of citizens at large. This report shows how.