Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Countering Friedersdorf and Wilkinson on Public Employee Unions

An email that I sent to Conor via Andrew Sullivan's blog concerning his sophisticated "heh indeed" to a highly dubious Wil Wilkinson post on public employee unions,

I think there are some major holes in your and Wilkinson's argument.

First, Wilkinson's piece employs a common fallacy - the segregation of public employees from taxpayers. Public employees are taxpayers! They live in the cities and states where they work which means that they too benefit from general government spending. It's not public employees vs. taxpayers because public employees are plainly taxpayers as well.

Second, Wilkinson states "public employees constitute a politically powerful bloc with or without unions." This just isn't true. Name me any segment of society that exerts any influence at all over our politics which isn't organized? You can't because, of course, that's not how representative democracy works. Seniors organize as AARP, gun owners organize through the NRA, business owners have the NFIB. A union for public employees is no different, it is simply a vehicle for public employees to speak with one voice and exert influence on the political process. And, back to my first point, since public employees are also taxpayers they have the same right to petition their government as every other taxpayer and citizen.

Third, Wilkinson and you both seem to rely on the fallacy that somehow if public employee unions disappeared that the issues of their members would no longer be politicized. Somehow in your world it is the employees that are at fault for politicizing public policy and budgeting. This is absurd. With or without unions there would be heated political debate about taxes, budget cuts and the value of public employees. The only thing that eliminating public employee unions would do is to eliminate the collective voice of public employees. I would like for you to explain to me why a taxpayer-who-happens-to-be-a-

public-employee has less of a right to speak out about the issues that matter to him or her than a taxpayer-who-happens-to-be-a-gun-owner/senior-citizen/small-business-owner?

Can you explain to me what you mean by this?
"they'd enjoy the gains that accrue to people when the narrow interests they care a great deal about are adjudicated by legislative bodies with no corresponding lobby on the other side."
If I understand you correctly I think you are arguing that there is no corresponding lobby on the other side of public services? You can't honestly believe that, can you? What do you think is Grover Norquist's job? The Independence Institute? The Tea Party? There is obviously a well organized lobby which opposes public services and public employees.

Fourth, both you and Wilkinson focus on wages and benefits only and act as though unions are able to simply extract concessions from the states through shear will power. Of course any bill dealing with public employee compensation must pass through an elected legislature (or city council) and be signed into law by an elected governor (or mayor). There is no short-cut to this process. So again, why shouldn't all taxpayers be able to avail themselves of the democratic process? Why are some taxpayers considered to be less than citizens by you and Wilkinson?

Fifth, the California link is a cheap stunt. You seek to smear millions of public employees and their unions by pointing to an obvious outlier and, by implication, lay blame for the systemic collapse of policy and politics in that state on public employees and their unions. There are of course thousands of interest groups, politicians and political actors who have contributed to the mess in California. And again, a union cannot unilaterally force concessions on benefits and wages. You and Wilkinson pursue a line of thinking which totally absolves the elected officials themselves from any responsibility for their actions. No interest group can effect change without friendly politicians.

Besides these glaring flaws in your argument I would also add that public employee unions advocate for far more than improved wages and benefi Your and Wilkinson's arguments betray an obvious contempt for public employees, as though they are somehow second class citizens. They advocate for improved and expanded public services. They advocate for more efficient government services. They blow the whistle on waste, fraud and abuse. Public employee unions exert no more or less of a negative influence on our politics than any other interest group. Public employees are no more or less taxpayers than any other citizen of their city and state. They have the same right to be heard and participate in this democracy as you or Wil Wilkinson.

1 comment:

Big Bill said...

Have these nutjobs realized that us union types would have a hell of a lot easier time organizing private contractors than apathetic and relatively secure public employees?

If Colorado shuts down regional centers and nursing homes and switches to home care, SEIU will swoop right in and organize them, probably a lot faster than the department of human services could be organized.

One Big Union!