What Wisconsin Government Employees Need to Accept

The Wisconsin government employees who are complaining about proposed legislation affecting collective bargaining need to recognize that in a democracy, government employees exist to serve the taxpayers, not the other way around. Unions representing government employees need to accept the fact that a union cannot have equal status with the officials who exercise sovereignty on behalf of the people.

President Franklin Roosevelt generally favored unions, but as he explained the situation in a letter to the president of the National Federation of Federal Employees in 1937, the situation of unions representing government employees differed from the situation in the private sector..

“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 when applied to public personnel management. 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. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.”

I worked for county government for 23 years as a janitor. During part of that time I belonged to the SEIU which represented me until the elected county commissioners decided to stop negotiating with unions. I didn’t agree with their decision, but I accepted it because I recognize that in a democracy we “hired hands” cannot have equal status with those who are chosen by the population at large which pays us.

Government employees generally have better job security than private sector employees.

Pay may be lower, but the employer isn’t going to move to another state or country. Some government agencies can be shut down, but most must continue to function. Government may have to lay off some employees from time to time, but someone must be available to teach in schools, fight fires, catch criminals or clear snow off the highways.

Consumers of private goods and services have more options that taxpayers. Consumers may stop buying new cars or eating in restaurants. Consumers can switch to less expensive products.

But if taxpayers decide to stop paying taxes, government can take their money or property. Taxpayers don’t always have the option of moving to a jurisdiction with lower taxes. They can only band together and vote for officials who will reduce taxes to more affordable levels.

If military personnel attempted to pressure the U.S. government into providing higher pay or other benefits we would recognize the action as a potential threat to elective government. If the military formed an alliance with one party to pressure the other in to giving it what it wanted voters would understandably react against that party.

The fact that the demonstrators in Wisconsin are civilian government employees rather than military employees doesn’t change the fact that they are attempting to pressure elected officials into taking orders from them instead of from the people.

Government employees don’t have a “right” to collective bargaining because that would allow the minority of government employees to have as much of a voice in government spending decisions as the population as a whole which would violate the “one man one vote” doctrine of the 14th Amendment.

The proper response to the proposed legislation would be to accept it for now and attempt to elect legislators in 2012 who will reverse the legislation. The confrontational approach union members are currently using might be useful for bringing down Middle Eastern governments, but is more likely to strengthen anti-union sentiment among Wisconsin Republicans.

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