Commentary by Ron Miller
I never imagined that the standoff in Wisconsin between the public sector unions and Gov. Scott Walker would lead to a domestic dispute in my home. My wife, however, is a teacher with the Calvert County public schools, and the teachers union last year endured a contentious and ultimately unsatisfactory negotiation process with the school administration.
She is typically as apolitical as I am political, and I didn't even think she read anything I wrote, or cared about my opinion on political matters. Trust me, she cares about this one.
The major disagreement between us is that I'm looking at this issue from a philosophical perspective, she from a practical one, which basically sums up why we've been yoked together for almost 27 years, to balance each other out. The fact I never seem to win an argument doesn't speak well for balance, though!
Here's the rub. Private sector unions have essentially an adversarial relationship with the corporations for whom they work, and they need collective bargaining to give them leverage against management, and assure themselves of a "fair share" of the profits, whatever that means. The fact they've pushed for so much that they put the health of the corporations, and their own jobs, at risk is a topic for another discussion.
Public sector unions, on the other hand, should not in principle take an adversarial role against the state because, in the end, WE are the state. There is no profit to be shared, only the hard-earned money of taxpayers being confiscated by government in part to meet union wage and benefit demands.
This creates a conflict of interest where the unions collect membership dues, sometimes through mandatory state paycheck deductions, and in turn use those dues to help elect politicians committed to delivering more to the unions, which necessitates more of the taxpayers' money.
My wife says the voters are to blame for electing these politicians in the first place, and it's not the union that should be blamed for the burden being placed on the taxpayer, but the politicians. At least we have a common enemy!
I argue that the impact of union support on the electoral process is immense, and that studies have shown union backing, which usually includes endorsements, money and volunteers, has a greater impact on electoral success than even incumbency.
Fine, she says. Don't allow the unions to contribute to political campaigns.
That will go over like a lead balloon, I said. Besides, they could just encourage individual members to contribute to a particular candidate and get the same effect.
Returning to the theme that we elected the ones who are spending us into oblivion and so it's our fault, she said the unions bargained in good faith with the government, and it's not their fault that politicians mismanaged the money. She said she pays into the pension system and is now uncertain she'll ever see any benefit from it.
I think that every day when it comes to Social Security, I said.
She says that unlike the accusations she's hearing on the news and reading in the papers about union members getting a free ride, in addition to paying into her pension plan, she voluntarily pays dues, and pays into her own health plan - a plan from which we both benefit, she says with steel in her gaze.
I said I wasn't sure how "voluntary" her dues payments were since she was advised it was in her best interests to say yes, and that her contribution to her - er, our - benefits wasn't the story in many other jurisdictions. I also told her the state shouldn't be taking the dues out of her paycheck, but the unions ought to be compelled to collect their own dues.
She then said the teachers in her school system were denied a promised four percent raise and ended up with a half-percent raise instead, and that the school administration did not negotiate in good faith, even ignoring a mediator's recommendations. If collective bargaining were taken away, what recourse would they have at the negotiating table?
I countered that the federal government and 12 states didn't allow collective bargaining for public sector employees, and they seemed to be doing just fine.
We weren't getting anywhere, so I finally said that, whatever the reason we're here, we're now broke and Maryland's public sector pension and health plans are over $33 billion underfunded.
If you take any more money from the people, those who can will leave, and those who can't will spend less, or shrink or close businesses if they own them, and unemployment will increase, meaning less money in the public treasury.
Since our politicians are economic illiterates, they don't understand the concept of growing the economy to grow revenue, so we won't see any actions in that direction, either.
I think this battle is more about union bosses lining their pockets and those of the liberal politicians they elect to keep them well-fed at the public trough, and that the rank and file are being used to advance their interests, not their own.
Oh, both sides are corrupt, she says, as the apolitical, "pox on both their houses" wife I know so well returns.
I hate it when she does that.
Ron Miller is a conservative writer and commentator, author of the book, SELLOUT: Musings from Uncle Toms Porch, and the president of Regular Folks United, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of individual liberty, free markets and our nation's founding principles. The nine-year plus veteran of the U.S. Air Force and married father of three writes columns for several online sites and print publications, and his own website, TeamRonMiller.com. Join him on Facebook and Twitter.