Back in the wintry days of February, the nation’s attention was focused intensely on the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. Thousands of boisterous protestors took over the public areas of the building in a massive effort to stop one of the most far reaching pieces of legislation the state, or any state, had seen in quite some time. Democrat Senators fled the state in order to forestall a vote on the bill. But in the end the portions of the bill dealing with public sector unions were voted on and passed on March 11.
We have had a ringside seat in Wisconsin for the past few weeks of the unpleasant aspects of militant unionism. The nation has watched people disrespect public property, hurl physical threats against legislators they disagree with, illegally enter into the Capitol, support Senators who flee the state rather than honor their responsibilities, and carry Obama defying signs that could be interpreted as inciting violence. Of course the President has apparently forgotten his Tucson speech in which he asked for a more civil tone. Not a word was forthcoming about the hate and intemperance spewed daily in Madison.
But the real underlying story that is not being talked about is what the unions’ opposition to Wisconsin’s new public sector labor law says about the unions’ fear of their members. Union claims that Governor Walker is destroying collective bargaining rights are a smoke screen to hide what they are actually afraid of, namely, that the new law forces unions to be re-certified by membership annually by a vote of 51 percent of eligible voters and the government will no longer deduct union dues from worker paychecks and remit the money to the unions.
If union leaders and hard core members are confident of the support and allegiance of a large majority of members as they purport to be, why are they worried about re-certification and why are they worried about members not freely paying dues on a timely basis? These changes to the law should make no difference at all if most are dedicated to the unions. But that is the point; many unions have lost re-certification elections in recent years. That has led to the need to have the Obama administration use blatantly pro-union tactics and rulings to maintain private union power have to be worrying labor leaders.
With steadily shrinking private sector union participation, the public sector unions are where the movement will have to be saved. And they fully understand that. As a result, they undoubtedly view what is happening in Wisconsin and Ohio as a mortal threat to the labor movement. Thus, the tactics they employ are and will reflect the perceived threat to their existence.
Pennsylvania’s Governor is in Pittsburgh today announcing that, surprise, surprise, he has found $45 million in unspent economic development funds that could be used to avert the planned service cuts at the Port Authority and grant the next legislature and the incoming Governor time to come up with a permanent fix.
Stop us if you have heard that one before.
It happened in 2005 when the Governor found close to $700 million to give to PAT, SEPTA, and other transit agencies in order to give his task force time to come up with a transportation fix. We wrote in a 2005 Policy Brief that the temporary fix "would make it very tempting to forget the real problem" plaguing PAT and its sister agencies. What followed was Act 44 and the ill-fated I-80 tolling plan.
The Southwest PA Commission had acquiesced to previous requests to flex highway money to PAT and, after doing it several times, said enough was enough. The Governor’s action-if carried out-gives SPC an out since what is being flexed is economic development money, not highway money.
That raises this question: why would the Governor, who is such a strong proponent of all the positives public sector economic development can deliver, leave some $45 million unspent? How many jobs could have been created with that expenditure in these tough economic times?
As we have written time and again, so long as the state continues to ride to the rescue with temporary fixes there is no impetus to address the right to strike, the monopoly status of PAT, or how to begin outsourcing of service. Will the next Governor and General Assembly let today’s action serve as a free pass?
In a version of the inmates running the asylum, we are witnessing what happens when public sector employees get enough power to dictate policies and performance.
Three news reports today illustrate this distressing development. Moon teachers are threatening to walk off the job if they do not get a satisfactory contract. And that undoubtedly means wage increases and cushy working conditions to go along with their already ultra generous pensions. Port Authority drivers are suing the Port Authority because it wants to change the days major holidays are recognized, presumably for purposes of reduced service. Drivers are incensed because it will interfere with the ability of senior drivers to choose to work on the paid holidays and they might therefore miss out on double time and half or greater pay.
And the most preposterous example of what the world where unions dictate how things are run has to be France. Airports are so undermanned and fuel supplies so tenuous that the government is asking carriers to reduce the number of flights into France. Tourist destinations are closed, travel within the country iffy and unpredictable. All traceable to the insanity engendered during the revolution and the philosophy of its intellectual progenitors and defenders.
Can we be far behind? Pennsylvania certainly is not. The Commonwealth ranks high among the states that have travelled farthest down the path of ceding ever increasing power and control to public sector unions. And this is exactly what Madison warned us against, i.e., the state becoming partners with special interests and, in the case of public sector unions, developing an incestuous and freedom destroying relationship.
Newspaper reports on the Labor Day parade Downtown noted that something was missing from the march: spectators. In fact, people walking in the parade outnumbered people watching. What gives?
Was it the economy? One union official flippantly noted the bad economy and remarked that people who would normally be there were probably out looking for jobs. Was it the weather? We can rule that one out as Monday stood in stark contrast to the 2009 affair when it was noted "the cool, drizzly weather appeared to thin the parade crowd considerably".
Or could it be a sign of taxpayer disenchantment with unions and theirnever ending quest to make government bigger, more inefficient andcostlier?
Except for union members and their immediate families andthe hardest of the hard left, labor’s all out support of Obamacare,stimulus spending to save government jobs, card check, and higher taxes on the national level and the presence of their influence in state and local policy including the lack of Right to Work or prevailing wage reform, continuing threats of teacher and transit strikes, and opposition to outsourcing and privatization is finally getting through the public’s consciousness as being a majorcause of the ongoing funk in the economy.
In an opinion piece earlier this week the president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association set out the teachers’ association position on the impending requirement for massive contribution increases to the Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS). Those increases will almost certainly necessitate hikes in state and school district taxes. Basically, teachers will help craft a solution to the pension funding crisis as long as they are not required to shoulder any of the burden. That is to say, the unions will strongly oppose any reduction in future retirement benefits and any efforts to shift to a defined contribution system such as 401(k)s. So much for any real assistance.
Is there a conservative urban agenda? If so, what does it look like? Even more to the point, are there any cities in Pennsylvania exhibiting the traits if such an agenda existed?
A recent opinion piece in the Washington Examiner outlined "a conservative agenda for cities". Most of the components of the urban agenda of the last half of the 20th century did not work, as the author argued, or "Cleveland, Buffalo, and Detroit would all be booming".
The components ofa new strategy would include:
- Crime-prevention oriented policing based on the New York City experience
- Reform of public sector pensions toward 401k type plans and away from defined benefit plans
- Private financing of infrastructure
- A continued push for competition in public education from charter schools
One could see that there might be pieces of this strategy in some cities around the Commonwealth, but there likely is not any one municipality that encompasses them all. Of course, moving toward some of the reforms would have to come from Harrisburg, which could add revisions of binding arbitration and outlawing public sector strikes to help cultivate this agenda.