Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why public collective bargaining privileges unions

Before the election, I had a column in the Journal Sentinel's Crossroads section reflecting on Scott Walker's historical significance. A reader - someone from Shorewood named James Anello - wrote a letter to the editor completely mischaracterizing my position and that of my "ilk." (If you find yourself said to be part of an 'ilk," it's never a compliment.)

Mr. Anello thinks that I was arguing that negotiating in good faith is bad. Not at all. What I was saying is that to impose a legally enforceable obligation on government to bargain with unions gives them an advantage over everyone else. No one else has a legally enforceable right to make the government bargain in good faith over whatever it is that they want the government to do. Here's is what I wrote, with the part quoted by Mr. Anello in italics:


While it is not often acknowledged, collective bargaining privileges organized public workers over the rest of us. Because it imposes a mandatory obligation to negotiate in good faith, public-sector collective bargaining requires the government to listen to unions. If this bargaining reaches an impasse — if the government says "no" — then disappointed unions often will have recourse to arbitration. 
You and I don't have these rights. If the local school board ignores my request that it adopt merit pay for teachers or devote more money to science and math education, I am out of luck. I can try to elect new school board members, but I can't force the existing board to listen to me. Prior to Act 10, however, if the teachers union wanted tenure or some particular package of benefits, the school board had to listen and respond.

I take the trouble to highlight this here because Mr. Anello's error is a common one. The mistake is to fail to see a collective bargaining as a petition to the government asking it to adopt a certain set of policies. You can argue that government unions should have this advantage, but you can't pretend that is doesn't exist or pretend that government has a legally enforceable obligation to negotiate with everyone who asks it to do something.

Nor, it seems to me, that you can argue that government should have a legally enforceable obligation to negotiate in good faith with everyone. Such a rule would tie up every government action in court with judges expected to apply a pretty amorphous standard - good faith - to uphold or strike down whatever the government has done.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin

5 comments:

Tom said...

When Patch was still around, I blogged on my local one about this issue. I pointed out that nobody would ever think it was a good idea for businesses to have the same ability to force government entities to bargain "in good faith" and to take the entity to arbitration in order to force it to give them what they wanted.

JM said...

“If the local school board ignores my request that it adopt merit pay for teachers or devote more money to science and math education, I am out of luck. I can try to elect new school board members, but I can't force the existing board to listen to me.”


The professor is trying to insist that since “good faith” cannot be clearly legally defined and that government generally cannot be trusted, collective bargaining is antiquated. Is this position not also “coercion”? Besides, he claims it is “unfair” that private sector employees do not have this “advantage”, when in reality they have the same opportunity.

The professor is being purposely deceitful. He claims he is “out of luck” because he cannot “convince” the school board to take up his own positions, yet acknowledges he has the legal right to remove them via an election. So, professor, you can “force” them to listen to you if new members who share your viewpoints are elected. If the candidates you support lose, then does the vote reflect the will of the people in that community? You ought to know that sometimes what you want does not come to fruition.

Moreover, we as private sector workers have the liberty to insist that our employers negotiate in good faith, and can hold the company accountably through strength in numbers. However, this action requires patience and sacrifice. The problem is that most people today simply accept company policies as the path of least resistance because the corporation can 1) hire workers who are compliant or 2) threaten to move the company to another part of the country or overseas. So, in reality, there is no “advantage” on the part of government workers, it is just that private sector workers CHOOSE not to go that route.


“I pointed out that nobody would ever think it was a good idea for businesses to have the same ability to force government entities to bargain "in good faith" and to take the entity to arbitration in order to force it to give them what they wanted.”

Businesses do “force” government entities to bargain in good faith--the companies make an offer for services, and if rejected, can elect not to pursue the transaction or make a counter offer, one that makes the government decide how they want to pursue matters further.

Moreover, there is no “force” in arbitration. Two parties mutually agree to have their differences settled by an independent third party.

Anonymous said...

"What I was saying is that to impose a legally enforceable obligation on government to bargain with unions gives them an advantage over everyone else."


Hello, I'm a novice on this issue.
I've parroted the same things most have when arguing for unions. But I'd like to better understand the criticisms towards them.

Could you explain what you mean a bit more clearly for me in that section I quoted?

When you say governments bargain with unions what exactly does this mean? Do you mean state governments?

Victor Nolan said...

JM,
You have completely misunderstood what he's saying.

First, you quote a section from the blog post and make a reply that has no connection at all with the content of that quote.

The reasons you give as to why collective bargaining is wrong (strawmen reasons that were never mentioned by the prof) were conjured in your own head, not in the actual article.

You misunderstood his analogy with voting new people to the school board, he wasn't saying that was the equivalent of public sector collective bargaining.... he was saying the only strength that he would have would be to do that. Not saying that strength is in anyway parallel to collective bargaining. So you missed the point there too.

Then you go on to say "But hey, wait a minute.... private sector employees have the same ability to do this as to public sector (for some odd reason you gave very solid reasons as to why it would be UNWISE for them to do that.... company moving away for one) with respects to bargaining with their employer.

They clearly do not. My only guess is that you have never worked in the private sector before. Because I would greatly enjoy watching the playout of your attempted coup over the will of the company.

Public sector unions in NO WAY face the kind of consequences that would almost certainly happen to a private sector attempt at doing that to an employer. And again.... for the reasons that you yourself gave.

Come on, you're essentially saying, "Sure... private sector employees can do this too.... yeah there's that little thing about losing your job but hey.... patience and sacrifice, right?"

And you had the audacity to say the professor is being deceitful. Wow.


I have to say. It's very illuminating reading the arguments FOR collective bargaining. For the longest time I was a fence sitter on the issue. But it was arguments like JMs that made me think, "wow... maybe public sector collective bargaining is a bad thing".

So.... good job?

JM said...

Victor, congratulations on cobbling together generalization after generalization. Perhaps dialectic is not your strong suit. Please get back to me if you want to address each point you made with substantive comments.

Example—First, you quote a section from the blog post and make a reply that has no connection at all with the content of that quote.

What section are you referring to? How is there no connection?


Example—The reasons you give as to why collective bargaining is wrong (strawmen reasons that were never mentioned by the prof) were conjured in your own head, not in the actual article

What were those reasons I “conjured” up? In what specific ways are they in error?