The growing power of government unions

The Arkansas Democratic Senate primary race pitting incumbent and Obama choice Blanche Lincoln vs. labor’s candidate, the sitting Lt. Governor Bill Halter did a lot more than point out a riff between labor and the White House. It demonstrated how powerful labor is and what sorts of money it can throw into the political arena to try to influence the outcome of specific elections.

But there is more to the story than that. Conn Carroll at the Heritage Foundation’s Morning Bell points out that for the first time in the history of the United States, there are more government union workers than there are private union workers. 52% of all union members now on the rolls of a union are “public servants” in some capacity or another.

And, as Governor Chris Christie of NJ has experienced, they’re a force to be reckoned with when trying to reform government.

The irony, of course, is that the institution that helped force changes within the private sector to the point that union membership is declining precipitously, is now the number one union shop in America. In the private sector regulation, cultural changes and competition driven compensation and benefit packages all but rendered unions moot. But within the government that helped force this change, unions flourish. And they don’t seem shy in wielding their power to further feather their own nest.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels called government unions “the new privileged class in America.” Per Daniels government workers are now, on average, better paid than their private sector counterparts.  And, of course, the sole purpose of unions is to protect jobs and secure better compensation and benefits.

That puts government unions at cross-purposes with any attempts to rein in the cost and scope of government at every level:

In Maine, the Maine Municipal Association, the SEIU, the Teamsters, and the Maine Education Association collectively spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to campaign against a ballot initiative that would have prevented government spending from growing faster than the combined rate of inflation and population growth. In Illinois, AFSCME Council 31 ran television and radio ads pushing for tax increases in their “Fair Budget Illinois” campaign. In Oregon, government unions provided 90 percent of the $4 million spent advocating two ballot initiatives to raise personal income and business taxes by $733 million.

Given the size and power of government unions, and the fact that that member dues are essentially paid by the taxpayer via member salaries, the argument could be made that taxpayers are subsidizing union activities which run counter to the tax payer’s best interest.

Don’t be fooled by the little spat in Arkansas between the White House and the unions. They’re joined at the hip and both know that the relationship they share is critical to the unions maintaining their grip on power, and the Democrats doing the same.

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