There was a time in America when the typical union member was a blue-collar guy sweating in a Pittsburgh steel mill, screwing together Chevys in Detroit or loading and unloading ships on San Francisco docks. But things are radically different today because Joe Lunch Pail has been replaced by white-collar Todd and Margo Yuppiecrat processing Social Security checks in Baltimore, conducting environmental audits in Denver or keeping the lines moving at the Department of Motor Vehicles. The breakdown of union membership makes this change clear: Only 7.3 percent of all private sector employees are union members, while 37.6 percent of all government workers are unionized. Fifty-one percent of all union members are government workers.
As The Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk points out, these numbers ought to be red flags for taxpayers because “government employees don’t strike to get higher wages from a private business — they strike to get higher wages from you.”
“Their pay is funded through your tax dollars,” he says. “For government employee union members to get more, your taxes need to go up. So that is what unions now lobby for.” And as with so much else in this country, Sherk says that what is happening on the West Coast is likely a portent of disturbing things to come for the rest of us.
In Oregon, public employee unions are funding ballot initiatives to raise personal income and business taxes in order to protect gold-plated medical benefits from state spending reductions.
In California, the Service Employees International Union spent at least $1 million on a massive television ad campaign demanding that desperate state government officials raise oil, gas and liquor taxes instead of cutting spending.
These actions point to the hard reality that the interests of government employee unions are fundamentally opposed to the interests of taxpayers. Unions are serving their own members, while government officials who oversee them are serving the public, which usually means delivering the most efficient service at the lowest possible cost.
These diverging interests are perfectly illustrated at the federal level by the political endorsements of the American Federation of Government Employees, which actively backed Barack Obama for president.
For his part, Obama is now pushing federal spending to unprecedented heights while expanding the federal work force and working with Congress to raise taxes. Between elections, the AFGE — along with other federal employee unions like the National Treasury Employees Union and the National Federation of Federal Employees — constantly lobbies Congress against any proposal to rein in the spiraling compensation costs of the federal civil service. Hard-pressed taxpayers shouldn’t have to fight tax-happy congressmen and greedy government worker unions at the same time.
Public service employees should be forced to bargain, as 92.7 percent of the work force does, in a way that recognizes the best interests of both sides and does not assume that government is a Daddy Warbucks with unlimited resources.