By Brad Jones, FACE THE STATE
When even The New York Times takes notice of the toll taken by organized labor on the public purse, you know such concerns weren’t just conjured up by a vast, right-wing conspiracy. Nor are they the product of slick PR on behalf of corporate board rooms. No, the fiscal woes of state governments in the wake of a crushing recession are very real, in Colorado as well as in states across the nation. And years-long concessions by those states to unions that have organized public employees have substantially compounded the cost of providing basic government services.
So, it’s only fitting that it should fall to The Times—that old gray lady and protectress of union-friendly liberals everywhere—to report the mad dash by a number of cash-strapped states to get out from under suffocating relationships with unions. As The Times notes:
…In Ohio, the new Republican governor, following the precedent of many other states, wants to ban strikes by public school teachers.
Some new governors, most notably Scott Walker of Wisconsin, are even threatening to take away government workers’ right to form unions and bargain contracts.
“We can no longer live in a society where the public employees are the haves and taxpayers who foot the bills are the have-nots,” Mr. Walker, a Republican, said in a speech. “The bottom line is that we are going to look at every legal means we have to try to put that balance more on the side of taxpayers.”
… But it is not only Republicans who are seeking to rein in unions. … California’s new Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, is promising to review the benefits received by government workers in his state, which faces a more than $20 billion budget shortfall over the next 18 months.
Without a doubt, unionization of state employees can be a budget buster. Look no further than in places where collective bargaining arrived only recently. As noted by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, for example, payroll costs have surged for Washington’s state government since that state adopted collective bargaining just nine years ago.
One of the legacies of departing Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter is his still-controversial, 2007 executive order effectively opening the door to collective bargaining for more than 30,000 Colorado state government employees. Though the Ritter administration doggedly maintained that the order didn’t allow collective bargaining per se—in which, if labor and management don’t agree on pay and other contract provisions, the dispute goes to binding arbitration—the “partnerships” permitted in Ritter’s order amount to the same thing over the long haul. That’s because unions are granted the power of acting as “exclusive representative” for key state employee groups, which, of course, only creates upward pressure on pay and benefits as time goes by.
If governors and legislatures in even the union strongholds of the old Rust Belt can muster the courage to take on unions—and spare taxpayers—maybe here in Colorado, where union clout is concentrated mostly in the public sector, it shouldn’t be all that difficult to restore more sensible policies. Maybe Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper could save the General Assembly the trouble and rescind Ritter’s folly, also by executive order. What a great way to show that he really does want to give the hard-pressed public a break.