Larry Kudlow, a fiscal conservative talk show host, said it well, “Private sector unions, yes; Public sector unions, no.” Private sector unions grew out of a great need. Employers used child labor, abused their employees who had few rights and little recourse if working conditions were dangerous.
New York is a good example of the excesses of public sector unions. NY owes 120 billion without counting the 71 billion it’s in the hole for state and local pensions, which are set to triple within the next five years. That is not to say private sector unions haven’t played an important role. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire reignited a strong labor movement in the United States.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire took place in New York City on March 25, 1911. It was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York and resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history. The factory occupied the 8th-10th floors in the 10 story Asch building in New York City. They made women’s blouses (shirtwaists). There were 500 employees, mostly women who worked 9 hour days during the week and 7 hours on Saturday. On March 25, 1911, a fire erupted at 4:40 PM in a bin under a cutter’s table. A bookkeeper on the 8th floor was able to call in a warning to the 10th floor but there was no way to contact the people on the 9th floor. When the fire reached the 9th, one stairway was engulfed. The workers couldn’t get down the other stairway because the door was locked by employers to reduce theft (they would check purses as people left for the day). The foreman with the key had already fled. Employees crowded onto a fire escape, terrified. The fire escape collapsed from the weight and the heat, spilling almost 100 to their deaths. The elevator buckled and it prevented any means of egress. Another 62 people jumped or fell to their deaths as bystanders watched. Young girls on fire jumped to the horror of onlookers. Nets set up to catch them tore upon impact. Firemen fought helplessly – the fire had spread too quickly. 146 died, 129 women and 17 men. The Socialist Party organized a union as a result of this disaster. It’s most unfortunate that it was the Socialists because their perspective is as anti-freedom as any abusive employer.
Similar stories can be found in the mining industry. In 1907 alone, there were 18 coal mine disasters,and two disasters in the metal and nonmetal mining industry. Among the disasters in 1907 was history’s worst – the Monongah coal mine explosion, which claimed 362 lives and impelled Congress to create the Bureau of Mines.
Unions alone didn’t make the difference but they did demand improved accountability, safety programs, and fair wages and working conditions. Unfortunately, like anything, they too can over-reach, become unreasonable and thuggish. Everything in moderation.
While unions brought the private sector in line, that never happened in the public sector. To mimic a thought of Jonathan Goldberg’s, there are no stories of collapsed school buildings, forced child teachers, or 10 hour government secretarial work days. In 1962, President Kennedy lifted the ban on public sector unions by executive order (another travesty in our “democratic” system). At the time, public sector employees were making good money and had fair working conditions. It was a political move to strengthen the unions, a support base for the Democratic Party.
Government unions then began to give huge amounts of money to candidates who supported their cause. That meant that public sector unions now have a vested interest to increase tax dollars. Statistics bear this out – government unions advocate for higher taxes more than any other special interest group.
Jonah Goldberg said on Dispatch.com, “…they don’t want to lose the right to collective bargaining. But that is exactly what they need to lose.
Private-sector unions fight with management over an equitable distribution of profits. Government unions negotiate with friendly politicians over taxpayer money, putting the public interest at odds with union interests, and, as we’ve seen in states such as California and Wisconsin, exploding the cost of government. California’s pension costs soared 2,000 percent in a decade thanks to the unions.
The labor-politician negotiations can’t be fair when the unions can put so much money into campaign spending. Victor Gotbaum, a leader in the New York City chapter of AFSCME, summed up the problem in 1975 when he boasted, “We have the ability, in a sense, to elect our own boss.”
This is why FDR believed that “the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service,” and why even George Meany, the first head of the AFL-CIO, held that it was “impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”
Public sector unions need to lose their collective bargaining rights. In ten years, we see states facing bankruptcy because of the unsustainable costs. California has seen increases of 2000 percent. Bloomberg news reports that states like Illinois, New Jersey, and Kansas are in a “death spiral” because of state pensions. “…Less than half the 50 state retirement systems had assets to pay for 80 percent of promised benefits in their 2009 fiscal years, according to data compiled for the Cities and Debt Briefing hosted by Bloomberg Link in New York today…”
New York state and local tax-funded pension contributions will probably triple over the next five years. For a state government that is 120 billion in debt like New York, that is unsustainable and the need to make adjustments is critical. As if this isn’t enough, when the United States hit its debt limit, the treasury dug into pension funds to meet its bills. NYS contributions to pensions to triple in five years
Since the Democratic Party and the White House are intimately tied to the public sector unions which are growing enormously under their Big Big government agenda, it’s not likely to change any time soon. What will change it are the warriors like Kasich, Walker, Christie or a complete economic collapse and then no one will benefit no matter what union they may or may not be in. Read about it here: Death Spiral Due to Pensions