Extracting endless concessions from their political patrons, government employee unions are bankrupting cities and states across America. And forced to spend taxpayer money on unreformed union contracts, public services and utilities are being gutted. America’s government union casualty list is damning: California’s pension crisis, Philadelphia’s school crisis, Detroit’s fiscal implosion.
Still, we must remember that union bosses in general are the ultimate false prophets of economic morality. After all, pursuing issues like a higher minimum wage are simple for unions. They seem to be about shared economic opportunity and union members receive an immediate benefit. For unions, it matters not that those who suffer from the minimum wage are the least skilled, the unemployed and the youngest and most in need of experience and opportunities.
But it gets worse. Today, even when unions are not directly responsible for a problem — such as Chicago’s astronomic homicide rate — they often make resolving those problems more difficult. Were Chicago not drowning in debt — the city’s pension liabilities alone exceed $20 billion — it could afford to hire more police officers and fund anti-crime initiatives.
There’s a broader truth here. Today’s unions are rarely allies of the popular interest. They might claim they’re agents of social mobility and expanded opportunity, but the facts suggest otherwise. Take the United Auto Workers’ looming negotiations with Fiat Chrysler, General Motors and Ford. Even in the face of major competition abroad and from automakers in Southern “right to work” states, the UAW continues to insist on significant wage hikes. The union’s leadership says that the “Big Three” carmakers can afford these increases thanks to strong revenues. Yet what UAW ignores is basic economic reality. Right-to-work states benefit from higher employment and greater investment. That’s partly why citizens and construction firms alike are abandoning union-dominiated states like California.
Even when unions are not directly responsible for a problem they often make resolving those problems more difficult
Moreover, at some point in the next 10 years, the U.S. economy is likely to experience another shutdown. The Big Three will collapse under their unaffordable personnel costs. But UAW doesn’t care. Instead, it’s confident the taxpayer will simply bail out the automakers once again. Neither does UAW or its allies care about the principle of economic competition. Why? Because for unions, as with pension liabilities, the realities of competition can be abandoned to the future, somewhere over the rainbow. How do the unions get away with such blatant absurdity? The politicians get hard cash and votes, and the union bosses get flowing patronage.
It’s easy for politicians like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn to praise unions and frame them as agents of shared wealth away from “greedy corporations.” It’s easy for voters to be tempted by this lie—that is, until you can’t get to work because of a strike; or until you’re forced to pay exorbitant taxes for ever worsening services; or until you are subjugated to the political machinations of a union boss.
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It’s for these reasons that, when offered the choice, so many Americans choose to keep their hard-earned money rather than pay union dues. And it’s for these human reasons of opportunity that conservatives should support that choice and the opportunity that follows.