Government Unions Lose
Walker’s victory is the Prop 13 of the 21st century.


Deroy Murdock

Leaders who are inspired by Walker’s mix of principled policy and prize-winning politics should enact these proposals:

Government workers should sacrifice, just as taxpayers have. In 2011, according to the U.S. Labor Department figures furnished by American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Andrew Biggs, private-sector employees in establishments of 100 or more typically cost employers $19.93 per hour. Among state and local government employees, the equivalent figure was $26.57 — one-third higher.

Government workers should pay their fair share for health and pension benefits. On an hourly basis, private-sector employees’ benefits cost their companies $2.15. State and local government workers’ benefits cost taxpayers $4.72 per hour — 120 percent more. For retirement, the private-sector figure was $1.02 per hour. The state and local sum: $3.37 per hour — a 230 percent premium.

The figures also are staggering at the federal level. In 2009, according to USA Today, total wages and benefits among private-sector employees stood at $61,051. Among federal civilian employees: $123,049 — almost precisely double.

Government workers should stop pension spiking. Their retirement payments often are based on their last two or three years of earnings. So, many work maximum overtime to send those amounts sky-high. Nonsense! Public pensions should be based on career-long compensation. Period.

Government workers should be fired for inefficiency, incompetence, and criminality. Unless they rape or kill someone on camera, government employees are nearly impossible to fire. New York City’s government-school teachers repeatedly and credibly accused of child molestation remain on paid leave for years while administrators struggle to dismiss them. Enough! If private-sector workers can get sacked in seconds, so should those who serve taxpayers.

Government workers should trade defined-benefit retirement plans, with artificially guaranteed returns, for defined-contribution plans, such as 401(k)s. True, private-sector employees face the potential gains and losses of the financial markets. But if those who pay taxes confront such risks in their own pensions, so should those who consume their taxes. 

Government workers should be hired as individuals, not as members of union blocks, as are most of America’s private-sector employees, 93 percent of whom are non-union. (Among government workers, 37 percent are unionized.) There is no God-given or constitutional right to monopoly collective bargaining among government employees, who serve the people.

Government workers’ retirement ages should rise to match those in the private sector, especially as life expectancy grows. As the Manhattan Institute’s website observes, some truly brave California cops and firefighters can retire after 20 years of service while earning 90 percent of their salaries. Average taxpayers in their 40s do not see such sweetheart deals, nor should average tax consumers.

Government workers should pay union dues only if they wish, and only after unions bill them directly. Governor Walker stopped the state’s automatic dues collection on behalf of SEIU, AFSCME, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, and other unions. Private bosses do not collect rent for their employees’ landlords. They do not subtract auto dealers’ car payments from their staffers’ paychecks, nor do they deduct workers’ credit-card obligations from their wages and transfer them to Visa or American Express. So, why should unions grab dues money even before workers see their paychecks? Unions should bill members for their services, without their employers’ assistance, just as every other vendor does.

Government workers should belong to unions only when they do so voluntarily. AFSCME’s Wisconsin chapter, for instance, has plunged from 62,818 members pre-Walker to 28,745 today. This strongly suggests that 34,073 dues payers, or 54.2 percent of AFSCME’s previous headcount, were hostages rather than members. End this conscription! Those who feel like guests can remain. Those who feel like captives can leave. This is called freedom. Government-union bosses should look into it.

As Governor Scott Walker shows the way, officials and candidates should follow in his path. Here again, step one is leadership.

— New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University.