What Collective Bargaining Gets You

by James Sherk

When someone says, “It’s not about the money,” you know it’s about the money.

Unions in Madison insist that their protests are really about collective bargaining. But collective bargaining is about the money.

Collective bargaining gives a public-sector union a monopoly over the government’s workforce. By law the government can employ workers only on the terms negotiated by the union; it cannot hire non-union workers to do the job. That means the government must reach an agreement with the union to get anything done. The voters’ elected representatives do not have the final say.

This gives unions enormous power over government budgets, which they use to get more of the budget spent on them:

— Collective bargaining is the reason taxpayers in Wisconsin cover almost all the cost of government pensions and 94 percent of government workers’ health-care premiums.

— Collective bargaining is the reason most Wisconsin school districts buy health coverage from a company created by the Wisconsin Education Association — even though their premiums cost far more than competing carriers.

— Collective bargaining is the reason Milwaukee Public Schools spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Viagra instead of on educating students.

If unions have the power to force government to hire on their terms, they have the power to press for more tax dollars. Unions might make concessions now, but tomorrow is another day.

And if they keep their monopoly, unions may not make even concessions today. Wisconsin union leaders publicly insist they accept Governor Walker’s proposed increases in employee contributions, but it looks like their municipal locals didn’t get the memo — they are locking in contracts that make none of those changes.

If collective-bargaining reform gets taken off the table, unions will go right back to demanding that taxpayers cough up more. Letting government unions keep their monopoly ties the hands of voters’ elected representatives and forces them to spend enough to keep the unions satisfied.

Collective bargaining is all about taxpayers’ money. That is what government unions bargain for.

— James Sherk is a senior policy analyst in labor economics in the Center for Data Analysis at the Heritage Foundation.

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