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unions versus the public
The Walker Model Gains Momentum in the Midwest

Scott Walker’s successful efforts to curb the bargaining power of public employee unions may not have translated into a successful bid for the GOP nomination, but they are gaining traction among other Republican governors at the state level. Reuters reports:

Republican lawmakers in Iowa approved legislation on Thursday to limit the powers of public sector unions to negotiate for state and local employees, restrictions similar to those previously enacted in Wisconsin and Michigan.

Both the House of Representatives and the state Senate voted in favor of the measure, which was opposed by Democrats and unions who have said that it will gut collective bargaining rights.

It’s significant that ground zero for public sector union reform is the upper-Midwest, once the capital of organized labor. Democrats try to cast such reforms as a betrayal of workers, but in a post-industrial age when half of union members are public employees whose demands for fatter benefits packages come at direct expense of the taxpayers, many voters don’t see it that way. As James Sherk noted in our pages last year, “A movement formed to defend blue-collar laborers now fights primarily to help white-collar workers expand government.”

Also significant: As in Wisconsin, Iowa’s police and firefighter unions are exempt from the new collective bargaining restrictions. There is a legitimate argument that public safety jobs necessitate greater collective bargaining protections, but it’s more likely that the police and firefighters won this carveout because they are more likely to support right-leaning politicians who currently control the government. This is probably bad policy; the case of Dallas proves that police and firefighter pensions can also spin out of control when powerful unions can take on weak and pliant legislators.

Nonetheless, the purple state push for public sector union reform is a good thing for taxpayers and quality of governance. Hopefully it gets momentum outside of the WI-MI-IA trifecta.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Not going to happen in California (at least until the state goes broke) which is actually governed by-and-for the public service unions whose members make, on average, twice as much as non-government employees.

  • Government employees should not be allowed to collectively bargain. The theory behind collective bargaining is that it increases the power of workers relative to owners/managers, who in for-profit enterprises will almost always hold a disproportionate amount of the bargaining power.

    In the public sector, however, collective bargaining gives workers too much power because management’s incentive for holding down labor costs is practically non-existent. The moment public sector employees strike, management caves because the voters have a knee-jerk reaction of blaming elected officials whenever service is disrupted instead of analyzing the situation with an eye toward the long-term ramifications of giving into every demand.

  • Pait

    Hasn’t the Walker model been copied already with huge success in Kansas?

    • Dale Fayda
      • Pait

        I read that employment in California has increased steadily, by 15%, in the past 5 years; in Kansas it hasn’t, and in fact is decreasing. So perhaps that would not be so great for Californians….

        • Texas_Accountant

          Great on employment. Has it translated to budget success? It appears not:

          California ranked 44th out of 50
          Kansas ranked 27 out of 50.

          Kansas cut taxes to lure employers to their state. If it is not economically competitive, what does it have to offer? How would Kansas rank in your list of “places to live?” It would not be very high for me – Mississippi’s gulf coast would rank higher and I would not move to Mississippi. Doesn’t California’s weather and geography make it more appealing?

          On the other hand, Kansas has a better unemployment rate than California:

          Based on cost of living, California has the highest poverty rate in the country:

          Only politicians could mess up a beautiful and resource rich state like California.

          • Pait

            If budget is the only criterion, and I see no reason why it should be, then Kansas is doing very badly.

          • Texas_Accountant

            “Badly” is relative. Kansas’ financial position is 27th. Connecticut raised taxes to alleviate their budget issues and they are ranked 50th. Again, as an employer, would you rather locate in Connecticut or Kansas if taxes were equal? If you answer, “Kansas,” you haven’t been there.

            I have listed a number of items other than budgets, and based on those, Kansas is doing better than California.

            I know it is an article of faith on the Left that Kansas must be vilified for cutting taxes, but actual numbers don’t seem to support that position. It seems to be doing average and if you are Kansas, average is the best you can hope for.

          • Pait

            I agree, one cannot just compare one state to another to judge the effect of a policy – there are too many variables involved. It does make some sense to see what happens in a given state over time – and although again there are many factors involved, the evolution of employment and budget in Kansas don’t seem encouraging.

          • Texas_Accountant

            Where are you getting your numbers? Here is a link for Kansas unemployment rate since the Brownback’s plan was passed in 2012:

            I see the Kansas unemployment rate:
            12/2012: 5.5
            12/2013: 4.8
            12/2014: 4.3
            12/2015: 4.1
            12/2016: 4.3

            It seems to be improving.

            Now Kansas’ state spending:

            2012: 12.8 Billion
            2013: 12.4 Billion
            2014: 12.9 Billion
            2015: 13.4 Billion
            2016: 13.8 Billion

            It does not look like spending was cut (except for 2013). So, where is the issue?

            If Kansas has a budget deficit, how does it compare to California’s:


            Please provide your numbers.

          • Pait

            Employment, not unemployment. California’s is increasing, Kansas’ not. Unemployment has been going down all over the country since the recession ended. Someone posted Fred data and graphs elsewhere, sorry, I don’t recall where.

            I tend to agree that the Brownback model is less about cutting the budget than about making noisy claims that budgets will be cut, but I am not an expert and will not be able to argue the details.

          • Texas_Accountant
          • Pait

            Yes, it’s not far from the bottom of the nation, together with others winners such as the WI-IA “trifecta” – MI is not such a good example because the auto industry collapsed and then was saved by Washington. Since Fred makes it so easy, I’ll paste a comparison between Kansas an California, starting from the date the current governors started their mandates. I know there are too many factors for a simplistic explanation, but the idea that CA would be better off if it copied the KS model is counterfactual – the opposite might be a better bet.


          • Texas_Accountant

            Actually, the “counterfactual” of the Kansas model is Connecticut. That state raised taxes:

            The result is not dissimilar from your Kansas graph, but it is in Connecticut:

            I don’t think the comparison between these states is fair – Kansas is not as an attractive (geographically) place to live as Connecticut or California, but it does not seem to suffer that much in employment comparisons.

          • Pait

            Presumably the attractiveness of the state had been taken into account 5 years ago, so I don’t think it makes much sense to consider it in the comparison between recent dates. The CT data was incomplete – ends around 2014 – so I don’t have much to say. I picked CA because that’s what a comment suggested as a comparison with KS.

          • Texas_Accountant

            I went to the FRED like you did and took the CT numbers out through 2016 (as you did). They look the same as Kansas’. I went back through the comments and you were the one who brought up Kansas.

          • Pait

            As I wrote, I picked CA for the graph because it was suggested by someone else.

            I must have typed something incorrectly about CT. In any case, it’s difficult to learn much from a smaller state. Any detail outside the state could change its numbers.

          • f1b0nacc1

            A crucial point is that Kansas (I live on the MO side of the border in KC) hasn’t cut spending, which is the basis of the budget problems. A lot of this has to do with the way state government is structured in Kansas (a very strange place), but it shouldn’t take a ton of acumen to realize that if you cut taxes and don’t do anything about spending (and it has actually increased) you aren’t going to be able to overcome the concaminant difficulties.

        • Dale Fayda

          Have you read the part where the CA public pensions are underfunded by around $1Trillion? Even if that were only 50% accurate, that level of public debt is well-nigh un-payable.

          Have you read about the stratospheric poverty levels in CA:

          How about the sharp rise in homelessness:, As an LA county resident, I can tell you without any hyperbole that mass homeless encampments are now almost everywhere, even in very expensive neighborhoods.

          I call this “circling the drain”. The feudalization of CA is moving right along.

          • Pait

            The way to pay for future expenses is to have more people working and paying taxes.

            As for your hyperbole, one quickly learns to discount it; the louder the screams, the less relevant the facts.

          • Dale Fayda

            You mean like the “screaming” from LA Times, a political mouth piece of the Democratic party? Or from CBS News? That “screaming”?

            What’s the matter? You don’t even believe your fellow Leftists any more?

          • Dale Fayda
          • Pait

            Let us then agree that the #fact you disagree with, that more people working and paying taxes helps pay for future government expenses which are needed in a well-functioning society, is just another example of a liberal conspiracy.

        • SDN

          California is run by Democrats, who have a proven track record for cooking the books. The actual facts on the ground cast doubt on those numbers. See Victor Davis Hanson.

  • FriendlyGoat

    You can make an argument that public safety jobs are more hazardous than some other jobs. There is no legitimate argument why public safety jobs need more collective bargaining protections than other jobs. People who allow politicians to worship cops and vice versa are really, really, really stupid people.

    • SDN

      One major difference is that the cops have an official Supreme Court decision saying they don’t have to actually protect anyone. All they have to do is stay in the car and keep driving. So take away their union. They won’t care. And don’t have to.

  • whoodoo

    Public-employee (PE) unions are wrong in principle, and disastrous in practice. Government is not private business, as it is largely an all-expense affair with no bottom line and the taxpayer as the paymasters. That is, public employees work for the public as their boss, there are no child labor abuses or greedy business owners trying to extract the the last once of labor for greater profit. They bring all the arguments from private unions that have as much good as bad to recommend them, but they should never have been allowed in the public sector in the first place. As such, they should be eliminated and PE union pensioners benefits should be rolled back to the standards of the federal Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) – a conservative defined benefit program that served well for many decades. PE-union retirees in CA, for example, make 2-3 times as much as CSRS retirees of similar service time and responsibility. Since 1983, new federal employees were given 401K-like retirement packages that they could take with them if they changed jobs, yet PE unions continue to have egregiously generous pay, work rules, benefits and retirement computations that are drastically restricting public services and bankrupting municipalities and states. The conflicts of interest between “civil service obligations” and personal interests with union membership abound, and conflicts of interest between elected politicians’ obligations to their constituents and the PE unions that help elect them, guarantee overly generous concessions at the expense of the citizens who those politicians are supposed to be representing.

  • GlobalTrvlr

    “There is a legitimate argument that public safety jobs necessitate greater collective bargaining protections, but it’s more likely that the police and firefighters won this carveout because they are more likely to support right-leaning politicians who currently control the government. ”

    The biggest issue with public safety workers is that they are sympathetic and could derail the overall thrust if they were included. Not to mention that, especially for firefighters, the work is physically too hard to keep up until 60 and they do need some protections.

  • klgmac

    Trump is going to take down the Federal public unions in his second term. He is letting them make the case themselves during his first term. They are doing an excellent job of cutting their own throats.

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