Unions comfortable with their hold over the government workforce, and optimistic about the president’s planned “Winning the Future” spending package, should be very nervous about what the debt ceiling conflict means for their future. Organized labor has powerful friends in Washington helping to spread the mantra of worker exploitation, but this may not be enough to stop the fallout from the debt crisis. There is a lot at stake when Washington decides how to spend our money, and Democrats know the union vote will never go to the GOP. The question is how much organized labor will lose to senior citizens, illegals aliens, and other special interests when the budget axe falls.
We can thank Wisconsin for focusing attention on union control of public services. Organized labor and government are a bad mix (see: Government Cannot Negotiate for Control of Public Services), a truth hammered home last February when teachers across the state failed to show up for work in response to a new collective bargaining law.
One of the few good things about the bleak financial forecast for our states is that legislatures are taking a hard look at what a unionized public workforce means for their budgets. Utah is considering joining Wisconsin, Ohio, Massachusetts, Florida, and other states in cracking down on “rights” that cost taxpayers too much money.
The idea that the rights of employees are paramount is utterly foreign in most private sector businesses, but unions and their bureaucratic support base are actively spreading the message that workers will be abused without protection. Harry Reid accuses Republicans of planning to infringe on the rights of employees:
And let’s be honest: Republicans are threatened by unions. They’re threatened because when a large, organized group is so concerned with workers’ rights, the members of that group vote in large numbers. And because Republicans and the big businesses they defend so often try to take away workers’ rights, workers don’t often vote Republican.¹
What employee rights mean for taxpayers is inflexibility, expense, and limited options when dealing with public sector unions. With membership rates for local governments at 42.3%,² their control over what taxpayers pay for services is a powerful stick that state legislatures will have a hard time taking away.
Reid is correct. Unions vote Democratic. They contribute Democratic, too, but they are competing for vanishing tax dollars. Senior citizens vote Republican, but they are being assailed by Democrats with stories of GOP Social Security and Medicare cuts in a bid to steal their loyalty. The president’s hint that Social Security checks might not get printed in August without a debt ceiling decision is a good indication of the value his party places on attracting the senior vote.
President Obama’s “Winning the Future” package gifts private and public sector unions with education, infrastructure, and other spending excuses that mean lots of union jobs. While labor’s grip on the public sector is strong, declining private sector membership makes this a big opportunity for labor to regain some lost ground. We pay top dollar for union labor on government projects because of the archaic Davis-Bacon Act (see: The Recovery Act Fraud You Don’t Know About). Senator Tom Coburn observes in his “Back in Black” deficit cutting plan that Davis-Bacon cost taxpayers over $11 billion in 2010.³ This has been a thorn in the side of conservative cost-cutters for years, and its repeal, however unlikely, would be a boon to taxpayers, a big blow to unions, and a goal to strive for.
If Congress can suspend its posturing and media appearances, get down to business, and pass the spending cuts we keep hearing about, there will be a few winners and some big losers. No one wants to hurt seniors. It makes for bad PR, and Democrats have put too much effort into trying to scare them away from the GOP. The president has made amnesty too big of an issue for Democrats to give up on illegal immigrants, so spending on social insurance and programs that benefit immigrant special interests, or indirectly benefit illegals, will continue. That leaves the unions. When the spending cuts come down, and Obama’s education and infrastructure package gets clipped, labor stands to lose big. Combined with state-level efforts to curb union powers in the public sector, a fiscally conscious Washington could make this a very bad period for organized labor.