The Problem with Public Sector Unions Part 2: The Political Circle

In my last piece about public sector unions, I discussed the reasons why the structure of a public sector union does not make sense in the context of the foundation of unionization. But as I mentioned then, that is just one of the many problems that come from the unionization of government employees. In this section, I would like to shed a little light on money which has kept this ball rolling for so long.

As I wrote before, public sector unions by definition do not work off the profit of a business; they are instead funded by taxpayer dollars. Since these unions are representing public sector worker and their union dues are coming out of these tax dollars, union bosses have an incentive to grow the state.

It’s stereotypical but common knowledge that unions will break down a single job into multiple specialized positions, often to the point of absurdity. This is why when passing road construction you may see one guy working while four others stand around chatting and drinking coffee. They do this because every worker added to the pay roll pays dues to the union. The more workers means more union dues for the union bosses. This same principle is applied to the public sector just as much as the private — if not more. So if you ever wonder why you see six workers and only one window open at the DMV, this is possibly the reason. Of course, this increases budgets with no increase in productivity.

Not only does it beef up the amount of employees that but it actually creates an incentive to make the bureaucracy even more complicated. The more red tape you have to unravel, the more paperwork you have to push, the more people you have to hire to process it all, and the more supervisors you have to hire to ensure that everything is flowing steadily.

These problems are encouraged to occur because government’s agencies have a well known incentive to spend over budget. Of course, what better way to do that than hire more workers than necessary and fill up rooms with meaningless forms?

Because of this, public sector unions have become one of the biggest political donors in the country. Over the past two decades, public sector unions have donated over $140 million in congressional political contributions. In 2010 alone they spent over $14 million just lobbying congress. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees in the that time frame as donated over $40 million alone. Compare this to the total of $30 million that Goldman Sachs has donated to Congress in those same two decades.

Normally, I would have no problem with people trying to influence our political system.  I have no objections to truly private corporations (which aren’t subsidized by the very government they’re trying to influence) spending their money as they please.  But public sector unions are getting their money through taxation, donating it to politicians, and then getting those politicians to give them more tax dollars.  This is basically public funding of political campaigns.  Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?

To break it down, I’m forced to pay taxes, which pays public workers’ salaries, which pays union dues, which go to political candidates who raise my taxes to pay salaries, which pay union dues, which go to political candidates, and so on and so on…

One look at the campaign contributions and its obvious which party they seem to favor. So it should come as no surprise that whenever the Democrats are in control, we always see a rise in domestic government. For example the creation of all the czar offices under the Obama Administration and Clinton’s attempt to pass universal healthcare. This is not to say that Republicans are at no fault — many are either too spineless, inept, or also on the payroll of these groups to actually stand for cutting government.

Union leaders have figured out this cycle pretty quickly and taken a lesson from their corporate buddies:  It is much simpler to buy politicians than to deal with business leaders. Perhaps this is why, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 6.9% of the private workforce is unionized where as 36% of the public sector is unionized.  This is part of a major shift that has gone on since the 60’s. The chart below shows the dramatic shift:

Unions over Time

This chart alone should conclusively show anyone that unions have found an ally in government. As defenders of liberty we must be conscious of the reasons for the growth of the state. Like anyone, public employees are driven by their own perceived self interest, and sadly to say their interest is in growing the state. 

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