As workers in the private sector struggle with stagnant wages,
disappearing benefits, and retirement ages that are moving further
and further out onto the horizon, unionized gym teachers and
lifeguards employed by the public sector retire in their fifties
with over $100,000 a year in pension and healthcare benefits. Some
even supplement this generous income by taking other jobs in their
"retirement." Attempts to rein in the unions, as in Wisconsin and
New Jersey, have met with massive resistance. Yet as Daniel DiSalvo
argues in Government against Itself, public sector unions threaten
the integrity of our very democracy.
DiSalvo, a third generation union member, recognizes the difference
that collective bargaining made in the lives of his immigrant
grandfather, a steelworker in Pittsburgh, and his father, a
carpenter. He is not opposed to unions on ideological grounds.
Rather, he opposes the form they have taken in the public sector,
where they often face no real opposition in negotiations. Moreover,
the public sector can't go out of business no matter how much union
members manage to squeeze out of it. Union members have no
incentive to ever settle for less, and this has a profound impact
on the health of our society, as the costs get passed along to the
taxpayer. States and municipalities break under the weight of their
pension obligations, and the chasm between well-compensated public
sector employees and their beleaguered private sector counterparts
widens. Where private sector unions can provide a necessary
counterweight to the power of capital, public employee unions are
basically bargaining against themselves; it's no wonder they almost
always win. The left is largely in thrall to the unions, both
ideologically and financially; the right would simply take a
hatchet to the state itself, eliminating important and valuable
government services. Neither side offers a realistic vision of
well-run, efficient government that serves the public.
Moving beyond stale and unproductive partisan divisions, DiSalvo
argues that we can build a better, more responsive government that
is accountable to taxpayers. But we cannot do it until we challenge
the dominance of public sector unions in government. This carefully
reasoned analysis of the power of public sector unions is sure to
be controversial, and will be an important contribution to the
debates about public vs. private unions, increasing inequality, and
the role of government in American life.
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