My indictment against unions and the politicians trying to take their bargaining rights away

I have maintained all along that both sides in the growing debacle over union collective bargaining rights are wrong, and as the situation continues to develop, I believe each side becomes more wrong than they were to begin with.

The unions have forgotten that, at some point, they need their employers to exist in order to have jobs to bargain over in the first place. The problem many public sector unions face is that their employers are broke, so even if they manage to win the collective bargaining fight, they may not have jobs because they have been laid off due to budget cuts. Nowhere is this problem more dramatically illustrated than by what is happening in public school districts, police departments, and fire departments around the United States. Districts and cities are laying off workers and eliminating positions rather than continue to pay then because the simple fact is that they cannot afford to continue to pay them what their contracts demand. Continuing the status quo with regard to collective bargaining will only ensure that this situation will continue and accelerate.

The politicians, on the other hand, have taken advantage of a turbulent time to score points with their base while also effectively failing to deal with the problems that created this mess in the first place. I think most Americans would agree that teachers, police officers, and firefighters are among the most important employees of the state, yet because of their importance they are also the most visible, and therefore the most vulnerable. While attacking the unions, especially because of some of the ridiculous benefits they have negotiated into their contracts over the years, seems like a way to deal with the problems facing the states, the politicians fail to realize those ridiculous benefits exist because they allowed them to. If politicians want to fix that kind of problem, they need to fix themselves, what motivates them, and what they think they’re supposed to be doing in their various offices.

Instead of fighting over collective bargaining rights, both sides should be focusing on how to survive the real problem: the budget is broken and cannot be fixed without cuts. Unions and politicians alike must face the fact that there is no more money. They cannot continue to spend, negotiate, and demand as they have in the past because there is noting to spend, negotiate for, or demand. Without reform, this whole debate will not even matter, because everyone involved in it will be unemployed anyway.

The first step in this process is to deal with reality:

  • The federal, state, and local budgets must shrink before the deficits riding on them overwhelm them. This means cuts–substantial cuts. If the unions want their bargaining rights, they should concentrate on working with the politicians to make the cuts as smart as they can be.
  • Politicians need to focus on getting rid of all the waste that seems to be endemic of modern government. The best money any government could spend right now would be to employ independent auditors with the authority to make cuts to review government spending and to get rid of duplication and waste.
  • Politicians must eliminate the ridiculous unfunded mandate. Unions must stop demanding laws their employers have no capacity to enact.
  • Unions should fight for a return to local control, especially where it involves school districts, police departments, and fire departments. Large scale standardization is an industrial lie that has saddled far too many localities with mandates that neither apply to them nor help them.
  • Ultimately, both public sector unions and politicians must realize they work for the people. If the people demand something should be done a certain way, then that is the way it should be done. Unions and politicians are not the people’s care takers, they are the people’s employees, and they can be fired at the people’s pleasure.
The second step is for everyone–the people, unions, and politicians alike–to realize things have changed. The same old tired processes that got us all to this point will not produce any other result than they already have. If we are going to solve these problems as a people and a nation, we have to do it by abandoning the things that got us here and by adopting approaches that work for the circumstances at hand.
The third step is for everyone to get ready for whatever happens next. Even if we solved every one of the problems we face today, there are still going to be consequences, potentially big ones, that may last for years, even decades. The milk is already spilled, now it’s just a matter of what the cleanup looks like.
Unless we deal with the problems we now face in all their complexity and reality, they are going to sweep us away whether we like it or not. There are only two solutions: stand and face reality or be swept away by it.
UPDATED: Fixed the spelling mistake in the title and in the body.