This article originally appeared in a local western newspaper just after the most recent NBA lockout ended in December of 2011. I used the opportunity to discuss the issue of public sector unions. According to 2013 U.S. Bureau of Labor & Statistics, union membership was 11.3% across the economy. However the numbers broken down for public versus private were startling. Private sector union membership was 6.7%, while 35.3% of public employees are union members.
This years National Basketball Association season was almost cancelled thanks to an acrimonious labor dispute between players and owners. Clearly the players are the major reason for the NBA’s success, but the owners risk their own capital, pay the expenses, and, most importantly, the teams are their private property.
The NBA owners and players finally came to an agreement, but if they didn’t the obvious free market consequence would have been no revenue. Positive and negative consequences in a free market are a good thing: the engineering firm that pays attention to detail thrives while the one that doesn’t will eventually go out of business.
However, there are no free market consequences for public employee unions since they don’t operate in a free market. There were no public employee unions for much of America’s history and there are many good reasons why there should be none now. First, since we the people do not exist for the government, rather the government exists for the people, we are the master and the government is the servant. Thus, if we the people are the master and government workers are servants, how can government employees still call themselves servants and be a member of a union? How can the servant negotiate with and make demands of the master? And, if you work for the government and don’t think you are a public servant you should quit immediately.
Secondly, in a private setting there is always the bottom line to consider, which keeps the demands of a union in check. If the union becomes a cancer it will eventually kill the host – the company will lose market share to businesses that are more responsive to the free market and eventually go bankrupt. Profit and loss calculations, which foster excellence, do not exist in the public sector since the government is not out to make a profit and it can always fleece the taxpayers for more money if there is a deficit.
Third, public employee unions exhibit a profound disrespect for the private property of taxpayers and, more specifically, taxpayers money. Government union workers are paid with tax dollars, meaning our money. When government unions negotiate for higher pay and benefits they are making demands on the private property of all their neighbors; and when they strike they are in essence holding we the people hostage.
It was said that the NBA labor dispute – as with most labor disputes – was about power. I agree. When it comes to public employee unions the servant is trying to exert power over you and I, the master. This is an illogical, unworkable and immoral situation that has no place in a government of, by, and for the people.