Hysteria swept Connecticut this week as the U.S. Supreme Court decided that government employees have a First Amendment right not to be compelled by law to pay “agency fees” to unions they don’t want to join. Practically every leading Democratic officeholder, from Governor Malloy on down, shrieked that the decision was the end of the world for working people and collective bargaining.
In fact it wasn’t even the end of collective bargaining for government employees. It was only a blow to the Democratic Party.
The court left government employees free to join unions and bargain collectively. The decision means only that government employees can’t be charged for representation they don’t want. If, as government employee union officials say, carrying such “free riders” will weaken their negotiation with government agencies and lead to less favorable terms of employment, “free riders” may notice and be induced to join. But henceforth government employee unions will have to appeal to potential members on the merits of membership and not rely on the law’s compulsion.
Responding to the decision, Connecticut AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier said “the billionaires and corporate CEOs” who supported the Illinois state employee plaintiff in the case “are attempting to divide working people.”
That is, when government employee unions drive up government’s costs, achieving compensation far superior to that of comparable jobs in the private sector and hobbling public administration, they’re really doing it all for the good of everyone else. Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin chimed in that unions are vital in “advocating for the voiceless.” The United Farm Workers union does that but nobody in government employ in Connecticut is “voiceless.” For the government employee unions control the state’s majority party and, through it, the government itself, enjoying not only collective bargaining but binding arbitration of their contracts, subordinating government to a special interest and destroying democracy.
In Connecticut government employee unions give everyone else only higher taxes and worse government. In nearly every government scandal is a union official insisting that the public has no right to know about it and that whoever complains “hates working people.”
When a University of Connecticut employee can get his job back after smoking dope while operating a state vehicle, a Central Connecticut State University professor can keep his job despite years of sexually harassing students, and dozens of state welfare department employees can keep their jobs after committing food stamp fraud and not even be identified publicly any weakening of government employee unions is cause for celebration, a victory for working people.
Pious posturing fails
Last Sunday, a day after another murder in Hartford, the Mothers United Against Violence organization held its annual rally to remember the city’s murder victims, estimated at 475 since 2000. The following day there was another murder in the city.
“I really don’t understand why it’s still going on,” the group’s president said. “My son was killed 16 years ago and the same thing is going on so we must be missing something.”
What they’re missing is that pious posturing like these rallies accomplishes nothing. Changes in public policy might accomplish something but the long failure of urban policy is on no one’s agenda.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.