Saturday, February 19, 2011

Public Servants and Unions

All eyes are on Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker who stands at the front of the line to dismantle collective bargaining’s grip on that states’ budget. The question of the day is whether or not public servants; teachers, police officers, firemen, garbage haulers or any of the folks who get paid through taxes have the “right” to hold their neighbors hostage through unionization.

“Hold their neighbors hostage”, isn’t that exactly what these unions are doing? We won’t teach your children unless you pay us more money, we won’t come out to your house if it catches on fire unless we get three weeks paid vacation, we won’t investigate your daughter’s rape case without a guarantee of time and a half overtime; and the list goes on and on.

Civil servants, a general term for anyone working in the capacity of public employee should have certain minimal guarantees; but I will stop short of saying they have the “right” to collective bargaining. These folks deserve reasonable compensation and expectations in their chosen positions; free from political marginalization.

Often times public service jobs are jeopardized after election results, changes at the top mean their friends get to work, their opponents get to walk away. Employees in larger metropolitan areas found that implementing Civil Service Laws limited the effects of being marginalized by such changes at the top. Public employees had to band together, agree on a platform of working rules and regulations and go before the public to institute policies to govern these working relationships. This is not the same as collective bargaining; close but oh that difference is something worthy of note.

Having been a member of the Houston Police Officer’s Association while serving the City of Houston I was protected by Civil Service. My salary, number of vacation days, sick days, paid holidays, overtime and all other details of employment were set and agreed upon prior to my taking the job and their accepting me. It was a foregone acknowledgement that any changes to the original agreement would have to go before the public via City Hall.

If we thought we deserved a raise we would put a motion before the Mayor and City Council outlining and justifying our request; not a demand, a request for a raise. Sometimes we got a raise if the budget permitted while other times it wasn’t possible. Many times we were praised for our service, told we deserved an increase; but because times were tight, instead of a raise which could not be given, we’d receive compensation in the form of additional retirement benefits which could be provided at a later date.

Reasonable gestures between employees and those who hold the purse strings of the public treasury make it possible to hire and hold quality professional employees. If mutual respect did not exist then folks would never enter public service; instead finding the private sector more lucrative. The fine balance between having the desire for public service in the community and the need to provide a living wage has to be addressed. What’s a fair compensation, what’s a reasonable work environment and how much political nonsense will filter down the chain of command all factore into the mix.

The problem with public employee unions entering into the equation has to do with an entitlement mentality, one which goes beyond serving the community which supplies the paycheck. Instead of requesting performance incentives like raises or other compensations, collective bargaining works on the principle of demanding them; the pivot point being the ability to strike and withhold services from the public which, presumably, requires those services in order to maintain minimal civility and safety.

If the public is unable to supply basic services, either through the private sector or by hiring on a completely new batch of employees capable of providing these services then the threat of a strike holds considerable weight. Pay up or do without; isn’t that what the unions call collective bargaining?

What if the demand for recompense by service employees goes beyond the ability to pay?

Collective Bargaining has been around for a long time; but it has been sold on the false notion that America’s economy will always grow. At no time has the idea ever been considered that our economy would shrink, retrograde or go into severe depression.

What is reasonable to request or demand from the public treasury when the budget, taxes collected from your neighbors in order to pay for basic services, when times change for the worse? Some folks will get laid off or have to work fewer hours; isn’t that what happens in the private sector?

But if there is a union contract; well now, that changes everything. We have a legal contract, a right to just compensation! We demand you pay up or we walk out; not only will we stop providing service, we’ll take you to court and make you pay what was promised! Do you see where this is going?

If it happens in the private sector either the company pays up or goes out of business; either way life goes on. “I was looking for a job when I found this one”, isn’t that the line we’ve all heard at least once when things didn’t work out the way we wanted?

What if the “company” going bankrupt isn’t in the private sector; instead it’s a city, state or even the whole damn country? What then; do we all raise our collective hands together and just give up, go to some other city, state or nation and start over? This really isn’t an option, not in a reasonably sane society it isn’t.

Civil servant contracts should be based on the reality that times get tough. Tax bases which were used to forecast salaries and “entitlements” are subject to downturns in the economy and cannot be enforced, exacted and threatened with strikes by an unreasonable workforce. Civil servants cannot, nor should they hold their neighbors hostage at the point of a gun or through the threat of work stoppage.

Teachers, Policemen, Firemen, and Garbage men must have as a part of their character a “sense of community” which works in unison with personal gain/loss. If, as a member of a community, state or nation, either as regular citizens or paid public employees we are willing to watch the treasury go bankrupt then liberty has been sacrificed in favor of greed.

Earlier I stated that I’d been a member of the Houston Police Officer’s Association; not to be confused with another group with ties to the AFL/CIO. The union wanted to have some kind of show of strength over a minor issue and decided to have a mini-strike one Friday; I think they called it “Blue Flu”.  Members of the union were to call in sick as part of the protest.

I mentioned to the local “shop steward” how brave he must be to include himself in the protest since Friday was his regular day off. He had the nerve to call me a Scab, as if I were some boob hired off the street and handed a police uniform to fill in regardless of having performed the same service for the previous ten years. I offered him the opportunity to “step outside” where I could answer his poorly chosen remark in terms which a union member might better understand; but he declined.

In closing, public employees should not have the option of going on strike in order to persuade their neighbors to anti up or do without. If anything, public employees should be grateful for the opportunity to be of service and have a job. They might even offer a portion of their salary back in order to lighten the load for their fellow citizens who are either under employed or out of work. That last line will make the Tooth Fairy smile.

In case you missed my sentiments regarding Wisconsin’s protesting public servants; fire the lot of them. Go out and hire folks from among the unemployed who’d be willing to work for a more reasonable rate.

There was a wild rumor floating around on Facebook which may or may not be true; however, for doctors willing to sign forms for striking workers at the Madison Children’s Museum on the Square, as if they really were sick; signing an official document known to be fraudulent is a crime punishable by fine and/or imprisonment. I’d bet there are plenty of qualified non-union individuals who would jump at the opportunity to work, even without a contract.

This article has been cross posted to The Moral Liberal , a publication whose banner reads, “Defending The Judeo-Christian Ethic, Limited Government, & The American Constitution”.

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