Friday, May 28, 2010

If Unions help protect "workers" from those greedy capitalists, then who do unions protect government workers from?

Something that has always bothered me is the idea that government employees should have union representation. I grew up in a democratic household and was told that unions were good because they helped workers get more of the profit of the companies they worked for, so the rewards were not as top heavy in industries like the auto industry. Of course this view has a lot of problems with it, but let's go with this narrative for a minute.

If the point of unions is to prevent the capitalist owners of corporations from keeping all of the profits for themselves and not sharing enough with their employees then what is the point of government workers being union? How do these negotiations go? Do the union reps go to the government and say “you have stolen X amount of money from the citizens and we want a bigger cut”? It is different to say “this company made X amount of dollars last year because of our efforts, so we believe we deserve a pay raise”. The thing to me is that when a worker for a corporation contributes to the success of the corporation then it can be measured and judged by the amount of profit the corporation sees. The same cannot be said of a government employee. A teacher's salary for instance comes mostly from property taxes (in my area at least) how much I pay in property taxes has nothing to do with how good a teachers performs their job. If local property values increase is it because of a teacher, if they decrease is it because of a teacher, should their pay be dependent on property tax revenues? In a free market system parents who thought a teacher was doing a good job would reward the teacher by either being willing to pay more for their services or would at least help recommend the teacher or school to other parents. With a corporation when the profits drop in theory at least the corporation could lower the compensation rates for its union employees and then raise them back up when the profits recover. I know that in reality this rarely happens because of laws that favor the unions in negotiations over the companies, especially in the rust belt states.

What about the police? If they step up their revenue generation by setting up speed traps all over town or stealing peoples property when they have found tiny amounts of marijuana on the premise and generally pissing off the residents of an area, is this how they justify more pay? Do they point to lower crime rates and a higher percentage of solved crimes to justify their pay? Or do they simply point to an increase in sales tax revenue or something along those lines? Do firefighters point to an increase or a decrease in fires to try and justify a pay increase? In the newspaper it always seems like an increase in fires and fire damage is how the firefighters justify their pay, exactly the opposite of how the free market would work.

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