More on Public Sector Unions

Slate blogger Mickey Kaus explains how public sector unions are driving state and local governments to the brink of bankruptcy (via Nick Gillespie at Reason Hit & Run, via Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit):

The justification for public sector unionism is way weaker than that for private sector unionism. “[Government] workers are not extracting a share of the profits but rather a share of taxes,” as former N.Y. Liberal Party leader Alex Rose puts it. And the right to strike, in the hands of key public unions, approaches a blackmail power. But the political strength of the unions is such that even most Republicans, at the state and local level, are scared to question them. They gelded Arnold Schwarzenegger. You want to be next?

Kaus cites a Weekly Standard article by Fred Siegel and Dan DiSalvo, in which they explain the public choice dynamic that makes government employee unions especially powerful:

[W]ith the power of the public sector unions to drive election outcomes, they now sit on both sides of the bargaining table. Unlike private sector unions, the sheer number of workers represented is not the linchpin of their influence. Private sector unions have a natural adversary in the owners of the companies with whom they negotiate. But public sector unions have no such natural counterweight. They are a classic case of “client politics,” where an interest group’s concentrated efforts to secure rewards impose diffused costs on the mass of unorganized taxpayers.

And how bad can it get?

The combined power of the teachers and health care workers has made the New York state legislature a wholly owned subsidiary of the public sector unions. The law mandates that all new legislation be evaluated for its fiscal impact. In recent years those calculations were performed by an actuary named Jonathan Schwartz. In 2008, when Schwartz found that a piece of bipartisan legislation allowing city workers to retire early with full pension benefits would impose no new costs, the New York Times blew the whistle. Schwartz, who had been fired from a city job, worked not only for the state assembly but also, it turned out, for District Council 37 of the SEIU. When asked which other unions he had worked for, he replied, “How many unions are there?” His client list included the teachers, firefighters, detectives, correction officers, and bridge and tunnel officers. Not surprisingly New York State has the highest per-employee pension costs in the country.

For more on the strain that public sector unions place on government budgets — and on democratic government itself — see “Vallejo Con Dios: Why Public Sector Unionism Is a Bad Deal for Taxpayers and Representative Government.”