Permitting Government Employee Strikes is Bad Policy

On Tuesday, the Transportation Workers Union Local 234 (TWU) union bosses ordered nearly 5,000 public employees who work for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) to strike after failing to reach a contract agreement.

This has caused a major inconvenience, to say the least, for hundreds of thousands of commuters trying to get to work in the Philadelphia area. The strike is shuttering buses, trolleys and subways that deliver around 900,000 rides a day.

To make matters worse, TWU protests blocked one of the only public transit systems, the Regional Rail train facility, that remained operational in Philadelphia. Local ABC 6 Action News reports the obvious, stating that the unions protests are “delaying the already crippled mass transit system at the height of evening rush.”

The TWU’s strike embodies former President Franklin Roosevelts fear of permitting collective bargaining in government. In a 1937 letter, FDR wrote to then National Federation of Federal Employees union president Luther Steward stating:

I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees… a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable.

State laws that grant government unions the power to collective bargaining and permit striking effectively grant the power over the public purse to union chiefs. Unions, instead of democratically elected officials, become the master over cost, effectiveness, and availability of government services, while taxpayers are forced to pick up the tab.

The power granted to Pennsylvania government unions not only allows the TWU to eliminate the availability of transportation services, but the union’s contract demands, if won, will contribute toward hamstringing future Pennsylvania budgets and future government services.

That is the case because the sticking point in contract negotiations is pensions. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is not in a position to offer more generous pension benefits. A recent study conducted by the National Association of State Retirement Administrators discovered that Pennsylvania has the second most underfunded pension plan in the United States.

Barry Shutt, a concerned citizen and Pennsylvania pensioned retiree, recently used his own funds to create a Pennsylvania pension debt clock, which is placed the Capitol cafeteria. Shutt told ABC 27 News that the pension debt is “growing, if you haven’t figured it out, at $143 a second.” He went on, saying that “It’s at $4.5 billion a year and it’s jeopardizing the future economic growth of Pennsylvania.”

Collective bargaining in the public-sector provides an unjust power to government unions, and Pennsylvania should consider curtailing this privilege. At the end of the day, elected officials alone should determine the salaries, benefits, and work rules of government employees. That is not to say that government employees should not have any voice in their workplace conditions. However, government officials should be able to reject unsustainable union demands without public servants resorting to extortion tactics.