The Trouble with Collective Bargaining: A Cautionary Tale from Connecticut
Connecticut taxpayers are staggering under the double burden of high taxes and a high cost of living, thanks in large part to the overwhelming power government unions wield over public policy.
Before Virginia lawmakers decide to introduce collective bargaining for government employees in their state, they should take a look at the mess it has created in my home state of Connecticut.
Here in the Constitution State, people are staggering under the double burden of high taxes and a high cost of living, thanks in large part to the overwhelming power government unions wield over public policy.
Government unions are Connecticut’s dominant special interest group. They have used their bargaining power to create a huge disparity between the pay of public sector workers and private sector workers. Research from my policy group, Yankee Institute, shows that state employees in Connecticut make an average of 25 to 46 percent more than private sector workers with similar education and work experience.
Additionally, Connecticut state workers have the highest average pension in the nation― and we have the pension debt to prove it. A full 20 percent of the state budget must be allocated toward public pensions, and that percentage is projected to grow dramatically over the coming years.
But the destructive impact of collective bargaining for government workers isn’t limited to dollars and cents. The system has led to the adoption of rigid work rules, which in turn has made it almost impossible for the state to terminate bad employees.
How bad? Several years ago, a nurse at a state psychiatric hospital was fired for abusing mentally ill patients. But the nurse’s union fought successfully to get his job back. A few years later, a whistleblower filed a complaint and that same nurse― and many coworkers― were arrested for their shocking abuse of patients, all of which was caught on camera.
We give public employees a lot of authority in their interactions with private citizens. They have the power to teach, to arrest, to license, to regulate, and to care for us. This relationship can be, and often is, a positive one. But for the relationship to remain equitable, public employees must be accountable to the public they serve.
Collective bargaining creates an imbalance in the relationship between public employees and the public itself. It lodges ultimate accountability not with the people government workers are supposed to serve, but with unions, whose job it is to advocate for their workers – even at the expense of the public.
Finally, public employee unions aren’t like private employee unions in meaningful ways. Not only can they lobby their employers, they can help elect them as well.
The bargaining table is a very friendly place when you can elect the people with whom you’re “negotiating.”
Ask Connecticut’s House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, who works full time for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). He, along with other legislators who also accept paychecks from government unions, does not recuse himself even when the legislature votes on collectively-bargained government union agreements.
Just the opposite, Aresimowicz was caught on camera telling his union compatriots that he was in the caucus room to vouch for them.
Indeed, Aresimowicz was in the well of the House on the day a ten-year contract extension was signed that guaranteed lavish health and pension benefits for state employees. Also presiding that day was state Rep. Russ Morin, who works full time for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
If Virginia lawmakers allow collective bargaining in Virginia, unions will take advantage of the opportunity. That’s their job, and they work hard at it. And the result is a government dominated by a single, powerful special interest, bloated beyond all recognition, and supported by an increasingly frustrated and overtaxed electorate.
Virginia’s legislators should do their jobs – by standing up for common sense and fiscal restraint, and protecting their constituents by saying “no!” to collective bargaining for government employees.
Carol Platt Liebau is the President of Yankee Institute, a free market policy organization committed to ensuring that everyone in Connecticut is free to succeed.