Ohio Issue 2: Vote Yes for Reform
October 25, 2011
I remember John Derbyshire arguing years ago that public-sector unions shouldn’t exist, in his top-ten list of “Necessary but Impossible” reforms:
Outlaw public-sector unions
Why do public-sector workers need unions? The purpose of unions is to protect employees against unscrupulous bosses, who might seek to maximize profits by taking advantage of those who work for them. In the public sector, however, there are no profits to be maximized, no shareholders to appease. The work that is being done is being done in the public interest — against which, as Calvin Coolidge quite correctly declared, there is no right to strike. So what do government workers need unions for? If public-sector workers don’t like their pay and conditions, they can appeal to the tax-paying public, who are their ultimate employers. If that doesn’t work, they can go get jobs in the private sector, and take their chances with capitalism, like free citizens of a free nation.
Please don’t write and whine to me: “I’m a public servant. I’ve worked my buns off for 30 years at a demanding and essential job, for an unimpressive salary. Why are you being mean to me?” I’m not being mean to you. I like you. Thank you for your work, for your service to my country. I sincerely thank you. I just don’t see why you need a union.
The (private-sector) labor movement and unions we all know and sympathize with from The Grapes of Wrath etc. have next to nothing in common with public-sector unions. As Jonah Goldberg remarks, “Traditional, private-sector unions were born out of an often-bloody adversarial relationship between labor and management,” and often terrible working conditions. By contrast,
Do you recall the Great DMV Cave-in of 1959? How about the travails of second-grade teachers recounted in Upton Sinclair’s famous schoolhouse sequel to The Jungle?
(Read the whole thing.) Goldberg observes,
Victor Gotbaum, a leader in the New York City chapter of AFSCME, summed up the problem in 1975 when he boasted, “We have the ability, in a sense, to elect our own boss.”
He also notes that “even George Meany, the first head of the AFL-CIO, held that it was ‘impossible to bargain collectively with the government.'” According to James Sherk, “George Meany was not alone”; “Government unions are unremarkable today, but the labor movement once thought the idea absurd.” Even FDR agreed that “the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service,” and that “a strike of public employees . . . is unthinkable and intolerable.”
The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was founded in 1886; the CIO was formed in the 1930s. Federal antitrust law was amended to make unions unambiguously legal in 1914, and the National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935. By contrast, the first state to allow public-sector unions, Wisconsin, didn’t do so until 1959. Ohio didn’t allow them until 1983.
Keep all this in mind when you hear people arguing about Issue 2. Despite what some of its opponents carelessly (or dishonestly) imply, it affects only public-sector unions. It has nothing to do with private-sector unions.
Earlier this year, the state legislature passed and Governor Kasich signed into law a bold reform of public-sector unions in Ohio, then known as Senate Bill 5. Its opponents collected enough signatures to keep it from taking immediate effect and put it on the ballot this November; if a simple majority of those who show up to vote (in what is essentially an off year, meaning that mainly only interested parties will show up) so choose, they can repeal SB 5 by voting no on Issue 2.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer has an excellent, helpful table (scroll to bottom of story), simple and easy to read but expandable for further information, setting out the differences between the old (1983) law and the new law. Some of the highlights of the new law:
- Public employees are prohibited from striking.
- It basically ends collective bargaining over hours and benefits. Collective bargaining over wages is still permitted.
- It ends the old system of binding arbitration. Instead, in the case of a dispute between employees and employer, each of the two sides submits a proposal to the relevant legislative body, such as a city council, which then chooses between them. If the legislators cannot decide, the government’s (employer’s) proposal takes effect.
- Employees must be paid on the basis of performance, rather than seniority—no more automatic raises just because time has passed.
- Layoffs are no longer strictly “last in, first out”. Seniority is still a factor, but now so is performance.
- Employees must pay at least 15% of the cost of their health insurance.
- Employer may no longer pick up employee’s share of contribution to pension plan.
- Government employees who choose not to join the union can no longer be required to pay into the union anyway as a condition of employment.
Issue 2 is endorsed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Senate Bill 5, now on the ballot as Issue 2, gives Ohio taxpayers the opportunity to re-establish control over local government spending. It sets right the relationship between the people and their employees, after 28 years of unions having an unwarranted upper hand.
(Read the whole thing.)
The Columbus Dispatch also recommends voting yes:
. . . several of the provisions of Senate Bill 5 are essential to the fiscal health of state and local governments in Ohio . . . .
The key provisions of Senate Bill 5 are common-sense improvements that most fair-minded people embrace.
See list of other endorsements here.
Even the Cincinnati Enquirer, while hitting Republicans hard for not following the process the Enquirer would have chosen, agrees that “SB5, or something roughly like it, is desperately needed in Ohio . . . .”
Issue 2 has given rise to dueling meaningless names, Building a Better Ohio (for) and We Are Ohio (against). The two groups do disagree on some of the facts, but I think reading both Web sites with a fair and open mind makes it clear which one is more informative and which one relies more on misdirection and emotional appeals. Accordingly, for further information on Issue 2, I recommend Building a Better Ohio’s “Myth vs. Truth”, FAQs, and the rest of the Web site.
It appears to me that reason, and the interests of the vast majority of Ohioans, are on the side of Issue 2. Unfortunately, the other side apparently has plenty of money: “$3.7 million from D.C. unions, more than $2 million from Ohio unions, and less than $40,000 from individual donors”.
It is said, among conservatives, that public-sector unions engender a vicious cycle, or even a legal form of “money laundering”: The government takes from us in taxes and gives to its employees, the employees give to their public-sector unions, the unions give money to elect Democrats, the Democrats raise taxes and pay the employees more, and the cycle continues. One of the arguments I’ve heard against Issue 2 (in keeping with liberals’ fixation on assumed intentions, rather than policy results) is that the Republican legislature and governor are doing it only because it will hurt Democrats politically. I think that’s a curious argument for the anti-Issue 2 people to make; by making it, aren’t they conceding the whole complex money-laundering charge, in which case Issue 2 is obviously right and necessary to fix that?
In any case, it seems clear to me that the anti-Issue 2 side is better funded. I’m campaigning for Issue 2 as a volunteer; I learned a couple of days ago that someone I know is campaigning against it for pay.
I’m not sure I’ve heard a single ad in favor of Issue 2, but I can’t turn on the radio these days without hearing a recurring ad against it. It’s long on drama and short on facts: In it, we hear a 911 call. Someone has just broken into the caller’s home. Unfortunately, the dispatcher explains, there have been staffing cuts, and it will take the nearest patrolman some time to respond.
As The Columbus Dispatch frankly says, “The claims of the anti-Issue 2 campaign have been intellectually dishonest.” Not just in this ad, the campaign against Issue 2 leans heavily on the claim that Issue 2 will result in widespread layoffs of government employees, especially police and firemen, making all of us less safe. As both the Cleveland and Columbus editorials note, the truth is just the opposite: Unless they live in a magical land with infinite money, sometimes government officials have to cut back on spending, and if union contracts leave them no flexibility to reduce wages or benefits, the only way to cut costs will be to lay off employees. Issue 2 is a pro-jobs measure, not only for the beleaguered private sector, but also for the very public-sector employees whose interests it supposedly threatens.
Update (October 25th, 2011): Blogger Uncle Andy calls attention to the problem (not to say abuse) of “double dipping”, when public employees “retire” and then get another job—or even the same job—and so draw both a pension and a salary at the same time. He also points out that the Buckeye Institute makes information about Ohio public employees’ salaries and benefits both public and easy to use: It’s an interesting and useful reference, especially if you decide to wade into We Are Ohio’s arguments against Issue 2.
Example: We Are Ohio says, “The average OAPSE (Ohio Association of Public School Employee) makes $24,000 a year and retires with an average pension of $900 a month.” This has to be deliberately obfuscatory, if not outright false. What kinds of public-school employees are we talking about? janitors? We Are Ohio fails to say. According to the Buckeye Institute’s database, the average Ohio public teacher makes an average salary of more than $55,000, and annual total compensation (i.e., including benefits) of $76,000.
For whatever it’s worth, We Are Ohio’s characterization seems inconsistent with OAPSE’s own claims, too: OAPSE says, “Being an OAPSE/AFSCME member gets you the backing of the largest, strongest public employee union in Ohio. It gets you expertise and power at the bargaining table. It gets you health care and retirement security . . . .”