Given the recent collective bargaining agreement between Montgomery County and its various public-sector unions -- in which county employees are scheduled to receive a 10 to 20 percent raise over the next two years -- it's time to address this issue head-on.
Originally, labor unions were valuable in getting unscrupulous private-sector manufacturing employers to not abuse their employees. Thus, unions helped bring about shorter hours, safer working conditions, child labor laws and better pay and benefits. But from its high of 30 percent among all U.S. employees in the private sector in 1958, union membership has fallen to only 6.9 percent of all U.S. employees in the private sector in 2010.
To counter this decline in union membership in the private sector, union leaders have gone after the largest single employer of all: Government, and have introduced the union mentality -- and collective bargaining -- into the noncompetitive (and nonmarket-driven) employer/employee relationship in the public sector.
These days, most union members aren't employed by private business and industry at all (situations in which products and services are sold, and revenues and profits determine whether or not a company stays in business).
Rather, today, most union members are employed by local, state and federal governments, for which profitability and productivity are not even in the management/worker equation.
The surprising fact is that, in 2010 (compared to the 6.9 percent union membership in the private sector), union membership among public sector employees was up to 36.2 percent!
In these cases, where "management" is merely represented by other taxpayer-paid bureaucrats (such as Montgomery County's Ike Leggett), who have zero stake in productivity or profitability, there is no "evil" management for unions to collectively bargain against.
In a business, for instance, "management" can negotiate benefits down when sales and profits are off; and may agree to increased benefits when sales and profits are up.
But in the public sector, "management" has no products or services being sold in a competitive market (one in which customers can choose to make a purchase, or not, can buy from competing companies that provide the same product or service, or can even decide if prices are too high, or the services not suitable or up-to-par) that could justify "bargaining" with its labor force.
(It's for another column to discuss the fact that the "bargainers' on the "management" side, are often Democrats like Leggett -- who get the majority of their political donations from other Democrats -- who just happen to be the "bargainers" on the "union" side. These are clearly not adversaries; they are each collecting money from the taxpayer ... and using it to grease each other's palms.)
In these difficult economic times, when many people are out-of-work, and others are just happy to have a job at all (much less a raise), it's stunning to see public sector unions clamoring for raises -- and government bureaucrats happy to give them -- all while using someone else's money ... and without any link, whatsoever, to productivity, outcomes, profitability, or success.
It used to be widely understood that government employees were civil "servants;" and that, although they were doing an important and valuable work (teaching kids, fighting fires, arresting criminals, collecting trash), it was a given that because they were being paid by taxpayer dollars ... their wages and benefits would be modest compared to those doing similar work in the private sector (where companies can go out of business, and employees can be laid-off or fired).
It's not hard to see that this system of allowing government employees (whom "We the People" hire to serve us) to collectively bargain against us for wages and benefits (greater than we get) ... is without merit, and needs to be disallowed.
Walker Johanson is managing director of the Northumberland Group marketing consulting firm.