Sunday, February 20, 2011

With government, there has never been such a thing as "collective bargaining"; it's a fiction of the unions

My first experiences with bargaining came as a teenager in my first trips across the border into Mexico. When I wanted to buy a shirt or shoes in Davis, I would go to the store and pay whatever the listed price was, if I thought a store was offering a good deal. As economists would say, I was deciding that I would rather have that pair of sneakers than I would hold onto my $20 bill; and the store would rather have my $20 bill than they would that pair of sneakers. By trading the shoes for the $20, both sides were better off.

In Mexico, prices were far more pliable for just about everything. A blanket I liked might be listed at $25. But that was just a starting point. I would say to the seller, "I like this one. How about $10?" He would then look away in disgust, as if I had insulted his family's good name. When he looked away, I would start to leave, seeing that along that same street there were dozens of others selling similar goods. Two steps out, he would stop me: "Wait! Wait, Mister! I give this one for you just $20." I would stop and turn back to him and shake my head. "No, that's too much. I'll give you $10." He would then put on the sad face and exclaim, "I need to feed my children, Mister. Please. $15 is the lowest I can go." Feeling guilty, I would nod, "Okay. $15." I got the blanket for 60% of what he listed it at; and the seller was happy to make whatever profit he made. These sorts of bargaining sessions went on--and still go on--all day long in Mexican street markets.

In Wisconsin, the public employees unions are in an uproar, because the reforms of Republican Gov. Scott Walker would impair their bargaining position:

State workers and pro-labor activists have filled the streets of downtown Madison to oppose Republican Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to force many Wisconsin employees to contribute more for their healthcare and pensions and to strip them of most of their collective bargaining rights.

What the government labor unions fail to concede is that there never has been collective bargaining with them. In order to bargain, you have to have both sides fully represented, where those fighting for the interests of the taxpayers are always trying to get the best deal for the taxpayers, just as the union reps are trying to do the same for their members.

Yet the taxpayers are almost never represented. The unions give millions of dollars in campaign contributions to the politicians who are supposed to be working for all taxpayers. Then when the two sides meet at "the bargaining table," the politicians roll over to the unions. They don't just cave in; they screw over the taxpayers with giveaways which harm the long-term interests of the people who elected them.

Part of this, of course, is with the voters. They elect corrupt stooges who take union money. But ultimately, the system is rigged all on the union side. That's why they are turning out in big numbers to keep the system of phony "collective bargaining" in place.

If you question how fake these negotiations are, then answer this: Why is it that all public employees, including those fresh on the job in places like Davis, get 3 weeks of paid holidays, when the norm in the private sector is one week (or 5 days), even for senior employees? Why do public employees in mid-career, including those in low-level positions, get 4-6 weeks of paid vacation time every year, when their private sector counterparts get half that? Why are the medical benefits and pension benefits given to public sector workers worth 5 to 10 times as much as those given to their equivalents in the private sector? Why are public employees often paid by the taxpayers to attend union functions, where they learn negotiating skills to get even better deals from the taxpayers?

The answer to all of these questions is the other side: unions are not "bargaining" with people who are putting their own money, their own interests on the line. They are bargaining with people who they already bought off. It's not a fair fight. If a union runs into someone on the other side of the table who is willing to hold the line, they will work harder in the next election to make sure he is replaced by a stooge whose campaign they funded.

Think back to my bargaining experiences in Mexico. I had every incentive to buy that blanket for as little as possible. The seller had every incentive to get the highest price possible. We met in the middle. That was bargaining. But if I was buying that blanket for, say, the City of Davis, and I had nothing personally at stake in the purchase, I would have paid the full $25. Why go through the hassle of bargaining, when it's no skin off my back to waste $10 of the taxpayers' money? That's the way public employers have always bargained. That's why public employees are paid so much more than their private sector counterparts. That's why governments up and down California are going broke.

It won't affect me one way or the other what goes on in Wisconsin. However, I hope this governor breaks the unions and ends the fraudulent collective bargaining process. It would set a good precedent for our nation.

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