The Wisconsin problem


Author: Joshua Thompson

PLF is no stranger to the taxpayers' problems in the face of government workers' pensions.  Nor has PLF shied away from detailing the harm unions cause to freedom of choice.  My home state of Wisconsin, is  facing similar problems caused by state workers' union negotiated contracts.  We've all heard about the walkouts and protests over Governor Scott Walker's attempt to eliminate some of the collective bargaining power of state unions (including the politically powerful teachers' union). 

As a matter of first principles, workers should have the ability to bargain for their own wages, and employers should have the ability to hire outside of the union. With state workers in Wisconsin neither is currently allowed. This is a fundamental infringement on both the workers' and employers' right to earn a living

It is wrong that state workers get, on the taxpayers dime, entitlements that no private business would  allow: full salary pensions after 20 years, automatic salary increases, blanket job security, full benefits, etc. For example, why shouldn't a superintendent have the ability to fire a teacher who fails to educate children for 15 straight years? As long as the teacher passes their probabtionary period (two years), a school district is basically powerless to fire them for job related reasons. If you have a worker who fails to do their job you fire them and find someone who gets the job done.  That's how it works in the real world.

With a rise in government programs, this inability to fire, early retirement, automatic wage increases, full benefits, etc. is breaking the bank of states around the country. More state workers retire early, get full pay, and more are hired to fill new jobs that may or may not have existed in the previous cycle. It is not sustainable without a dramatic increase in taxes. But a dramatic increase in taxes also, necessarily, results in more private employers with less money in their pocket, which means they have to lay off workers, which puts more workers on the taxpayer rolls (in the form of welfare or unemployment compensation). The cycle continues.

The system has to change.

That said, I can understand the plight of state workers who have worked for say ten years under certain assumptions (will get full retirement, will get automatic wage increases, etc.), and suddenly they face the threat of having those bargained for terms taken from them. With hindsight, they may never have chosen to enter a state job, and would be in a better position to be hired by a private employer. I understand that.

Nevertheless, the system has to change. Some people are going to get hurt either way — taxpayers or state workers — and because the former supports the latter, justice dictates it is the latter who needs to bear the brunt of this necessary change.

Nobody has a right to collective bargaining. Private employees don't, and neither do state employees. Nobody has a right to a job. Private employees don't, and neither to state workers. Nobody has a right to a certain wage, or certain benefits, etc. As fellow PLF attorney Timothy Sandefur said, "If there is, in principle, a right to [collective bargaining], then one has, in principle, the right to compel others to provide it: the right to take money from people’s paychecks to provide it, and the right to compel employers to furnish it. And if one has a right to 'access' whatever one considers important, then that principle would stretch far beyond [collective bargaining], into a right to whatever the ruling clique considers worthwhile—at your expense and at my expense."

That concept should scare liberals as much as it should scare conservatives and libertarians.