When Grandma Kramer — a close friend's grandmother — had one of her legendary pies divided, she mandated, “The one who cuts the pie is the last to choose.” Grandma Kramer's wisdom assured geometric exactitude Euclid would be proud of. Under today's binding arbitration rules, out-of-state lawyers split the pie and government unions get the largest slices.
This problem is not new. “The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service,” wrote President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937. Why would the father of federal labor laws, which favor private-sector unions, argue against government sector unions? Because government unions are not constrained by the bottom line.
Public employee unions have no incentive to moderate their demands for fear of driving their employer (e.g. government) out of business. The costs of meeting those demands are merely passed along to citizens via higher taxes. The result is an ever-increasing size of the pie, benefiting public-sector employees at the expense of the taxpayers.
According to 2009 U.S. Bureau of Labor data, average state and local government wages are 34 percent higher than those in the private sector, health benefits are 118 percent more generous, and public-sector pensions are 595 percent more generously funded. This ever-widening disparity has led Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to assert, “We can no longer live in a society where the public employees are the haves, and the taxpayers who foot the bills are the have-nots.”
Binding arbitration made its way into Oklahoma law in the waning days of Gov. David Walter's administration in 1994, barely passing after aggressive lobbying by members of the public-sector labor unions. At the time, The Oklahoman editorialized that the legislation was “a bad bill sought by unions for selfish reasons and not in the best interest of the people.”
While government union demands in Oklahoma have not yet reached the levels leading to the contentious demonstrations in Madison, Wis., the elimination of binding arbitration in our state is one such issue that might drive militants to the streets. Ohio Gov. John Kasich said recently that binding arbitration “is not acceptable. You are forcing increased taxes on taxpayers with them having no say, by people who come from a faraway place and have no accountability to the taxpayers.”
As labor commissioner, it is my duty to advance profitable employment opportunities for the wage earners of the Sooner State. That is why I am happy to report that relief is on the way.
Two courageous legislators, Sen. David Holt and Rep. Scott Martin, have introduced bills (Senate Bill 826 and House Bill 1576, respectively) that would restore equilibrium between the voters and their public servants. These legislators deserve the full support of citizens who believe in a just and sustainable society.
To be sure, merely introducing this legislation has made opponents of change unhappy. But in the words of Grandma Kramer, “They'll just have to get happy in the same pants that they got sad in.”
Costello was elected labor commissioner in November.