Mark Tapscott: Government worker unions bad for taxpayer health

BY MARK TAPSCOTT Published: August 19, 2012

Allow me to stipulate this at the outset: In the days before I became an ink-stained wretch, I was the fourth generation of my family to hold a government job. My father was a civil servant working for the Air Force at Tinker, and a grandfather and great-grandfather were rural mail carriers in East Texas.

So I bow to no one in my respect for public service. It's in part because of that respect that I approach Mallory Factor's new book, “Shadowbosses: Government unions control America and rob taxpayers blind.” It hits the shelves on Tuesday.

Factor's case rests on understanding that there is a fundamental difference between private-sector unions and those in the government workforce, even though both are in fact private organizations.

In the private sector, the company owner knows he risks losing customers and income if he holds out too long against union demands, so he is motivated to find common ground with labor leaders if at all possible.

Similarly, the labor leaders know that if they make their product — the work of their members — too expensive, they will price the company out of the market and jobs will disappear.

Factor explains why it's different in the public sector:

“In theory, when unions negotiate contracts for their members, unions sit on one side of the bargaining table, and government officials representing the taxpayer sit on the other side.”

That's the theory. Here's the reality, according to Factor: “The government officials on the other side of the table may be beholden to the same unions against which they are negotiating. Unions effectively end up sitting on both sides of the negotiating table.”

It's the taxpayers who have to pay the bills for the agreements government employee unions and officials sign that aren't represented at the table.

The government worker unions are the most powerful segment of the most well-funded special interest in American politics, Big Labor. As Factor points out, unions collect an estimated $14 billion in dues money annually, more than half of which come from government workers.