Ending collective bargaining would be opportunity for reform

In 2010, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association claimed sexual discrimination through the courts in an attempt to have taxpayers fund nearly $800,000 dollars for drugs that treat erectile dysfunction.

In March, 2011, unions in Orange, Connecticut won a grievance requiring taxpayers to provide them with free coffee and milk.

As many Americans struggle with their own healthcare costs, their elected officials throughout the country have signed contracts to provide healthcare benefits to government retirees at a cost to taxpayers of $1.5 trillion.

The aforementioned are examples of the negative impact municipal and state unions have on taxpayer-funded budgets which become burdened with the costs of litigation, the drug Viagra, coffee, and gold plated healthcare plans.

The State of Connecticut, similar to Wisconsin, is faced with a near $4 billion deficit.  In addition, Connecticut’s debt at $72 billion is driven by union pension and healthcare retiree benefits.  The unions are strong.  Connecticut’s Democrat-controlled state legislature is weak by yielding to their demands, failing to reject multi-million dollar arbitration awards, and refusing to reform state binding arbitration laws.

Connecticut public sector workers are the second highest paid in the nation, with an average wage of $77,697.  Some annual pensions exceed $200,000 and are as high as $250,000.

Connecticut taxpayers have the distinction of helping the unions raise money as taxpayers pay to process the payment of union dues.  Annual dues total approximately $35 million.

The majority of Americans believe that their elected officials are in control of their government’s operations, finances, and personnel.  They are wrong!  Union contracts solidify more than just wages, pensions and healthcare. Public sector unions have hijacked the operations of many state and local governments throughout the country–a lesson I learned when I became mayor of the Town of East Hartford under a strong mayor form of government.

Faced with a budget deficit when I took office in 1989, I issued my first directive when sworn in: I would not drive a town car to and from work, and neither would town employees, as this benefit was not included in their contracts. The unions filed a grievance, and won because the use of cars was a “past practice,” a working condition that previous mayors failed to curtail.  My only recourse was to convince the unions to relinquish the vehicles at the bargaining table. They refused.

More than twenty years later, this case continues to impact budgets elsewhere in Connecticut: Past practice raised its ugly head again in the free coffee debacle in Orange this month.

Whether through past practice or collective bargaining, management rights are steadily being transferred to unions.  From the number of students in a classroom to the scheduling of police personnel to the number of men required to fill a pothole, elected government officials are constrained by union contracts in the management of their budgets and employees.

A cloak of secrecy surrounds collective bargaining as negotiations are conducted behind closed doors.  Costly terms within a contract, previously agreed to by former elected officials who had courted votes from the unions, are difficult to remove unless something of equal value is given to the unions in return.

Taxpayers, although excluded from the negotiation table, are the primary source of funding union contracts. In the State of Connecticut, approximately 85% of property taxes pay for personnel related expenses in the 169 towns.  As the cost of union contracts increase, property taxes increase.  The failure to pay one’s property tax will ultimately result in the loss of their home through a tax lien sale.

To her credit, former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell had asked the Democrat-controlled state legislature last year to limit mandatory subjects of binding arbitration to salaries and benefits, and return management rights to those whom we elect to serve us.  She was defeated in her attempt, and Connecticut workers, according to the Tax Foundation, must toil until April 27, the longest in the nation, to pay their total tax burden.

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin was right to reject collective bargaining.  Other states should follow his lead as the demise of collective bargaining is an opportunity for state and municipal economic reform. The alternative is bankruptcy, and ironically, union contracts could be annulled.

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