Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


With Enemies Like These, Who Needs Friends?

There's an old joke about a preacher on the American frontier. He's riding a stagecoach to a revival meeting when a rainstorm starts. Shortly after the rain becomes torrential the coach gets stuck in a rut. When the preacher gets out in the rain to help push it back onto the road, he falls into the mud at the moment the vehicle's axle breaks. Standing shin-deep in a puddle the minister looks to the heavens and says, "If this is how you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few."

We know how America's government employee unions and their political allies treat opponents, whom they always regard as enemies: comparing them to Hitler, or casually threatening murderous violence. What's more interesting is how the unions treat their friends, such as Connecticut's Democratic governor Dannel Malloy. Narrowly elected in 2010, Malloy set out to address Connecticut's budget deficit in a manner far more conciliatory to the government workers than the approaches taken by Republicans like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Chris Christie in New Jersey or John Kasich in Ohio. Even New York's Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo closed his state's budget deficit by rejecting any tax increase, which necessitated a three-year pay freeze for government workers, nine unpaid furlough days over two years, and higher health insurance premiums.

Malloy, by contrast, made clear the he was proudly lodged in the Democratic wing of the Democratic party. He described the anti-union legislation advocated by Wisconsin's Republicans as "un-American" and "a travesty." He has called himself the "anti-Christie," insisting that Connecticut would follow "a slightly more intellectual approach" to its fiscal problems than New Jersey.

Not that there is anything particularly esoteric about the Malloy template. Where other states have tried to eliminate their deficits entirely through spending cuts, Malloy wants to mitigate such cuts in Connecticut by raising taxes. His "shared sacrifice" budget called for higher sales, income, gas, and estate taxes in Connecticut, $1.6 billion in concessions from public worker unions over a two-year period, and other budget cuts. The plan's success required negotiations with both the state legislature and the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC), the umbrella group representing 15 different unions of state employees. Even though the state's unions had strongly supported Malloy's campaign against his Republican opponent in 2010, forging an agreement over union concessions required "months of intense negotiations and compromises."

The union negotiators conceded as little as they could, and the Malloy administration was far from adversarial in dealing with its friends. But it wasn't enough - the state's unionized workforce has rejected the deal. The promise that no state workers would be laid off during the coming four years, in exchange for a wage-freeze and health and pension give-backs, apparently won a majority of the 45,000 unionized Connecticut state employees.  Under SEBAC's complicated, solidarity-forever rules, however, the agreement could be scuttled if two of the 15 unions, or 20% of all union members voted against it.  The issue was settled when 55% of employees represented by AFSCME, the biggest of the 15 unions in SEBAC, voted against the package.

Malloy now says that he will move directly to achieve the dollar-equivalent of the negotiated concessions by laying off 7,500 employees, 15% of the state's workforce. He has "ruled out a renegotiation" on the reasonable grounds that if the union representatives across the table for the past few months didn't have enough support from their members to deliver what they had promised, there's no point in securing new promises they may or may not be able to deliver. The Democratic state senator who chairs the labor and public employees committee in the legislature called the SEBAC vote a "nightmare" and a "disaster."  "Nobody in their right mind, under these circumstances, would turn down that agreement," she added. "The private sector folks would die for this kind of package." The senator promised that state employees will "never get another thing out of me."

When we were all reading about Laborgeddon in Wisconsin, a prominent argument was that the Republican proposals to curb unions were gratuitous, since public employee unions understood clearly the gravity of the fiscal situation, and were fully prepared to responsibly negotiate the kinds of concessions necessary to help the state remain solvent. A reasonable guess would be that Gov. Malloy now considers such arguments to be as much of a travesty as the Wisconsin legislation he disparaged.
Categories > Politics

Discussions - 7 Comments

The news reports indicate that about 60% of those state workers who cast ballots did endorse the agreement. Per the reporter's notebook, the other 40% thought the governor was bluffing or thought someone else should be ahead of them in the queue for income reductions. Those of you who are advocates of supermajority requirements might recall on occasion that there are lots of pig-headed people in this world.

So AFSCME scuttled the whole deal and forced layoffs . . . nice display of solidarity there, unionistas.

The fact remains, public employees should not have the privilege of unionizing, period. They are PUBLIC servants and should serve at the pleasure of the voters and their elected representatives. So long as we have public sector unions we will have problems such as those we've seen in the last 2 years.

All public sector employees should serve at the pleasure of the voters? Back to patronage?

If I am not mistaken, at the height of the patronage system, about 20% of the posts in the federal executive changed hands after elections, so you have always had a considerable corps of durable employees.

Why not have public employees recruited and promoted through competitive examinations (a system which has been inhibited from efficient operation in recent decades, when not disposed of entirely) but readily terminable? Requiring competitive examinations to fill a position would inhibit making use of the civil service to sluice income to a political machine. The one special protection you would need is a Hatch Act type law which would prevent politicians from extorting contributions of funds and labor from non affliated public employees. Why must public employees be tenured?

You note in passing insinuates that union people often promise bodily harm to their enemies seems to be a made up accusation. We know for sure that Teapartyites did that as a routine matter at rallies by carrying guns. I remember no such action by any union person nor do I remember reading about any such threats. I would rate your article as medium on the incendiary scale.
Regarding the partonage potential if you do away with civil service rules and unions to make sure they are enforced, my grandfather was a postmaster from 1896 to 1941. During that time when a different party came into power he had to change his party affiliation to ensure he didn't get the boot. That is exactly what will happen again if this union busting tactic the republicans are pertetrating on the public across the nation is successful. They will have little opposition and we will in effect have a one party rule a la eastern European countries under communist rule. I dare anyone to tell me the difference at that point when redistricting will prevent most democrats from winning any substantial proportion of the vote and like in Ohio- be able to push through any legislation they want under the appearacne of democracy. Democracy it is not.

I never advocated patronage systems. This isn't an either-or choice. You can have no unions and no patronage at the same time, which would be my first choice. We need a civil service that is strictly merit-based. It is not a right to serve the people, but a privilege.

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