The Blog

How Public Unions Kill Progressive Politics

Progressives can't get elected without union support, but union payoffs are so expensive the rest of the progressive agenda is off the table.

11:40 AM, Feb 21, 2011 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

The cozy ties between elected officials and public employees unions in Montgomery have formed the backdrop for a drumbeat of reports about county employees' bountiful benefits, perks and abuses. In the past few years we've learned about county police officers who helped themselves to hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' dollars to secure cut-rate weapons for personal use. More than half the officers who retired recently from the police force left claiming "severe disabilities," some of them dubious, entitling them to huge taxpayer-funded benefits for life. Veteran firefighters may retire at age 46 and continue working for three years while simultaneously accruing pension payments that increase at a taxpayer-guaranteed rate of 8.25 percent annually, regardless of market performance. Meanwhile, Montgomery's teachers union has wielded such outsized electoral clout that politicians who received the teachers' endorsement in the most recent elections reached into their pockets and wrote checks to the union. As far as we know, this occurs nowhere else in America.

Again we see that public employee unions prove to be a Faustian bargain. In many, many cases progressives and Democrats lack the popular or private-sector support to get elected without the help of public unions. (Note that bit above about politicians having to pay the Montgomery teachers union for their endorsement.) Once in office, progressives end up less a representative of the people, but more as a union subsidiary.  After the promised union pay-offs, they're simply unable to afford to spend money on anything else and spend all their time struggling to appease the union.

This is exactly the problem Walker is trying to address in Wisconsin -- see the press release on his bill:

The budget repair will also restructure the state debt, lowering the state’s interest rate, saving the state $165 million.


These changes will help the state fulfill its Medicaid spending on needy families of about $170 million; funding that the previous administration did not have in its budget.  It will also allow the state to spend an additional $21 million in the Department of Corrections.

Additionally, the budget repair bill gives state and local governments the tools to manage spending reductions through changing some provisions of the state’s collective bargaining laws.

Given the choice between the union status quo or eliminating some bargaining rights for public workers so the state can pay for Medicaid and allow for more local control, Walker's choice here hardly seems radical.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 19 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers