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January 21st, 2010 11:20 am
JFK, Public Employee Unions, and Obama

Today’s Wall Street Journal features an op-ed by Daniel Henninger that traces the rising stranglehold of public employee unions on the Democratic Party. Prior to 1962, federal workers were not unionized. That changed with a JFK executive order. Many states soon followed suit.

Looking back, the change in policy continued the Democrats’ long association with unions, but for the first time there were substantial numbers of union members that worked in jobs uncoupled from business realities like profit and loss. Instead, their budgets were the product of taxing and spending.

The results, as we all know, have been catastrophic for government budget writers at all levels. Public sector unions claim members from the ranks of teachers, cops, fire fighters, DMV personnel, and a myriad of other support workers. As membership increases, so do demands for higher wages, bigger pensions, and greater emphasis on seniority rather than performance. Since governments themselves aren’t measured on the taxpayers’ return on investment, it’s been easy for Democrats to champion public employee unions, trading money for votes, and vice versa.

That may be coming to an end. Henninger notes that Republicans have a unique – and short – window to align themselves as the party of spending restraint by vowing to take on the public employee unions and their entitlements. It won’t be easy because taking on these groups can actually be worse than attacking another politician. Organized labor is the Democratic Party’s grassroots, so challenging them is a request to have millions raised in opposition while thousands of government employees work phone banks, neighborhoods, and break rooms lobbying for support. As California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger learned in 2005, all it takes to create a union’s war chest is a few dollars increase in each member’s dues.

But it’s worth it, especially in a campaign year when most of the people out of work are from the private sector. Because of the stimulus money, most state and local governments were able to “create or save” jobs. Of course, the federal government has been on a hiring spree to keep pace with President Obama’s rapid expansion of the public sector. If this is truly the year when fiscal conservatives taste victory in coastal bastions of liberalism, it will be because GOP nominees take the time to educate and persuade voters that public employee unions are some of the greatest threats to our economic recovery.

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