Public employee unions: a ‘50-year mistake’?

Recent events in Wisconsin have caused many people to consider what role, if any, public employee unions should play in negotiations over salaries and working conditions.

Photo credit: Justin Ormont

Though on a smaller scale, events this week in Sandy and Salt Lake City have brought this issue home.

On Tuesday, as many as 200 unionized teachers attended a Canyons Board of Education meeting to voice concerns about the Canyons School District’s decision to remove three minor policies (of a total 25) from the negotiation table. On the same day, more than 100 unionized Salt Lake City workers showed up at City Hall to protest Mayor Ralph Becker’s proposal to eliminate “‘merits,’ ‘steps,’ and ‘COLAs’ (cost of living allowances) in favor of annual increases to be determined depending on revenues each budget year.”

Certainly, people should be allowed to form private groups to support causes of their choice – the Constitution protects freedom of association – but should state or local governments choose to negotiate with unions of public employees?

Photo credit: Joe Rowley

Walter E. Williams notes that nearly 40 percent of public employees in the U.S. belong to unions (17.5 percent in Utah) and adds: “Given the relationship between politicians and public employee unions, we should not be surprised that public employee wages and benefits often average 45 percent higher than their counterparts in the private sector. Often they receive pension and health care benefits to which they make little or no contribution.”

Jonah Goldberg argues that “public unions have been a 50-year mistake.” What do you think? Are public employee unions good for Utah? Should government negotiate with public unions over taxpayer dollars?

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