Mero Moment: End Public Employee Unions

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired hundreds of air-traffic controllers, public employee union members, who refused to work unless the federal government met certain demands. President Reagan thought it unconscionable that public employees, especially ones with the lives of Americans directly in their hands, would go on strike.

Forty-four years earlier, another U.S. president wrote these words to the National Federation of Federal Employees, “[M]eticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government. All government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining cannot be transplanted into public service.”

He concludes,

“I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of government employees. Upon employees in the federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable.”

That president was Franklin Roosevelt in 1937.

Throughout my professional career I have wondered why we allow public employees to unionize and then use the threat of strike to get what they want. As FDR said, there is something unthinkable about a person sworn to public service who would then turn around and threaten to not do his job in serving the public because he wants a new benefit. I would use the word “disloyalty” to describe that behavior.

In my first year in the saddle at Sutherland Institute a state legislator called me and asked me to look over a piece of legislation that would prohibit the use of the state payroll system to automatically collect political contributions to the public employees union, including and especially the teachers union. The bill was passed and signed into law. The public employees union and the UEA sued our state government. The UEA even went on to suggest, laughably, that public school teachers really aren’t government employees. The legal case made it all the way to the United States Supreme Court and the unions lost the fight. The UPEA and the UEA have never been the same since.

The big fight in Wisconsin to recall its sitting governor was over the issue of the power of public employee unions and their outrageous demands for benefits that were bankrupting the state. The unions just lost again.

It’s time that Utah take further steps to curb the offensive idea that public employees should be allowed to collective bargaining and the ability to go on strike. It’s not enough that Utah took away their ability to use taxpayer-funded payroll systems to fund union political activities. It’s time to end the similar practice of even collecting union dues through the state payroll system. Even further, it feels like a very good time to stop collective bargaining practices, especially among the teachers union, that tend to create dissensions and low morale among teachers.

Most people would be appalled that a firefighter wouldn’t help citizens whose homes were on fire simply because he didn’t get the raise he wanted. The same thing goes for our police forces. And the same feelings apply to other public servants such as teachers. It’s time to put an end to public employee unions.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.