State Monopoly-Bargaining Law Ties Local Elected Officials’ Hands
(Source: February 2015 National Right to Work Committee Newsletter)
For years, National Right to Work Committee members and supporters have lobbied their state elected officials to revoke or, at a minimum, roll back union bosses’ privileges to act as public servants’ monopoly-bargaining agents on matters concerning pay, benefits, and work rules.
Recently these patient efforts have borne fruit in a number of states. Just four years ago, for example, mobilized (in part by the Committee) Wisconsin citizens played an important role in helping the labor-policy and budget-reform package known as Act 10 overcome Big Labor opposition and pass into law.
Today Act 10 protects the vast majority of Badger State public employees from forced union dues. It has also sharply curtailed most government union bosses’ monopoly power to dictate terms of employment.
Unfortunately, legislators in many state capitals, such as Harrisburg, Pa., still appear reluctant to learn from the example of Act 10 and take on government union monopoly bargaining, even when the need to do so is manifest and urgent.
The ongoing travails of Scranton, the largest city in northeastern Pennsylvania, are a case in point.
Scranton’s Current Population Barely More Than Half Of What It Was in 1940
With a population that has shrunk by 46% since 1940, and by 27% just since 1970, and a median household income of roughly $38,500 (some $14,000 below the state average), Scranton desperately needs to get control over its sky-high municipal-employee costs.
Unfortunately, state labor laws mandating government union monopoly bargaining have for decades made it effectively impossible for Scranton’s elected officials to do their jobs.
In 2011, a court order citing Pennsylvania’s pro-Big Labor “binding arbitration” law jacked up public-safety employee pensions by as much as 80% when the city was already struggling to pay its bills.
To cover the cost of the bonuses, pay increases, and reduced deductibles procured by union lawyers in court, Scranton officials finally raised 2014 property taxes by more than 50%. Property taxes are expected to soar another 20% this year. The charge for garbage collection has skyrocketed by two-thirds.
Last month, Mayor Bill Courtright (D) claimed he finally had some good news for Scranton taxpayers after public-safety union chiefs agreed to renegotiate contract provisions concerning overtime and retirement health benefits.
Unfortunately, in order to procure modest improvements in outrageous union work rules, including one that bars civilians from writing parking tickets, Mr. Courtright had to agree to impose potentially vast new costs on taxpayers.
For example, according to the Scranton Times-Tribune, under a proposed new “unused sick-days” payout scheme, an officer who works for 25 years, uses seven of the 18 allotted sick days per year, and has base cash earnings of roughly $63,000 could be paid more than $34,000 extra upon retirement for “unused sick days.”
System Encourages Public Employees to Cheat Taxpayers
Recognizing that the deal the mayor cut with union monopolists would likely leave Scranton taxpayers even worse off than they are now, the city council has so far refused to approve it. But that just leaves an unsustainable status quo in place.
“By repealing Pennsylvania’s monopoly-bargaining laws, state lawmakers could empower local governments like Scranton’s to make routine budget decisions for their jurisdictions without getting government union bosses’ seal of approval,” noted Mary King, vice president of the National Right to Work Committee.
“Then, if there were evidence that public-safety employees were routinely calling in sick when they weren’t, and thus jacking up overtime costs needlessly, the city could simply require employees to furnish proof from an independent physician that they really were sick when they said they were.
“There would be no purported ‘need’ to bribe employees to persuade them not to lie about being sick by allowing them to cash in tens of thousands of dollars in ‘unused sick days’ upon retirement.
“To put it bluntly, the union monopoly-bargaining system encourages public employees to cheat taxpayers, even in jurisdictions like Scranton, where most taxpayers have little money to spare.”