Don’t Hate The Union Players…

Larry Price
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Wednesday - May 27, 2009
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In 1959, Democratic President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order No. 10988, which gave public employees the right to bargain collectively, and since then people have watched the public unions gain in size and political power. Today, there is no balance of power between the taxpayers and our elected officials, especially in the state of Hawaii.

It’s an interesting situation, because while most taxpayers believe the public unions are too powerful in how they affect policy and the lawmaking process, the majority of them would not join a union. The reasons vary; however, most research on the subject suggests the main reason is a social stigma in belonging to a union.

The dilemma is, if most taxpayers envy the public employees pay, medical, retirement benefits and job security, why blame them for our current economic downturn? After all, working for the public can be hazardous to your health.


It should be noted that there is nothing illegal about how the public unions became so strong in the state of Hawaii. As mentioned earlier, the Democratic Party formed their political platform on social reform, civil rights and generally “protecting the little guy.” Much of the platform was built on private union efforts over the years and since the Democratic Party has embraced union demands, such as healthcare and the 40-hour workweek over the years, together they create a unified force to be reckoned with. Right up near the top of the agenda with healthcare is job security.

There seems to be a lot media attention to those who want the state’s budget to be balanced on the backs of the public unions by taking away some of their healthcare benefits or instituting the vaunted mandatory furloughs without pay. I don’t think the media does the public any favors by suggesting it is the easiest way to balance the budget, because the chances of it happening are slim to none.

There’s a reason we are in the situation we are in that may escape the taxpayer, and it’s not illegal: When an elected official runs with the requested endorsement of a union, they are expected to listen to the sponsoring union’s legislative package. If they don’t, there are severe consequences.

Imagine legislators with union backing negotiating a contract with the government and it goes to the Legislature for funding. You end up with a situation where the people who put you in office are voting on your benefit package. As long as one political party controls both houses of the Legislature, this process will continue, and even though taxpayers are essentially customers of the public union employees, they will have little control over any budget matters.

Unlike the private sector, where the cardinal rule is “You can’t have a union if you don’t have a company,” our public unions have the political system right were they want it.

Public unionization was supposed to be protection against poor management. It was supposed to increase wages, reduce turnover, increase employee satisfaction and productivity, and all things considered, it has done that.

In point-of-fact, it’s the best employment deal in the state.

So while the taxpayers may be envious of the power the public employees are enjoying right now, it’s more fair for taxpayers to not heap the blame on the players, rather on the game, because that’s what this is right now: a game with one side having the majority of the rules in its favor.

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