Public Employee Unions or Political Cartels?

New Jersey’s government worker unions have emerged as the most powerful political force in the state and no one is more powerful than the NJEA Teachers Union.

The NJEA is the largest donor of campaign funds in the state, giving to politicians on both sides of the aisle who will support their agenda. Combined with the Communications Workers of America, and other government employment unions, they represent the only growth sector for unions in the country which are in government jobs.

But are these organizations really “unions” in the traditional sense? I say not. The traditional labor unions that formed during the industrial revolution served to protect workers from large centralized capital and industrial barons. And they were willing to drive wages as low as possible as long as a steady flow of new workers flowing in from the agricultural economy were willing to tolerate lower salaries and poor working conditions.

Both my Italian grandparents were International Ladies Garment Union (ILGWU) members and my Irish grandfather was an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) electrician and staunch union follower. The holiday dinner table with the entire family was often the scene of heated discussions as IBEW Grandpa would vote the party line pushed by the union and my Italian grandparents, fiercely independent after escaping Mussolini’s Fascist regime, would have no part of being told how to vote.

Despite differences of opinion with union leadership, these unions worked hard for their members. But even after decades of union effort in the private sector, these workers will never see the salaries and pensions paid to New Jersey government employees. Today, many private sector union retirees with decades of full time work cannot expect the pensions paid to state employees. This is unfair to those private sector union workers and retirees who pay the high taxes to continue to fund this government generosity.

I support the right of workers to unionize and negotiate for better wages directly with those paying their salaries. This system has worked when labor unions were reasonable and understood the need of management to be competitive. It has failed in cases where union demands have forced companies to relocate elsewhere to seek lower wages and allow management to remain competitive in the free market.

Unionized government workers are far different. They are not protecting themselves from large central capital or industry barons. So who are they “protecting” themselves against? It can only be you and me — the taxpayer. Ultimately it is the taxpayer who is paying the salary, not the politicians. Traditional unions negotiate directly with those paying their salaries. Government “unions” negotiate with those who take other peoples money and than negotiate how to spend it for their political advantage.

New Jersey’s government unions are not unions at all. They are political cartels whose destructive purpose is to place enormous amounts of political power in the hands of union bosses who use that power to force employee wages beyond what taxpayers can afford.

The Associated Press reported in an article earlier this year that for the first time equivalent jobs in the state government to the private sector now paid more than the private sector as well as offering superior benefits and secure retirement.

There are many fine and hard working state employees in New Jersey. They know who they are and often become bitter, and rightfully so, when some political hack works the system. I have received numerous calls from these workers, angry and frustrated by those they see skating the system, often incompetent and unproductive. In the private sector this kind of blatant inefficiency would never be accepted.

There are many fine teachers as well, but only under a contract negotiated by the NJEA will you find a scenario that can never be found in any private business. It goes as follows: imagine you are a teacher who takes your job seriously and you teach your heart out every day. Then imagine that down the hallway is another teacher with the exact same year’s experience who couldn’t care less and is simply killing time until retirement.

Under any teacher contract in NJ, you as the superior performer would have to be paid the exact salary as your lazy co-worker. In fact, it is forbidden, by contract, to pay any sort of performance bonus to the better employee. These types of contracts discourage superior performance and continue to tie the hands of management. Worst yet, this nonsense continues too short-change taxpayers.

There will be few elected officials in Trenton who will support these statements. Not because they are not true, but because they are scared to death of the power of these cartels. And everyone reading this knows that’s true. Public Employee Unions or Political Cartels?