California Group Looks to End Government-Sector Collective Bargaining


Posted by Patrick M. Gleason on Tuesday, February 8th, 2011, 9:03 AM PERMALINK

A Santa Barbara-based organization is currently drafting a measure for the statewide California ballot that would put an end to government-sector collective bargaining, undoing what was perhaps the most catostrophic policy enacted during the first Brown administration in the late '70s.

Larry Eberstein, president of the Santa Barbara taxpayers Association, described the issue as such:

“The problem is that the government exists to serve the people, not public employees. But the way we structured finance in our society now, on the government level, is government is acting mostly in terms of public employees’ interest, not the public interest….It’s just a non-progressive policy and simply a policy that benefits one special interest.”

California, facing a half of trillion dollar unfunded pension liability, is home to the nation’s largest ticking pension time bomb. Noteworthy is that calls for pension reform are becoming increasingly bipartisan, especially in blue states like California where left-of-center interests are beginning to recognize that ballooning pension costs are taking up an increasing share of the budget and diverting scarce state resources from progressive pet projects and programs. 

As the Manhattan Institute’s Fred Siegel recently noted in the Wall Street Journal, government-sector unionism is a relatively recent development, a product of the 1930s, that liberals originally had great reservations about:

“..in a 1937 letter to the head of an organization of federal workers, FDR noted that "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."

Siegel is right to point out that public sector collective bargaining is not rooted in some deep-seated American tradition and was the result of a relatively recent political decision that can and should be reversed.

California isn’t the only place where this debate is being had. Most notably, Gov. Scott Walker has called for ending the morale hazard that is government-sector collective bargaining in Wisconsin. Other reform-minded governors would be wise to follow Walker’s lead.

Eberstein’s group is expected to formally submit their measure to newly-elected Attorney General Kamala Harris later this week. Given the spending power of government-sector unions in California, the campaign will need some serious cash to have a snowball's chance.

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