The Political Economy of Government Employee Unions
The main reason why so many state and local governments are bankrupt, or on the verge of bankruptcy, is the combination of government-run monopolies and government-employee unions. Government-employee unions have vastly more power than do private-sector unions because the entities they work for are typically monopolies.
When the employees of a grocery store, for example, go on strike and shut down the store, consumers can simply shop elsewhere, and the grocery-store management is perfectly free to hire replacement workers. In contrast, when a city teachers’ or garbage-truck drivers’ union goes on strike, there is no school and no garbage collection as long as the strike goes on. In addition, teachers’ tenure (typically after two or three years in government schools) and civil-service regulations make it extremely costly if not virtually impossible to hire replacement workers.
Thus, when government bureaucrats go on strike they have the ability to completely shut down the entire “industry” they “work” in indefinitely. The taxpayers will complain bitterly about the absence of schools and garbage collection, forcing the mayor, governor, or city councillors to quickly cave in to the union’s demands to avoid risking the loss of their own jobs due to voter dissatisfaction. This process is the primary reason why, in general, the expenses of state and local governments have skyrocketed year in and year out, while the “production” of government employees declines.
For decades, researchers have noted that the more money that is spent per pupil in the government schools, the worse is the performance of the students. Similar outcomes are prevalent in all other areas of government “service.” As Milton Friedman once wrote, government bureaucracies – especially unionized ones – are like economic black holes where increased “inputs” lead to declining “outputs.” The more that is spent on government schools, the less educated are the students. The more that is spent on welfare, the more poverty there is, and so on. This of course is the exact opposite of normal economic life in the private sector, where increased inputs lead to more products and services, not fewer.