Public union leaders are being unfairly blamed for the fiscal mess at many of our state and local governments.
Sure, compensation — particularly pensions and benefits — for many public employees is overly generous. No doubt some public unions have a stranglehold on the democratic process by essentially ensuring the success or failure of political candidates.
But blame them? Not me. Blame them for being better negotiators than many of the public managers on the other side of the table? Demonize them for aggressively looking out for their constituents’ interests? Punish them for effectively getting their people to go out and vote?
Nope. I respect those who are good at what they do. In fact, we’d do well to have some of those union leaders negotiating on behalf of taxpayers. Until then, we need to learn from them, not chastise them.
Many factors make them so much better at contract negotiations than the public managers who are supposed to be looking out for taxpayers. The most significant may be that they have a clearly defined focus and interest: public workers.
Public managers and leaders, on the other hand, have to split their loyalty between taxpayers and the public employees they oversee.
To even out this imbalance, taxpayers need to exert more leverage. By law, public-employee collective bargaining in Florida is supposed to take place in the sunshine, in full view of the public. In practice, however, the negotiations often take place quietly, with little outside presence.
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