Liberals’ Love Affair With FDR and Public Unions Spells C-o-n-t-r-a-d-i-c-t-i-o-n


Franklin D. Roosevelt said that collective bargaining in the public sector was unnecessary because the government, their employer, is the people. I never knew this until today, and many people either don’t know it, or don’t remember it.

Here’s what he said, in the Letter on the Resolution of Federation of Federal Employees Against Strikes in Federal Service, in 1937,

“All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.”

I would think that a liberal-minded person would be anti-public unions because, well, it creates an unfair advantage for the workers who are able to use political power and pressure to get their way, and those who can’t but have to pay for it regardless, i.e. everybody else. But most liberals are all for public unions and would cry till their eyes were dry if – god forbid – a public worker was not part of a union. But, apparently, this hasn’t always been true for liberal-minded people. If F.D.R. didn’t think it necessary, then maybe it isn’t?

I came upon this information because Wisconsin Governor, Scott Walker made a speech to the Governmental Research Association policy conference, where he talked about the above sentiments of F.D.R. I found this information on PolitiFact. I’m not even sure why I was on PolitiFact, but it caught my eye, and here I am.

Collective bargaining is simply a voluntary negotiation between a group of workers and an employer to set wages, work hours, work conditions, etc. There is nothing wrong with this in-and-of itself. In fact, workers should bargain for better conditions. And, F.D.R. believed this as well stating,

“The desire of Government employees for fair and adequate pay, reasonable hours of work, safe and suitable working conditions, development of opportunities for advancement, facilities for fair and impartial consideration and review of grievances, and other objectives of a proper employee relations policy, is basically no different from that of employees in private industry.”

But, when public unions form and use political force as leverage to get what they want, collective bargaining is no longer voluntary. I, and F.D.R. would like to point out the crucial difference. Directly after the above quote, F.D.R. stated, “Organization on their part to present their views on such matters is both natural and logical, but meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government.” (Emphasis added)

First, let’s distinguish between public unions and private unions. Both exist because workers need to use collective power to negotiate for better conditions (collective bargaining). Private unions negotiate directly with their employer or the group of employers in an industry. Public unions negotiate either directly with the government employers, or directly with politicians to influence law-making and political pressure. But, here is the major difference: when a private union succeeds in their negotiations, any changes that happen stay in the private market. This means that if higher wages are negotiated, consumer prices may go up, but consumers are not forced to buy those products. On the contrary, when a public union succeeds, it is the tax payers (you and I) who are forced to pay for it.

When F.D.R. said that collective bargaining in the public sector is unnecessary because the government is the people, he meant that if public unions want to bargain with their employers, they must bargain with everyone in the United States. (Woaahhh. Mind blown) Also, he said that the public sector and private sector are vastly two different things. Public workers’ wages are set by laws, private workers’ wages are not. Public workers’ exist as a civil servants, supposedly working for the good of the society, private workers are self-seeking and profit-seeking. (Which, I would argue, is good for society).

Right now, private union membership is only 6.6% of all private sector workers, whereas public union membership is 35.9%. Does the private sector offer better benefits without the need for collective bargaining? Are people who work for the government more inclined to use political force to leverage benefits? Are they greedier? I don’t know.

It’s curious that F.D.R. was anti-public unions. Some say that his sentiments were a product of the times, and that he would have changed his mind, had he lived into the 1950′s when collective bargaining was seen as a positive thing for business. But, wasn’t collective bargaining already seen as a positive thing when F.D.R. was in his heyday? He even said so! PolitiFact says, “when it came to private-sector unions whose cause he championed, FDR called collective bargaining a “fundamental individual right.”

It’s funny how things change. Maybe Roosevelt would have changed his mind in the 50′s, but maybe not. The things he stated about government employees seem like pretty rigid principles, distinguishing the differences between the free market and the government. +1 for F.D.R.

But, really, unions aren’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, unions have done a lot for the American worker, and I don’t think you’re evil if you want to join a union. What’s bad is corrupt union bosses, political power-seeking, and the non-voluntary nature that some public unions possess (tax-payer burden, forcing union membership and paying dues, etc). And I do think it’s worth noting the difference between private and public unions.

Live free.

[Originally posted on Wollstonecrafty]


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