Forming a (Trans)partisan Consensus for Public Sector Union Reform

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Public sector unions are out of control in this country. From sea to shining sea public “servants” have refused reforms to pension programs which threaten to derail public finances. Funding for police, schools, and roads is being sacrificed to pay for programs which benefit a narrow group of highly politically connected workers. Often public workers make six figure salaries when the people in the communities which fund these government workers on average make nowhere near that.

Fundamental reform of public unions and union pensions needs to happen and it needs to happen tomorrow. There is no way the taxpayers can pay for what the unions negotiated with politicians years ago. The unions and the politicians knew such pensions were unsound when they were agreed upon but no one said anything. The politicians wanted to get elected and the public unions thought that once lavish pensions were made law they had an iron clad claim to taxpayer money even if it bankrupted the communities they worked in.

Something must be done. Those who believe that public pensions can continue to exist as they are now are living in a dream world. It’s one thing for taxpayers to be overcharged for government worker work. It’s quite another to be overcharged for government workers doing absolutely no work at all.

(I’m not going to say it.)


Across the United States there is an escalating political conflict over the role of labor unions in society. But it is inaccurate to characterize this conflict as one between Republicans and Democrats. There are members of both major political parties, as well as independents of widely diverse ideologies, who are concerned about civil liberties, the growth of authoritarian government, inadequate investment in infrastructure, and poorly funded social programs. Explaining to these diverse groups that public sector unions are a threat to civil liberties, impel authoritarian government, and preclude investment in infrastructure and social programs – and that by and large, private sector unions do not – is the key to successful public sector union reform.

While reformers who are immersed in the topic may consider this obvious, the fact that public sector unions are fundamentally different from private sector unions is still a relatively new concept to the general public. Some of these differences might be summarized as follows:

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