Let’s try to put a little clarity to what is going on here in Maine with regard to the growing union un-rest. Rallies by pro-union groups, in Maine and around the country, are cropping up all over the place and as is usual, the truth of what is happening is becoming a casualty.
First, let’s drop back for a moment and review where we are. In 1935, Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act), guaranteeing the right of private employees to form unions and to use the collective bargaining process. Subsequently, the majority of states extended these rights to public employees. Not all states, however, allow collective bargaining by public sector employees.
The Constitutional right to form unions is found in the First Amendment which guarantees our right to peaceably assemble. That right was further quantified in the Fourteenth Amendment, however, no where in the Constitution can the authority be found that guarantees the right to collectively bargain with an employer, public or private.
Now to the collective bargaining process and why this has become such a contentious issue, in Wisconsin and America. Collective bargaining is a means by which employers negotiate with employees for the purpose of designing a contractual agreement with regard to wages, benefits, work hours, work conditions and so on. The Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, is seeking to end the collective bargaining process in that state because he believes that process has driven the cost of wages and benefits for state workers to un-sustainable levels in Wisconsin.
It is important to note that Maine Governor Paul LePage has not pushed any legislation that has sought to end the collective bargaining process in Maine. State statuette in Maine permits collective bargaining by all public employees, however, strikes by all state employees are not permitted.
Let’s face it, the reason the collective bargaining process has failed on the state / taxpayer side of the ledger is that we have been out-negotiated by the unions. The unions have professionals in place to bargain on their behalf. The states have bureaucrats negotiating for them and frankly, those bureaucrats have no skin in the game. It is not their money and they have simply been out-classed at the bargaining table. This, however, is not a reason to end the process.
Ending collective bargaining because the side that negotiates on behalf of taxpayers has been woefully out-classed, is kind of like saying we are behind on the scoreboard and instead of working harder, we are simply picking up our ball and go home.
I applaud Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s tough stand against the unions and the union reaction speaks volumes about why America and our various states are failing. I do not, however, support his ending collective bargaining in that state. It is not necessary to accomplish his goals, unless his goal is to bust the unions. He says he is not seeking to do that.
If we truly love freedom, then we must respect the rights of those we do not agree to act in a free manner. In a free society, public sector employees in most states have the right to unionize and collectively bargain. While I will never understand the wisdom in placing one’s personal economic fate in the hands of someone else, we must respect their right to do it.
Our challenge is to become a tough negotiator. Instead of having bureaucrats bargain on behalf of the state / taxpayers, we must hire professionals who are experts at this type of dealing and then incentivize their efforts to be effective on behalf of we the people.
Now, let’s head to Maine and look at what Maine Governor Paul LePage is seeking to do. Governor Paul LePage is taking a different route to bring fiscal sanity to Maine’s government. He is addressing head-on the un-funded pension liability that will, in the very near future, begin to cripple Maine’s state budget. He is seeking to freeze current retiree benefits for two years, not cut them as some are attempting to convey. After the first two years, he will reduce the increase from 4% down to 2% annually. Additionally, he is seeking to make the future retirement age 65 years old, which conforms more closely with the private sector.
These very reasonable, common sense reforms will significantly reduce Maine’s 4.4 billion dollar un-funded pension liability and help put our state government on a more sound financial footing. The fact that the unions in Maine are howling about these reforms speaks volumes. It appears the union leaders in Maine are far more concerned with maintaining their power than they are working together to benefit Maine and move our great state forward. Our pension liability has been created by providing overly generous benefit guarantees going back to the 1940’s and then not funding those future benefits with any real sense of reality.
Let’s be clear here in Maine. Governor LePage is seeking to institute pension reforms that place our pension fund on sound financial footing and that addresses the demands that will be made from future public sector employees so that we are not re-visiting this situation in coming years. He is not currently seeking to end the collective bargaining process, nor is he seeking massive state employee lay offs to address the state’s budget gap.
Because of the un-rest in Wisconsin, Indiana and other states, the truth, in Maine, has become a casualty with regard to the Governor’s reform proposals. Public sector employees in Maine have been granted the right to form a union and Maine Governor Paul LePage has not made a single proposal to take that right away. Any statement to the contrary is simply rhetoric by pro-union supporters who are seeking to confuse the public.