The editors of a Hartford newspaper have begged, almost on their knees, state employee union leaders to accede to concessions in budget negotiations with Governor Dannel Malloy:
“Unions, Please Help
“Connecticut has been kind to its public workers. Now is the state's time of need. Unions, won't you help the state out of financial crisis?
“Unions, please be reasonable. The state is at stake.”
While the concessions will not greatly affect long-term spending, these pleadings are necessary for a number of reasons. Although the General Assembly is scheduled to finish shaping and approving a budget for Connecticut by closing time, June 7, the end-date really depends upon unions. “Unions Nearing Deal of Concessions,” a headline proclaims. However, “some union members say it is unlikely that the rank and file members of multiple unions,” represented by SEBAC, would be able to affirm contractual arrangements with Malloy by that date, “but a vote by the end of the fiscal year on June 30 is possible.”
According to union bylaws, “80 percent of SEBAC voting unions must be in favor and no more than 20 percent against” final contract negotiations. The union bylaws are not subject to approval or oversight by legislators who represent taxpayers. In fact, bill payers are not sufficiently represented at any stage of contract negotiations between pro-union governor Malloy, who has marched in solidarity with unions on strike picket lines, and union leaders in SEBAC, a conglomerate of union representatives authorized to make contractual deals with Connecticut’s pro-union governor.
President Franklin Roosevelt, generally friendly to unions, opposed both union strikes and collective bargaining with federal employee unions because, as he wrote in a 1937 letter to President of the National Federation of Federal Employees Luther C. Stewart:
"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.”
FDR was unwilling to allow “the whole people,” properly represented in a democratic republic by elected office holders, to be held hostage to union demands. And this is precisely what happens as a matter of course in revenue strapped Connecticut.
The Hartford paper, Connecticut’s union compromised General Assembly and newspaper editors are not alone on their knees. The Mayor of Hartford has begged union leaders in Connecticut’s capital city, now poised on the edge of bankruptcy, for a measly $14 million in necessary union concession. No deal, the unions have said.
This is a problem that cannot be settled by means usually adopted to discharge deficits: enacting work furloughs, wage freezes and layoffs, the swords generally waved over union heads to persuade them to make concessions. Such temporary “remedies” do not attack the real problem, the stranglehold over the executive and legislative branches of government by Connecticut’s fourth branch of government, state employee unions.
The pressure points brought to bear by the state’s chief executive upon unions have been softened in the past, as they are now in current negotiations, by the extension of benefits far into the future. That is to say, the real cost-drivers of state debt are left unmolested by union friendly governors and legislators who do not wish to alienate affections they will draw upon to secure re-election.
The solutions to deficits agreed upon by Malloy, unions and easily spooked progressive Democrats in the General Assembly will not solve the problem of continuing debt caused by the flight of entrepreneurial capital, the prolongation of a recession that ended elsewhere in the nation six years ago and disappearing revenues. It is the contractual negotiation process itself that is the problem. In Rhode Island, our neighboring state, the relationship between the state and its unions is governed by statute rather than contract. Therefore, the governor and legislature may alter arrangements with state employees through changes in statutes rather than bargaining with unions in back rooms for contractual changes that are subject to court review. The Rhode Island way leaves decision-making on tax appropriations and expenditures where it belongs – with the state legislature.
In the short term, political business as usual may solve the re-election problems faced by progressives who do not care about the long-term welfare of the state or FDR’s important admonitions. And in the long term, as the cynic says, we are all dead.