Nov 9, 2015
by Steve Levy
Published in the Albany Times Union
In his recent book Government Against Itself, Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Dan DiSalvo, brilliantly underscores how municipal unions have managed to get elected representatives to do the union’s bidding at the expense of the general public they were supposedly elected to represent.
The unions get to focus on their singular issues, while the general public is distracted with everyday life. The endorsements and monetary contributions that flow from the union to the elected officials further enhance the disproportionate impact the union holds on public policy. Elected officials – who were supposed to be managers for the taxpayers’ money – are actually sitting at the negotiation table acting as advocates for the unions – who are supposed to be their adversaries.
This would never happen in the private sector, since giving the store away to the union would lead to unprofitability, and potentially the collapse of the entire corporation. When the company goes out of business, no one is helped, including the union members who would lose their jobs.
In the public sector, however, there is no profit margin and the elected officials will continue to keep their jobs because there will always be a public taxpayer who will keep the government running via higher taxes. Until, that is, it reaches the breaking point, as was the case with Detroit, San Bernardino, and many other cities that filed for bankruptcy lately.
If DiSalvo writes an addendum to his book, he should start with a chapter that exposes the hideous practice in some New York counties whereby taxpayers even foot the bill for union leaders to lobby full-time against the government. It is certainly understandable why union leaders would need time away from their designated civil-service jobs to perform the tasks necessary to run a union. And if the union dues pay for it, so be it.
The dirty little secret, however, is that some counties in this state have their taxpayers footing the bill for this union leave. And it can indeed be substantial. In Suffolk County for instance, it costs taxpayers over $2 million annually to pay union members to free up their time do their lobbying. More ridiculously, the higher ups in the police unions have the taxpayers paying them for overtime money they could otherwise accumulate. One union boss was allowed to receive canine pay even though he wasn’t assigned a dog.
A recent expose in Nassau County underscored the lax oversight provisions for granting outside contracts. It has led to a call for banning donations from county contractors to elected officials. It’s interesting, though, that we rarely hear a call from pundits, elected officials or editorial boards to ban donations from municipal unions to the very same officials who will negotiate their contracts. Such a conflict of interest in the private sector would not only lead to your firing, but would likely be deemed illegal.
Many folks wonder how we ever could’ve gotten to the point where law enforcement personnel on Long Island are earning over $225,000 a year, with $150,000 pensions and over 100 paid days off a year. How did we get to the point where a bad teacher can do just about anything up to the point of committing murder and still keep his or her job? How did we get labor rules that pay employees of the quasi-governmental MTA double time for simply working on a different train on the same shift? How did we devise a system that often pays disabled police and firefighters more money for staying home than if they are actually working?
The answer is easier to understand once one considers the cozy relationship that municipal unions have with elected officials. Even Franklin Roosevelt, whom many consider the father of Liberalism in the 20th Century understood the dangers inherent in having elected officials being lobbied by municipal unions which can provide or withhold endorsements of their reelections.
As DiSalvo’s book clearly notes, we truly have created a system where government is now working against itself. Or, stated another way, where government is now working so diligently against the very taxpayers it is supposed to be representing.