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  • F.D.R. Warned Us

    “It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”

    That wasn’t Newt Gingrich, or Ron Paul, or Ronald Reagan talking. That was George Meany — the former President of the AFL-CIO — in 1955. Government unions are unremarkable today, but the labor movement once thought the idea absurd.

    The founders of the labor movement viewed unions as a vehicle to get workers more of the profits they help create. Government workers, however, don’t generate profits. They merely negotiate for more tax money. When government unions strike, they strike against taxpayers. FDR considered this “unthinkable and intolerable.”

    Government collective bargaining means voters do not have the final say on public policy. Instead their elected representatives must negotiate spending and policy decisions with unions. That is not exactly democratic – a fact that unions once recognized.

    George Meany was not alone. Up through the 1950s, unions widely agreed that collective bargaining had no place in government. But starting with Wisconsin in 1959, states began to allow collective bargaining in government. The influx of dues and members quickly changed the union movement’s tune, and collective bargaining in government is now widespread. As a result unions can now insist on laws that serve their interests – at the expense of the common good.

    Union contracts make it next to impossible to reward excellent teachers or fire failing ones. Union contracts give government employees gold-plated benefits – at the cost of higher taxes and less spending on other priorities. The alternative to Walkers’ budget was kicking 200,000 children off Medicaid.

    Gov. Walker’s plan reasserts voter control over government policy. Voters’ elected representatives should decide how the government spends their taxes. More states should heed the AFL-CIO Executive Council’s 1959 advice:

    in terms of accepted collective bargaining procedures, government workers have no right beyond the authority to petition Congress—a right available to every citizen.

    Cross-Posted on the New York TimesRoom for Debate” blog.

    Posted in Economics [slideshow_deploy]

    50 Responses to F.D.R. Warned Us

    1. Burkely Hermann, Bal says:

      That was back then, this is now. Strikes are so workers can get more rights and better benefits. The idea that strikes are against the public good is ridiculous. It is just a lie that is spun by the other side. I think we should help the regular people by allowing collective bargaining, not the rich and their corporations. Those that are rich don't deserve the help of the government. The collective bargaining allows workers to keep their benefits and avoid horrible work conditions.

      • Anon says:

        Hermann, your post is completely absurd. There exist no such horrible work conditions for PUBLIC sector employees. The public sector should NEVER be able to unionize, and I'm a public sector employee.

    2. Judy Pederson, Wausa says:

      I fully support Governor Walker in his bold endeavors to balance our state's budget–that's what he was elected to do. The unions are now too strong and protect the poor workers–and there are certainly ineffective teachers too. Keep up the strong efforts and don't back down!!

    3. OhioHistorian says:

      If Walker gets his way, the teachers will have to pay for part of their retirement and part of their health care? And you find that OK?

    4. Darrell Hunt, Indian says:

      Yes, I do find that okay. I pay 22% of my health insurance and put 15% of my salary into my 401k. I work for a private sector company that is unionized. The tax payers simply cannot afford to keep paying for all of the goodies. Not in Wisconsin. Or Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey, Illionois, California, New York and New Mexico. Most of these states are in serious finacial trouble. Raising taxes is no longer an option.

    5. chuck haas plano tx says:

      Burkely, This is not about unions against the "rich and their corporations". This is about the unions against the taxpayers of Wisconsin. If the unions succeeded in blocking this do you know what will happen? A good number of these same union protesters will LOSE their jobs or someone else receiving gov't assistance will LOSE their benefits! If the state increases just increases taxes you will see an exodus of businesses leaving Wi for states with a more favorable tax structure. The state simply has to balance the budget. There is no money!

      Ohio, why wouldn't anyone be OK with that?

    6. Bobbie says:

      Why don't you? Why should the private sector foot the bill for government employees retirement and health care when the private sector pays for their own? How is that fair? What makes you think those that are suppose to be serving the private sector should be treated as royalty? UNIONS? spoiled brats! Undeserving!

      These government tools are ungrateful and unwilling to take a small step in making things better. What "rights" are they claiming they're being denied? The right to steal? The right to protest by denying their paid duties? The right to neglect the students they took a job to teach? If they don't get what they want they'll take it out on the kids? HOW SICK! Holding the youth hostage. If these children were educated properly they'd know they are the ones who will be footing the bill. WHAT A CON!!

      Abusing and Misleading the minds of the children. It doesn't help when unions and the president are supporting the ungrateful. "we all need to sacrifice, unless you're a government employee?" Government should be the first to sacrifice so the people they serve can live free and unburdened at the least by those that serve. .Obama's creating a government empire all those government tools are working right along with him whether they know it or not.

      American Government should not be superior to the people.

    7. Ron Rowan, Westminst says:

      Burkley, Sounds like socialist rhetoric to me. What ever happened to "government of the people, for the people, and by the people."? Unions are necessary to protect labor from unscrupulous profit making private sector business. The public sector is not for profit. Further taxation to pay government employees will only further damage an already failing economy. E.g., Milwaukee teachers average $105k in salary and benefits. That's more than enough for anyone, especially in WI. Did you know that federal seasonal workers like myself receive no benefits at all? We only get paid holidays and wages. That's it. We have to pay for our own healthcare and use an IRA. That money comes from our wages. These teachers get summer off, Easter week off, Christmas vacation off, all national and some non-national holidays off too. All you Marxists can go back Soviet Union (which failed by the way), Cuba, North Korea, and China. Capitalist workers unite against the greedy union leaders and filthy rich government lobbyists!

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    12. Mark Huehls, Indiana says:

      When unions were formed they were needed to combat abuses by big business of their employees. I remember well the stories my grand father and father told me about working in the coal mines in western Kentucky. Their wages were paid as credits at the "Company Store", but the company store prices were sky high. The mine owners shorted the shoring timbers for the mines, did not drill enough ventilation shafts, and cheated the men on the "weigh" of what they dug in a shift. The union would call a strike. The mine owners would call in "scabs". The miners would rough up the scabs. And all sorts of malfeasance form both sides caused a lot of civil unrest. Eventually the unions brought labor a fair wage for a fair days work. Unfortunately, over the last 40 years the unions with onerous work rules, excessive benefit demands, and other such things have brought the cost of American labor up so high that it is not competitive in productivity in the world market. When government employees got collective bargaining rights their unions have raised the cost of their labor beyond what government can pay. Now the day of reckoning has come. As the unions have gone too far their membership has declined to where public employees make up most of their membership. Those unions have priced their members out of the market place. Government is taking back what the unions should have never had in the first place, collective bargaining right for government employees. Now those employees have to choose: suck it up and pay for part of their most generous benefits, face layoffs and the onerous ensuing workload, or see themselves replaced by private sector contract employees. The Democrat Party has been in charge for most of the last 40 years, and their move to massive socialism has run out of money. Yogi Beria said "It ain't over 'till it's over", but this time we better pray it is over or our age of prosperity is over.for us and our children and their children too.

    13. George Colgrove, VA says:

      First we find out that a Democratic President, John F. Kennedy articulated Reaganomics 20 years before Reagan became president, now we find the most liberal President (before BHO) very clearly articulated a clear warning to not allow public employees to unionize.

      If we cannot free ourselves from the tyranny of the public unions, we will die as a nation. The greed of the public employees is becoming obvious. They have no problem putting states and the entire nation into significant debt for their personal gain. Put any other way, this is theft – generational theft.

    14. Bill, WA says:

      Can't believe how many times I've read the same tired line. THIS IS NOT ABOUT THE RICH OR CORPORATIONS. The teachers striking hurt one group and one group only – students. Corporations don't care if teachers pay or don't pay into retirement. It makes absolutely NO difference to them at all.

      It's about time government employees pull their own weight when it comes to the recession. The only hiring is gov't. Pay raises are going to gov't employees. Cost of living adjustments – gov't employees. I'm in the private sector and have seen my compensation adjusted to be in line with the economy. My friends that work in gov't haven't had a better 2 years since Obama took office. That's not right.

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    16. Soldier, Iraq says:

      It has always been my belief that any organization that attempts to strong arm the Federal Government for unnecessary benefit, to support a narrow-minded agenda, is an organization that is anti-American. In this particular situation, if nothing is done to stabilize the budget and "trim the fat." There aren't going to be any benefits to be had. If the country goes broke everyone is going to suffer. These Unions and their sense of entitlement is absolutely self-serving and utterly disgusting. "When government unions strike, they strike against taxpayers." I am a taxpayer just like every other citizen and I am not demanding that I be paid more for what I do. These demonstrations are beyond mind boggling. I hope that our government has the resolve to make the hard decisions because we are all going to have to make sacrifices in order to bring our country around to the right track,

    17. ejhickey says:

      "The collective bargaining allows workers to keep their benefits and avoid horrible work conditions."

      According to the Milwaukee Public Schools' Budget and Finance Department , the average hourly pay for school teachers is about $65 per hour, including benefits / $37 per hour excluding benefits. I am not sure of the number of hours in the average work week when calculating salary, but I am sure it has to 35-40 hours per week for at least 10 months per year. according to my math, this makes the average teacher salary about $56,116 w/o benefits and $98,583 if benefits are included. these are hardly horrible working conditions.

    18. Ed Morley, Glen Rock says:

      The Wisconsin Governor's statement that the alternative to reducing worker's benefits is taking children off Medicaide is falacious. There is also the possibility of raising revenue. The sacrifies should be shared. It should not all fall on the workers. Teachers are not overpaid and their compensation package in significant part includes benefits.

    19. West Texan says:

      I don't know about Wisconsin, but the greatest chunk of Texas' budget goes to education with health and human services a close second. All other state services or programs pale in comparison. I know the largest portion of my property taxes, along with some of the state money, is for local schools. This doesn't even cover federal grants. Seems alot of tax revenue is being absorbed by education. Collective bargain on that.

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    21. Albuquerque, NM says:

      The people have spoken. We can not and will not continue to yeild to the demands of these people who have abused the rights of taxpayers and simple will not surrender there so called rights. They should have those rights recended and understand that working as a government employe is a privaledge and not a right.

    22. Gerald H. Treffinger says:

      Fire the teachers and recall the senators .GHT

    23. Dinah Garrison Fairb says:


      Are you actually from Ohio or do you just write about us? Teachers in Ohio have always paid for part of their retirement and health care. Well, always is a long time, but I started teaching in 1966 and that was the case until I retired. The rest of this comment is general. Our retirement amount, for some reason, is not nearly the amount I hear quoted on TV, but it is doable. Our insurance is not top of the line, but dependable. Actually, as a teacher in Ohio I had no big complaints until we were tricked into becoming "closed shop" and forced to join the national union. After that, education became us against them on nearly every issue. I was the representative to the local organization. The first time I tried to discuss a problem we were having between administration and students, I was told the organization had nothing to do with kids! No discussion. When you hear "this is about the kids" look out.

    24. Tim AZ says:

      I almost feel bad for the union laborers that belong to labor unions. The union leaders have already decided how much of the union dues will be spent trying to securing more future dues. When the union leaders fail they have already started setting up union labor hosts in other countries to replace the American union labor hosts that they know they are going to lose. They will quietly walk away with the American labor union dues when they see that they are no longer socially accepted by the American tax payer. The reason I can't feel bad for these union laborers is because these laborers have a brain just like the rest of us. That allows them to question everything and everyone including their union leaders. Sadly for these laborers they blindly choose to be hosts to union leaders, because it's easier to let someone else be responsible for making financial and labor output decisions that the individual should be making for themselves. Be the master of your own destiny. Or be prepared to serve your master as your master sees fit. Had enough yet?

    25. Reno, Nv. says:

      Our children are undereducated. Graduation rates are dismal at best. Our local schools have been taken over by non english speaking students. Our schools have become centers for pc, social and culture training. Our schools have become cess pools of corruption. Sex, drugs, violence and who knows what is going on in classes across the U.S. I'm glad to see people speaking up. The people can't afford to foot the bill anymore.

    26. Nick Denittis, Fount says:

      Sacrificing personal interest for the greater good is what this country was built upon. From my understanding, these workers have generous benefits and good pay – they should indeed contribute.

      That being said, why are 2/3 of corporations in Wisconsin not taxed? This policy obviously hasn't worked, with Wisconsin unemployment being above the national average. If we are going to deliberate the ability of everyone to contribute, why are corporations exempt?

      God Bless you all. Have a great Presidents Day.

    27. George Colgrove, VA says:


      Working for a government is never a privlege. It is a basic need of the public that requires minimal talents to get done. Anything that requires a special talent OT skill should remain in the private sector to benefit from the open market.

      The problem with public servants is that they think they are privleged. That arrogance is costing this nation financially. And killing our future.

    28. Paul St George, UT says:

      The great majority of our property taxes goes to schools. The taxes have increased every year, including this past year during the worst of the recession, but we hear teachers and their unions beg for more, claiming that they can't do their jobs until the State sends them yet more money (taxpayer money).

      Then we have the totally useless Dept. of Education in DC. That agency has a huge budget in the billions, but they are never happy and every year ask Congress for more. Worse yet, the agency had done nothing to improve student's test scores, graduation rates and school safety. I suggest that the Dept. of Education is one of the first to go when the Congress gets sufficient cojones to defund and eliminate many such wasteful, corrupt agencies.

    29. Bruce of Cockeysvill says:

      The problem with "Collective Bargaining" is that the negotiated result bears no connection to reality of transactional values. In the "Free Market" the billions of transactions negotiated each day by millions of citizens creates a useful recording of a balance of values. The dollar I spend is worth less to me than the hamburger I just ate. The hamburger sold is worth less than the dollar of revenue. This is the "Price Mechanism" of the free market, determined by the aggregate of freely transacted value exchanges. Thus, prices of everything including the price of labor is determined fairly and can be confirmed through this mechanism. When government employs "Collective Bargaining" results are determined not by a price mechanism but by political power alone. This is a corrupted and corrosive relationship pitting the taxpayers against a legally protected monopoly; teachers. Teacher's payment is to block vote for the political class that protects their monopoly. None of the negotiations are based on a confirm-able exchange of real values. That is why politicians refuse to offer better education through vouchers or any other means outside the monopoly. The issue is never about education. The unholy alliance is not borne of freedom, liberty, or justice but tyranny.

    30. Jeanne Stotler,Woodb says:

      My parents worked for U S Gov't. and paid into their retirement and for their BC/BS. My husband was Union, Amalgamated Transit Union, his dues were small and in our 25 yrs of married life, while he worked , there was only one strike. This was a private firm and competed with three other companies in the area. Unions that exist on funds gathered fom taxpayers are in essence stealing from the rest of us. I believe in honest pay for honest work, I do not believe we needUnions in Federal or local gov't., most employees make more in their positions than similiar jobs in private sector, they also have a FREE WILL, if I didn't like my pay in one hospital, I looked at others and then I went to private duty, I didn't get paid vacations, health Ins or any other benifits and I KNEW what I was getting. Come on people, wake up, you were given brains, use them make your own decisions, you do not need someone in suit that is overpaid making them for you. As for teachers in Wisc., go back to work, teach the children and be proud of your profession. Let's make sure our children are learning, in the last 10 years I've seen children coming out of school without knowing the basics, Parents, read your children's assignments, if somthing is missing, that you learned in school, tell them about it, it is our responsibility to teach as well.

    31. Cincinnati OH says:

      I am old enough to recall that public employees were originally provided with the "extra" benefit packages to offset lower salaries. This included things like retirement after twenty years on the job, defined benefit retirement plans with no employee contribution, full coverage of individual and family health insurance, accumulating paid sick leave, etc. Since then, the cost of heath care and retirement have escalated along with salaries. Today, many public sector jobs pay higher salaries than equivalent private sector positions. Adding in the cost/value of the benefit package and the salary differential between public and private borders on ridiculous.

      In the case of educators it would be different if we were getting a reasonable return for our investment. Since the 1960's the quality of eduction has continued to decline while costs have spiraled upward, out of control. Local and state governments cannot simply raise taxes on the rich and corporations because they are being taxed to near death by the federal government. Increasing taxes in Wisconsin will just send more jobs to Texas or China. Furthermore, the past decades have proven that the extra money called for and provided have done little or nothing to improve eduction.

      This country needs some real leadership. The US faces a WWII type challenge and we need to respond accordingly. Over the past two years the private sector faced many hardships including rising energy costs, layoffs, reduction in work hours, salary freezes, etc. Stimulus money allowed state and local government officials to delay making hard decisions and as a result public sector employees were untouched, for the most part. It is now their turn to sacrifice. I feel their pain but the question is, "do they feel mine?"

    32. BuddyLama, Colorado says:

      Unions are nothing but thugs and parasites.

      Witness the ongoing Greek tragedy in Wisconsin (and the one just beginning in Ohio).

      Labor Unions produce NOTHING, they only suck the lifeblood from our economy, from productive businesses AND employees. There is NO justification whatsoever for labor unions to exist into perpetuity!

      Public sector Labor Unions are a perversion that cannot be permitted to exist. NO ONE is forced to work for the government (except to pay taxes…). NO ONE is forced to work for anyone — EVERYONE is free to seek employment with anyone (or work for themselves), and it is neither reasonable nor prudent to expect or rely on any government or business to provide your pension or healthcare or anything else beyond the wages for which you agreed to work.

    33. Kris, PA says:

      The purpose of unions is to use collective bargaining power to get the most compensation for the least amount of work. It is repugnant to use this power against school children.Teachers get paid above the national average wages/salaries with bloated benefit packages and don't even work 12 months a year. Teachers should never, ever strike. They should be ashamed, and I am sure many decent ones are sheepish but they have to act like they agree with this thuggery so they don't get their cars keyed.

    34. Jerry, San Diego says:

      It is a conflict of interest for public employee unions to negotiate with public employee representatives. Pure and simple. No one represents the taxpayer who pays the bills. Contrast that with an employer who hires an employee and negotiates with his union or employee directly. Each side has some skin in the game. These ridiculously rich public employee union deals have cost us, and will cost, taxpayers billions of dollars if not reined in now.

      FDR saw it as a conflict of interest and all of us taxpayers do as well. Only those who profit from it can defend a public employee union bargaining system.

    35. Juanita Clark Las Ve says:

      Thank you for research & sharing!

      Another case of where "we the people" have not done our due diligence regarding our U.S.Constitution or our history or to whom those we elected were serving!

      Government workers are not producing anything, but bargaining for tax payer money cannot be said any more clearly than the expertise of George Meany of the American Federation of Labor CIO head way back in 1955 stated, "You cannot collective bargain with the government."

      As a retired teacher, am facing the uncomfortable facts!

    36. Stephen B says:

      In Wisconsin and Ohio, they have decided there can no longer be two classes of citizens: one that receives the rich health and pension benefits, and the rest who are left to pay for them. These ideas are not red or blue. They are the black and white of truth.

      - Governor Chris Christie

    37. Stephen B says:

      Average compensation amounts for federal, state/local, private workers in 2009: http://gatewaypundit.rightnetwork.com/wp-content/

    38. George Thomson says:

      I have read the various comments and different opinions. I lived in the US for 10 years and have always loved your country. But you need to become competitive globally. Labour costs are too high and school education way below what it needs to be.The US must tackle these things or everyone better learn Mandarin.

    39. tmy, stl says:

      Tax payers pay the salaries and benefits unionized government workers . Government workers in turn give this some of this money to the unions in the form of dues.

      The union officials then gives much of this money to the political party that will continue to enable them to take increasingly more of the taxpayers money to increase the union members salaries and benefits to increase the amount of dues to increase the amount of donations to the politicians.

      How much money is given to democrat politicians by the unions of government paid workers? All of this money given to politicians by the unions comes directly from ALL of the taxpayers.

      This is not a fight against teachers or office workers who are paid by us, but, it is a recognition that there is a corruption of our system of government when, we the tax payers are forced to finance the livelihoods union officials, and the campaigns of democrat politicians who work against the betterment of all for the few. Those democrat politicians who are shirking their duties at the state capitols, state paid workers who are shirking the duties in state offices and schools are a manifestations of this corruption. We all lose!

    40. tmy, St. Louis, MO says:

      Tax payers pay the salaries and benefits of unionized government workers . Government workers in turn give some of this money to the unions in the form of dues.

      The union officials then gives much of this money to the political party that will continue to enable them to take increasingly more of the taxpayers money to increase the union members salaries and benefits to increase the amount of dues to increase the amount of donations to the politicians.

      How much money is given to democrat politicians by the unions of government paid workers? All of this money given to politicians by the unions comes directly from ALL of the taxpayers.

      This is not a fight against teachers or office workers who are paid by us, but, it is a recognition that there is a corruption of our system of government when, we the tax payers are forced to finance the livelihoods union officials, and the campaigns of democrat politicians who work against the betterment of all for the few. Those democrat politicians who are shirking their duties at the state capitols, state paid workers who are shirking the duties in state offices and schools are a manifestations of this corruption. We all lose!

    41. SC resident says:

      I taught in the Dept. of Defense Schools for a few years coming out of the public schools in SC where we do not have collective bargaining. I was appalled at the laziness of many of the Federal employees! They wouldn't have lasted a DAY in the public schools! Some of them filed grievance after grievance after grievance and got paid for them and would brag about how much they got. It was a travesty, and it turned me against unions. The principal had little power. The morale was low, and the teaching practices were antiquated because no one could make a teacher do anything she didn't want to do! One custodian refused to flip a switch after a circuit breaker cut the power off because "It isn't in my job description." We had one secretary who refused to speak to the principal she worked for! I have no respect for unions, and they need to go! In SC, we get along just fine without them. We pay our share of our medical and retirement, too! Even as a retiree, I pay a premium each month from my retirement check for my health benefits. Our pensions are not enough to live off of, but they do supplement our Social Security, allowing us to have a decent income in our golden years after having given our life to the service of children.

    42. Excie Jones Kurz says:

      I began teaching in the mid '50s. When I went to my first orientation meeting

      there was a table to sign up for membership in a teachers union. Not one teacher approached that table. We wanted to be professionals. No one would even think of being in a union! I stayed after hours to tutor students who needed extra help and never thought of payment. I loved what I did. We had no inservice-days, snow days or days for parent conferences. Class preparation was done after school and in the evenings. I was proud of my

      profession and I was respected as a effective, creative and caring 1st grade

      teacher. Times have really changed and I don't think for the better. What are these protests really teaching school children? I'll bet the best teachers are

      in the classrooms teaching and not at the state capital shouting in anger. If you want to improve education in our nation get rid of the teachers union, tenure and reward excellence with merit pay. Stop spending money on the stupid zillion dollar buildings and the latest gadgets. Forget about diversity and political correctness. Fire the bad, lazy teachers and get the best people doing the job with their whole heart.

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    45. L Newman, California says:

      Keep up the good work Governor Walker.

    46. L Newman, California says:

      It seems if you get a benefit you should have to pay for it. So government employee can pay for some of their health care and retirement.

      If not, then why not pay for cars, houses and clothes why stop at fee medical care andd retirement.

    47. Steve, MA says:

      The Unions have agreed to the budget items. This is no longer about money or the budget. Scott Walker got the financial concessions he asked for. NOW it's about retaining the right to collectively bargain. It is about his CRUSHING the existance of the unions.

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