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HomeIllinois NewsFoster: Unions benefit themselves, no one else - especially taxpayers

Foster: Unions benefit themselves, no one else – especially taxpayers



Anti-unionBy Howard Foster - 

I’d like to respond to the pro-union argument by our new colleague Frank J. Biga.

The idea that unions are beneficial cannot seriously be made in Illinois. The state government has a $100 billion unfunded pension debt, the result of public sector union collective bargaining. And as Dan Proft wrote yesterday in his op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, Illinois state employees earn 50% more than the state average when benefits are considered.  How has this helped Illinois taxpayers? 

There never was a shortage of people who wanted to work for the state. We had ample state employees before public sector unions were formed in the 1970’s. Now they retire in their 50’s instead of at 65 and have a second career (often in government) while enjoying a generous pension and lifelong health insurance.  Illinois will probably never pay off the incomprehensible $100 billion it owes. 

If state employees were not coerced to pay union dues, and the Supreme Court may rule this is a First Amendment violation by June, public sector unions would finally have to justify their existence. Many of the workers they supposedly “represent” in bargaining despise their politics and policy preferences. The system is rigged not to allow these state workers to opt out of union dues (called “fair share fees”).

Governor Rauner is trying to eliminate them, and the entire Democratic party establishment is behaving as if their livelihood were threatened. The state workers themselves are more muted. It’s clear who the beneficiaries of the status quo are.

Public sector unions exist for one purpose- to redistribute wealth from taxpayers to pro-union politicians. 

In the private sector unionization has shrunk to less than 10 percent of the labor force. Workers across the country have voted down unions in hundreds of elections. Sometimes they vote to unionize, but those votes are always marred by intimidation.

Here in downtown Chicago, for example, it is commonly understood that to do business in the construction sector, a firm must be unionized. Non-union firms do not even bid for jobs. Non-union contractors are not even permitted entry into any of the highrise buildings (I’ve tried and failed to bring one in.) We must use union electricians, movers, painters, etc. and pay a 30 percent premium over what a non-union contractor would charge. This may put a little extra cash in the pockets of the workers, but it takes cash out of the firms that hire them.

So fewer workers are hired, and unions earn generous dues.  Where do the dues go?  Mostly to Democrat Party candidates. They clearly benefit, and everyone else loses. Rents are higher, and costs of everything else in downtown Chicago is higher because of unions.

Mr. Biga contends union members benefit from higher pay, and this helps the economy through more consumption. And the alternative is what?  He does not point out the obvious fact that the money would be spent by someone else.

If my law firm did not have to pay a 30 percent premium to hire union electricians I’d spend that money on a new paralegal or server.  The money would not sit in a bank account.  It’s not surprising the economies of right-to-work states are growing faster than compulsory union states like Illinois. 

I agree with Mr. Biga that the GOP should be pro worker.  He makes the point that immigration tends to lower wages. He avoids the conclusion that the most efficient  way to raise wages is to cut immigration.  This would eliminate the unions as unnecessary redistributionist machines feeding the Democratic party.  

Mr. Biga's op-ed is viewable HERE.


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  1. Union membership in the private sector is only below 10 percent because of employer intimidation. And if strong unions really raised unemployment, explain the 1950s and 60s. I know you hate unions because if enough people joined them, the white working class would quickly leave the conservative plantation.

  2. Great piece, public sector unions are destroying America
    You can blame most if not all the pension mess in Illinois on the unions and the crooked politicians who supported this unsustainable pension plan