Although we’ve been pretty much as outspoken as one can be – given this supposedly is not our passion – we haven’t been outspoken enough. In spite of the fact we believe in the ideals of unions, and their courageous legacy, we have criticized the pernicious influence of public sector unions over and over again, most recently earlier today in a piece entitled “CEQA is Hijacked” where we reported on a recent Sacramento Bee editorial taking the unusual step of exposing how unions use environmental laws to stop development of environmentally beneficial projects.
Here is one of the comments on this story, as posted on the Sacramento Bee’s website: “Environmental groups should be concerned that construction unions are blocking solar projects by exploiting the state’s environmental laws. Last summer the electrical workers’ union (IBEW) in Fresno objected on environmental grounds to a large solar panel installation project at the Fresno airport. California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) is objecting to the construction of a solar hybrid power plant in Victorville with claims of how the solar panels are going to hurt the environment. Basically, any developer wanting to build a solar energy generation facility in California has to deal with the legal process of fighting baseless environmental objections, unless it succumbs to the extortion and gives unions a monopoly on the construction. Aside from the bad taste of giving into extortion, what developer wants to increase costs by limiting which contractors will bid on its work? When the promise of solar power fizzles out in California, unions will be largely to blame.”
In 2007, incredibly enough, California’s governor vetoed legislation that would have required any solar energy installation, even at the residential scale, to be installed by union workers. In 2007 Schwarzenegger also vetoed legislation that would have required striking public sector workers to continue to get paid – during the time they are on strike!
This state of affairs goes beyond extortion – as the commenter on the Bee’s website characterized it, or “greenmail,” as the Bee described it. It is too vast, too institutionalized, to be characterized by such feeble, episodic terms. It is a historic transfer of power from the people to the government. It is the death of democracy – for reasons you never read about in the newspaper. Ever since 1978, when a very naive Governor Brown acceded to the demands of unions to have full collective bargaining rights in the public sector, they have accumulated more power every year. They now pretty much control the policy and budget of every agency in California’s state, county and municipal governments. They pay themselves wages and benefits that – if you apply the present value of benefits during retirement to the years they work – give them compensation costing taxpayers 2-4 times what private sector workers receive for work requiring similar skills. They are by far the most powerful special interest in California.
Public employee unions spread the fallacious but incendiary argument that because a handful (thousands of people at most) of top executives have multi-million dollar compensation packages, it somehow justifies their excessive wage demands. The truth, that public employees should compare themselves to the millions of ordinary blue collar or white collar workers in the private sector, is conveniently ignored. Our public school students are taught this sort of propaganda by union indoctrinated teachers from the day they enter kindergarten to the day they graduate into the workforce. The cost of union labor has made all public services prohibitively expensive, including road building and other infrastructure. Public sector unions, hand in hand with environmental opportunists, are the reason we can’t afford homes or public services. The solution is drastic reform.
Public sector unions are not green. They are exploiting the environmental movement’s new momentum to spread fear of catastrophe into the minds of children and parents alike – and they love the way the whole “carbon currency” paradigm fits easily with their rhetoric that depends on bashing the wealthy. And when it comes to developing genuine innovations that might help the environment and reduce the price of energy – they see a threat and an opportunity. A threat because any competitive capitalist innovation that might benefit everyone is a threat to unions whose workers hold privileged jobs at publically regulated energy monopolies. An opportunity because if they can control these new technologies that will eventually be even more cost-effective than conventional energy sources – at the same time as they convince a gullible public to artificially drive the cost of energy sky high to save the planet – the margins will get greater still, and their cut will rise accordingly.
This is the sad reality of green economics in 2007 California. No serious discussion of environmental policy can ignore the question of excessive union influence over state and local governments, and what to do about it. And no proposal should go forward that allows, however indirectly, for carbon taxes to help restore solvency to public institutions, until all American workers get the same taxpayer funded system of entitlements and security.