The Hypocrisy of the Public Union War

Robert Robb, an AZ Republic editorial writer, recently wrote an op-ed piece in favor of ending the privatization of city transportation services. That’s not exactly a shocking premise except when one considers the source, Robert Robb, a strict conservative who extols the role of smaller government.

More astounding still was the fact that Mr. Robb pointed out that public employee bus workers would actually be more beneficial to the city than private employees. And while I agree with Mr. Robb, I’m struck by the irony of his reasoning.

The Phoenix City Charter, as Mr. Robb points out, limits the collective bargaining power of public employee unions, meaning public employee unions actually have less power than private employee unions. The Charter also prohibits workers from striking; therefore, effectively eliminating the most powerful tool a union has at its discretion.

Because city transportation is a necessary service for large metropolitan areas such as Phoenix, having a reliable bus service is crucial. If city bus workers had a public union, they would be unable to strike and the city would have more tools available to bargain for wages.

But wait. Isn’t Mr. Robb the same individual who claims public employee unions have an unfair advantage at City Hall? Isn’t he one of several people decrying the “union bosses” and union influence that have overrun Phoenix’s City Council?

How do we reconcile the fact that privatization isn’t always preferable to government run services while still condemning the public sector and public employee unions?

Well, according to Mr. Robb, even though public employee unions have limited bargaining rights, they still have enormous influence over City Hall. How? They galvanize voters.

Yes, this is the argument now being used to criticize unions and demonize politicians with “union backing.” Anyone else find this argument highly suspect?

If we categorize a group as influential based upon its ability to galvanize voters, we need to expand way beyond public employee unions. How about including religious organizations? Business organizations? Lobbyists?

If a politician has the backing of a particular religion, does that mean he/she has an unfair advantage and will be beholden to that group while in office? When it comes to organizing voters, rarely do any organizations do a better job than Evangelical churches. Does this mean that we should be distrustful of any politician with strong religious ties?

Many would say no. Many would say religious ties indicate strong moral values just as strong union ties indicate strong working class values and strong business ties indicate strong managerial skills.

But what about someone with strong ties to a lobbying organization?

In the race for mayor, Gullett and Neely did an effective job characterizing Greg Stanton as the “union candidate.” They complained the union was in control at City Hall, and Phoenix needed someone who was anti-union in the mayor’s seat.

Now the tables have turned, and Mr. Stanton is calling into question Mr. Gullett’s ties with lobbyists. Stanton says we need an anti-lobbyist at the helm.

Personally, I much prefer a city government that puts more weight upon the concerns and needs of its workers versus the desires of special interest groups. How our elected leaders effectively deal with the working class citizens they employ speaks volumes as to what this city values.

Creating a toxic environment between elected officials and city workers is an ineffective and irresponsible way to run a city and is not in the best interest of taxpayers. Do we really think that if an individual such as Sal DiCiccio was in charge during the budget crisis last year the unions would have agreed to a 3.2 percent pay cut? And if the unions didn’t agree to the pay cuts, how do we think city services would have been affected with hundreds of fewer officers on the street?

The union bashing that’s now prevalent among conservative lawmakers will no doubt backfire. Blaming cops and firefighters for the pension woes our city faces is a dirty political game used to take attention away from those who created the mess in the first place… investment banks and other corporations. They received taxpayer bailouts, while cities and states were left with increased costs for pensions that went south.

Unions were not responsible for the mess on Wall Street. Politicians and journalists who now point the finger at city workers are obviously hoping voters have short-term memories. They’ve created an effective diversion to avoid addressing the real issue, which is how to insulate the city from another crisis on Wall Street.

The politicians and columnists have made this election into a choice between unions and the city workers they represent versus lobbyists and the special interests they represent. The unions have shown their desire to work with the Council and do what’s in the best interest of taxpayers while the special interests continue to show their desire to work for the best interest of their corresponding pocketbooks. Let’s hope voters can see through the smokescreen and recognize the difference.

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