The History of Government (e.g. Teacher) Union Power


This is a very informative WSJ article about how government worker unions grew to have the political power that they do today.  This is relevant to school choice because a teachers union is one example of a government worker union.  Highlights:

This weekend we celebrate Labor Day in a country divided between two kinds of workers. The first is the private-sector worker, the vulnerable one who rides the business cycle without shock absorbers. The second worker, who works for the government, lives a cushioned existence in which terminations take years, pension amounts are often guaranteed, and recessions are only thunder in the distance. Yet worse than this division is the knowledge that the private-sector worker will pay for public-sector comfort with ever higher taxes.

The origins of our current predicament began back in 1912. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and … Taft placed gag orders on postal employees to prevent them from communicating with Congress on … wages. The gag offended many members of Congress, who then supported a bill sponsored by the progressive Robert La Follette….  The Lloyd-LaFollette Act of 1912 gave federal workers the formal right to organize.  …[M]any thought wholesale unionization too remote for possibility.

Many people assumed that public unionism was emasculated for good by the city of Boston’s refusal to rehire striking police officers after the Boston Police Strike of 1919….  Calvin Coolidge, then Massachusetts governor, saw the strike as inexcusable… “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time,” he said.

On the question of militant action, Franklin Roosevelt proved similarly stalwart. In a 1937 letter on collective bargaining to … [the] president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, Roosevelt warned … that “I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of government employees.”

In 1962, President … Kennedy signed Executive Order 10988, which permitted collective bargaining by federal employees….

Public workers took a blow to their dignity in 1981 when President Reagan … fired 11,000 striking air-traffic controllers…

Another factor leading to the rise of the public unions is the decade-over-decade increase in the size of government.  If we did not have so many government employees today, the cost of sustaining them would not be so high.

One Response to “The History of Government (e.g. Teacher) Union Power”

  1. Nick Ippolito Says:

    One glaring omission from Ms. Shlaes’s essay is the effectiveness of campaign contributions to elected officials. There is an obvious conflict of interest when officials responsible for setting government policy for unions accept contributions from those unions. This is a shameful practice and is harmful to the officials’ constituents. A recent raw power play was when the unions forced certain New York state legislators to return campaign donations to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. What’s frightening is the power the unions wield.

    It is pathetic that a citizen of New York state can’t even hope that the state would enact laws that require legislators to recuse themselves from participating in any labor policy if they accept contributions from government unions.

    Nick Ippolito

    Roslyn Heights, N.Y.

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