Collective Bargaining Reforms … in Massachusetts?

“A man will fight harder for his interests than for his rights” – Napoleon Bonaparte

In what seems to be an odd move, the Massachusetts House has voted to strip public unions of their collective bargaining rights for health care benefits (story here). The reason this seems odd is that Massachusetts is a heavily Democratic state, and Democrats are generally the pro-public-union party (willing to tax the non-union workers to death in order to pay higher union salaries and benefits). In fact, the vote wasn’t even close: 111-42.

Now, I’m not an expert on Massachusetts (shocker), and I don’t know to what extent Romney-Care plays into this. That is, does the Massachusetts public-funded health care debacle make extra union benefits somewhat superfluous? (Perhaps someone more knowledgeable about that situation will weigh in.) Holding open that possibility, we still note that unions have responded with plenty of vitriol to the move – so it obviously matters some.

So why this move, why now? I will first note that politicians, even at the state house level, are better politicians than I. (I’m a mathematician by trade – and prefer clear functional relations as opposed to political morass.) Even so, this will not stop me from offering some high-level conjectures.

On the front, it would seem almost necessary that this indicates political winds have shifted. In the Wisconsin protests, the pro-union forces were claiming that a wake-up call had been given and the union backlash was going to sweep away those who had dared harm collective bargaining. And yet, the march continues … in Massachusetts of all places. Surely this is a recognition on the part of Democrats that the defense-of-unions-at-all-costs is a political loser. The private sector is hurting. The taxpayers are hurting. They are asking “why?” – why do we have to pay more and more for heavier benefits when we’re getting less and less services?

The calculus obviously enters the equation. House Speaker Robert DeLeo said, “By spending less on the health care costs of municipal employees, our cities and towns will be able to retain jobs and allot more funding to necessary services like education and public safety.” Umm, yes – that’s been the point all along. Governments should be in the business of providing the most (and best) services for the least cost – not using public funds to buy votes. DeLeo is right. Cutting costs will allow cities to afford more and better education and safety services.

It could also be a recognition on the part of Democrats that they are the only game in town. Will the unions vote for Republicans next time? I doubt it. Will they vote for other Democrats? Possibly – but the party machinery can be quite powerful.

Perhaps they’ll just sit an election out? I think this may be the best policy. I’ve said before that minority and fringe interest groups should ardently refuse to vote for a party that does not address their specific issues. Pro-life Christians should refuse to vote for pro-choice candidates, or parties that refused to address the issue … just sit an election out and watch how fast politicians will clamor for your vote. The same would hold true for the unions. Just stay home from the polls and watch how quickly Democrats move to bridge the gap.

We’ll see if that happens. For now, the system of overly generous public union benefits at the expense of taxpayers is continuing to crumble.

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