Union membership has been in steady decline for decades throughout the private-sector workforce for an array of good reasons. Regardless, politicians plan to unionize state employees.
In 1983, when the youngest of baby boomers were fresh out of high school, more than 20% of private-sector employees belonged to labor unions. The number has fallen to about 6%. In 2019, union membership fell by 170,000 nationally.
In an increasingly diverse and growing economy, workers have less need for unions. They would rather spend union dues on homes, vacations, children and countless other wants and needs.
The country’s low unemployment and increasing labor shortage benefits all workers in nearly all sectors of the economy, public and private. It is a simple matter of supply and demand. When workers are hard to come by we have an employee’s market. The cost of labor goes up until the demand roughly equals the supply.
Government employers are not immune from pressures to pay higher wages to attract and retain employees. State officials report about 20% of classified state jobs were unfilled in 2019.
With record-breaking state revenue surpluses, Colorado legislators and the governor should find a way to make state employment more attractive. Instead, they plan to politicize the dilemma to their benefit. They will follow a trend in other states controlled by Democrats.
Just as private-sector union membership naturally declines, membership among state employees has risen as legislatures unionize state workers. State union membership rose to 29.4% last year — about 23 points higher than the private-sector membership rate.
Colorado’s legislative Democrats plan to add an estimated 28,000 state employees to union roles with House Bill 1153, which passed out of committee in late January.
The bill would authorize state employees to use collective bargaining against the state government for wages and benefits. The euphemistic 30-page bill never mentions “union,” instead to describing “partnership units” and “Certified Employee organizations.” Sponsors titled the bill the “Colorado Partnership for Quality Jobs and Services Act.”
State employees should continue working for Colorado taxpayers, not a union the Democratic Party intends to patronize as another loyal constituency rewarded with disproportionately lucrative contracts. Taxpayers don’t need the wages they pay public employees going to unions that fund campaigns of politicians who support union-friendly contracts.
While most state workers are dedicated to their jobs and the public they serve, the public has also endured dysfunction. No one should forget the chaotic state of the Colorado Department of Transportation in recent years. The agency claimed no money for roads while $150 million on new office space. A 2019 audit exposed alarming accounting and transparency problems. Union contracts will create a buffer between state employees and taxpayers to the detriment of the governed.
With or without a union, state employees have benefits most private-sector employees would trade for. The more fortunate among private-sector employees have 401K “defined contribution” retirement accounts susceptible to market fluctuations. State employees have old-fashioned “defined benefit” retirement benefits that guarantee retirement incomes regardless of market conditions. If the Public Employee Retirement Association goes broke, the government will expect taxpayers to bail out recipients.
Unions began as a means for private-sector employees to negotiate percentages of profits they generate. This process was never intended for public employees, who work for non-profit government entities. There are no profits to share; just the taxes generated by the private-sector workforce.
“It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government,” said George Meany, former president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O, in 1955.
Pay state employees what they are worth, but keep them working for the taxpayers who pay them. That means rejecting this politically motivated push for unionization.