Community Commentary: Collective bargaining not a bargain for Costa Mesa residents

Collective bargaining. Sounds innocuous, doesn't it?

After all, it's just a term for when a bunch of nice people get together, form a union or association, and then lend each other their group authority and the weight of their numbers to extract better wages and benefits from those for whom they work, under the threat of picking up their sweaty headbands and lunch buckets and heading off to the bunkhouse if they don't get their way.

You know, the evil demons who make it their business to mistreat, abuse, overwork and under-appreciate the efforts put forth by the loyal minions who toil endlessly so "The Man" can continue to ride around in his stretch limo and eat caviar and drink French wine at expensive restaurants while laughing derisively at the trolls way, way down the food chain.

To be sure, I'm talking about private corporations here. The big-time outfits that make the stuff we just love to buy.

And most Americans don't have a problem with private corporations. If private businesses want to pay union wages and live with union rules, they should be free to do so. And if customers discover that products and services produced by union labor cost more — without a concomitant increase in quality, longevity and/or utility — they should be free to vote with their feet and pocketbooks and buy from concerns that aren't saddled with union involvement.

And they do, having chosen of late, as an example, to buy many more Hondas and Toyotas and Mazdas and Nissans made in right-to-work states like Alabama and Mississippi and South Carolina, than union-controlled GM and Chrysler and Ford cars made in Detroit (have they turned out the lights there yet?).

It's the public employee unions that are the focus of this meager literary effort. Despite the fact that FDR prohibited federal workers from collectively bargaining back in 1937, and Jimmy Carter signed legislation preventing Fed workers from unionizing in 1978, putting up a firewall against our current 2.2 million federal workforce(!) from doing so even now, states and counties and cities and townships often permit it. And often, it's now appearing, to their peril.

Some quick research indicates that no fewer than 77 American cities, and perhaps many hundreds more, are currently staring at bankruptcy, primarily due to unfunded and growing union pension obligations. A few worthy of mention are: San Diego; San Jose; Cincinnati; Honolulu; San Francisco; Los Angeles; Newark, N.J.; Reading, Penn.; Camden, N.J.; Chicago; Harrisburg, Penn.; Fort Worth, Texas; Jacksonville, Fla.; St. Paul, Minn.; and Boston.

Just recently, Central Falls, R.I., declared Chapter 9 bankruptcy. This city was unable to meet its retirees' ballooning pension payment obligations, and the retirees were unwilling to renegotiate their benefits. They were offered 50 cents on the dollar. They refused. Now they may receive nothing.

So when cities, counties and states wake up to discover that they're going broke paying ever-escalating salaries, benefits and pension payments to members of government employee unions, and then try to correct the problem, the unions can, to put it mildly, react badly.

And every effort to curtail the ever-diminishing ranks of the union types (only 6.9% private, 36.2% public) is often met by a less-than-socially acceptable response.

Consider the trashing of the Capitol building in Madison, Wis., recently. Those nice union people did more than $8 million in damages to this venerated old building in an effort to convince Gov. Scott Walker to stop trying to balance his books by forcing them to actually contribute to their own health insurance and retirement.

The cad! Imagine that: "Keep paying me lots and lots of money without requiring me to cough up any significant health or retirement contributions or I'll tear down this building!"

Just remember this: When public employee unions are "collectively bargaining," they are bargaining against you and me, the taxpayers. The unions and the people they are bargaining with are the same folks to whom they gave — and give — huge political donations so they can get elected and reelected. And then they wind up sitting with those they elected on the same side of the bargaining table. And you and I don't even have a seat!

Maybe that's why unionized public sector employees wind up making up to twice as much as those for whom they work.

How about $200,000 a year Newport Beach lifeguards? Please!

Any similarity between the aforementioned and the situation we are currently facing in Costa Mesa is purely intentional.

CHUCK CASSITY lives in Costa Mesa

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