It’s funny how hard it is to give something up once you’ve got it. That’s the lesson that unions are teaching governments and the public all over America. What have been the fruits of the institution that was supposed to advance the working class and end oppression? Let’s look to the Mecca of labor unions, Detroit. The Michigan Capitol Confidential writes:
In 1950, Detroit was the wealthiest city in America on a per capita income basis. Today, the Census Bureau reports that it is the nation’s 2nd poorest major city, just “edging out” Cleveland.
Could it be pure coincidence that the decline occurred over the same period in which union power, the city government bureaucracy, taxes and business regulations all multiplied? While correlation is not causation, it is striking that the decline in per capita income is exactly what classical economists predict would occur when wage controls are imposed and taxes are increased.
“But,” you may protest, “big labor’s always had power up in the North. We’re in the South; labor unions have almost no relevance here.”
Au contraire. Though North Carolina did indeed have the nation’s lowest rate of unionization in 2009, we suffer from the same problem as the rest of the nation: government unions. From the above BLS link:
More public sector employees (7.9 million) belonged to a union than did private sector employees (7.4 million), despite there being 5 times more wage and salary workers in the private sector.
That means the unionization rate of public sector employees nationwide is more than five times that of private sector unionization. The fact that unions have all but lost relevance outside of the government should alert us to the fact that without the coercive force of government behind them, they don’t mean much.
Which is where we come back to North Carolina. One incorrigible sector union in particular has bedeviled states and local governments nationwide to no end, including North Carolina. Those are the teachers unions. Michigan Capital Confidential again shows us what happens when public unions get too much power over our children’s education:
The Detroit Federation of Teachers has won rich salary and benefits packages for its members. Median compensation for a DPS teacher is over $70,000 and Detroit spends the third highest amount of money per student among 76 large cities nationwide. Statewide, Detroit’s spending per pupil is in the 91st percentile and DPS teachers are paid at the 96th percentile. For all that, by almost any measure Detroit schools have for decades failed their students: test scores, safety, drop out rates, etc. For example, Detroit’s public school students perform at the 3rd percentile in the state – that is, they are in the lowest 3 percent, and the district is in its second state takeover in a decade.
In the private sector such failure would result in mass firings for unsatisfactory performance. No doubt such a response would be condemned by the progressives who support the school employee unions that have made similar actions impossible in their institutions, and have opposed major transformation at every turn.
For example, in 2003 philanthropist Bob Thompson offered $200 million to build 15 charter public schools in the city in which he would guarantee a 90 percent graduation rate. In response, the DFT balked because charter schools are not unionized. The outcome was that the union jobs trumped better outcomes for children.
People vote with their feet, and all the above suggests why, over the past decade, DPS has lost about 10,000 students each year to charter, independent and suburban schools.
Union power has utterly devastated Detroit’s economy and education. We don’t have to worry about UAW moving down here, but North Carolina can certainly learn from Detroit’s example by not accommodating the unions.
And if a bad example isn’t enough, we can look to Rhode Island, which has shown us that it is indeed possible to successfully play hardball with teachers unions.