desks

Monster Monopoly Bargaining

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Austin Berg shows how Illinois public sector unions use and keep their power in watchdog.org.

Illinoisans are a giving bunch.

But there’s a difference between giving thanks and getting played.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the powers granted to government worker unions. Wonder why Illinois property taxes are so high? This out-of-whack power balance has a lot to do with it.

Government worker unions in Illinois enjoy unlimited scope in bargaining subjects, no limits on the length of most contracts, and the power to shut it all down if they don’t get what they want.

Taken together, that’s a toxic trio. Every neighboring state has taken steps to rein in at least one of hose powers. Illinois is a laggard in this regard – the last holdout.

First, the “right” to shut down government services. All of Illinois’ neighboring states – Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin – prohibit strikes for most or all government workers. The reason is simple: Government worker strikes are not the same as strikes in the private sector. Instead of hurting the party on the other side of the negotiating table, innocent residents reliant on services take the hit.

But in Illinois, a “right to strike” is actually enshrined in state law. The result? Since 2012 alone, the Chicago Teachers Union has gone on strike or threatened to go on strike at least four times. In May, faculty at the University of Illinois-Springfield walked out on students a week before finals. And in February, Illinois’ largest government worker union, which represents 35,000 state workers, authorized a strike should Gov. Bruce Rauner implement a contract the union didn’t like.

Because there are virtually no limits on the length of contracts or what may be bargained for, this strike power is a cudgel for outrageous deals at taxpayers’ expense.

That’s really the crux of the issue. Decade long deals can’t account for changes in technology or economic conditions. They also prevent accountability for elected officials. Voters can oust politicians, but those contracts will remain on the books for years, regardless of who’s in charge.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana and Michigan all restrict the length of collective bargaining agreements for some or all government workers.

So if Illinois lawmakers are soliciting gift ideas for their constituents, they only need to take a peek over the state border. Balancing the scales at the bargaining table is an essential step in fixing the property tax problem.

 

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