This week it was revealed that the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest government employee union, is actively involved in recall campaigns targeting Gov. Rick Snyder and many Republican legislators. Reportedly, the union is spending money and encouraging its members to participate in the recalls, which are based on bills passed this year that modestly trimmed union power and government employee benefits.
According to the Detroit Free Press, “MEA spokesman Doug Pratt said the union will focus money and volunteers on some of the efforts — and may initiate its own — to recall Republicans in places where ‘we have the highest likelihood of success.’”
The Jackson Citizen Patriot reports that the MEA contacted local recall leaders to offer them help. "I was grateful," [petitioner] Ernie Whiteside said. "It certainly will be easier to increase our volunteer group by working officially through the MEA leadership."
Opinions may vary on the legitimacy of recalls motivated by policy differences (as opposed to lawmaker malfeasance). Yet every resident should find it disturbing when a union representing what are supposed to be “public servants” works to recall duly elected lawmakers for being good stewards of taxpayer interests. Specifically, for having acted to rein in unsustainable and unaffordable government employee perks and privileges, among them the excessive power of their union.
The spectacle raises the question of whether government employees are supposed to serve the people, or the other way around. By seeking to recall the people’s representatives, this union is asserting the latter.
Government employee unions are a relatively recent phenomenon, granted their current power starting in the 1960s and 1970s by politicians the unions themselves helped to elect. That power consists of allowing unions to forcibly extract dues from government employees, and forcing schools and local governments to engage in collective bargaining, no matter how unreasonable the union’s demands.
While government employees can prevent their union dues from going to direct campaign contributions to candidates, in a variety of indirect ways their money nevertheless supports the union’s political agenda. At its heart, that agenda consists of increasing the union’s own power, and redistributing ever more money from taxpayers to government and public school employee unions.
In 2009, professors Fred Siegel and Dan DiSalvo eloquently described the problem in an appropriately named article published by The Weekly Standard, "The New Tammany Hall":
Unlike private sector unions, the sheer number of workers represented is not the linchpin of [the public sector unions] influence. Private sector unions have a natural adversary in the owners of the companies with whom they negotiate. But public sector unions have no such natural counterweight. They are a classic case of "client politics," where an interest group's concentrated efforts to secure rewards impose diffused costs on the mass of unorganized taxpayers.
These union-supported recalls escalate into open political warfare what heretofore had been stealthy “guerilla” actions targeted against taxpayers, such as union members using the resources of public universities, school districts and other public entities for political purposes. Taxpayers need to wake up to this reality and fight back, or they will get hurt. Public officials are the proximate targets of the union’s actions, but their ultimate objective is taxpayer wallets.