Unionized Government Gets Poor Reviews

Local officials believe government employee unions more a liability than an asset

Earlier today the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy released a survey of local government officials revealing that local politicians are much more likely to see government employee unions as a negative than as a positive.

The survey, part of the Ford School’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP), asked local officials for their opinion on government employee unions. In particular the survey asked for opinions on how unions affected overall performance and fiscal health, and then asked for an assessment of labor relations between local governments and the unions that represent their employees.

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Government unions did fare poorly. Asked about overall performance, 40 percent of those who responded said that government unions were either a significant liability (six percent) or somewhat of a liability (34 percent). Only 14 percent of local officials expressed the opinion that government employee unions were a significant asset (four percent) or somewhat of an asset (10 percent). Nearly half, 44 percent, were neutral, “neither an asset nor a liability,” but negatives outweighed positives nearly three-to-one.

When the poll asked local officials to focus on the fiscal health of their communities, worries about unionized government appeared to loom larger, with 13 percent saying that government employee unions were a significant liability and 43 percent describing them as somewhat of a liability; a solid majority of local officials view government employee unions as a liability. (Positive responses held steady: 13 percent described unions as an asset.)

When asked to describe labor relations in their community, a solid majority of respondents said that they were either excellent (19 percent) or good (45 percent). Only nine percent said labor relations were poor, while 33 percent called them fair. On first glance this might seem to be a contradiction, but one suspects that most of the officials were thinking “under the circumstances, we could be doing worse.”

The Public Employee Relations Act puts local officials in a position where they must bargain with unions. The law has backfired, creating a taxpayer-funded lobby for big government and tying the hands of local officials. The PERA problem has reached the stage where even local politicians are starting to see unionized government as a liability. There is a wide range of solutions, and there is no need to shortchange workers. What is needed is a state Legislature that is ready to step up and confront the union establishment.