The government we want is nimble, flexible, and responsive. The government we experience, in many cases, is slow, cumbersome, and totally unresponsive. Let’s put this another way: We want our government to operate like our favorite business. We believe, in contrast, that our government is the poster child for lumbering bureaucratic inefficiency and employees who are out of touch with the realities of the marketplace. Twenty plus years of working with private and public sector organizations has taught me that the truth is actually somewhere between the two extremes.
Southwest Airlines faced a dilemma early in its operation—a cash shortage was forcing it to sell one of its four airplanes. The implications are obvious—selling the airplane generates cash for operations and cuts capacity to generate future revenue. Government leaders are facing their version of this challenge in budget meetings across the country. Should we raise taxes and fees in a difficult economy, or do we cut services at a time when they may be needed most?
Public employee unions could significantly increase their chances for voter support by taking the lead – or at least working together with their opponents – on the following actions: 1. Take strikes, work stoppages, and slowdowns off the table. The public has a right to expect that its public agencies continue to function even if there is a disagreement over terms of the contract. In return for this, public employee unions should receive the right for expedited arbitration over violations of the contract.
The standoff between Republican elected officials and their Democratic colleagues over the roll and scope of collective bargaining with public sector unions has escalated to the point where rhetoric has overtaken reason. So let’s look at what this means and why public sector unions could become extinct.
Fourteen senators leave the state. 60,000 plus show up to demonstrate. And, the next thing you know there’s a national debate on the role of public employee unions in the state budget crisis occurring throughout the country. Those who support the unions see this as a not-so-veiled attempt to alter the essence of collective bargaining and limit the people’s right to protest. Union members see it as a fundamental challenge to their right to organize, and in some cases, a violation of their contract. The union leadership no doubt sees it as payback for supporting Democratic and pro-labor candidates. Those who support the various initiatives view this as a much needed step to reign in spending that is out of control. They view unions as – at worst - the enemy that have secured salary and benefits that are unavailable to them as private sector employees. “Why should government employees experience no pain when they are out of work,” they ask. There are probably even Republicans who view this as the perfect opportunity to weaken a political opponent. The problem with perceptions is that it only takes one act to prove you are right. As the saying goes, “All Indians walk in single file. I know that to be true because the one I saw was doing it that way.”