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The system is broke

3/23/2010, 10:14 a.m.
“I wonder who is representing the taxpayers in that room?”

The system is broke

Politicians in Massachusetts who plan to run for re-election are unlikely to discuss openly the high cost to the taxpayer of public employee unions; to be tabbed as anti-union in this state would be an insuperable political impediment.

It is natural for workers to want more pay and benefits and better working conditions. Industrial unions provide the mechanism for employees to challenge the policies of management, the representatives of the owners of the business. Both management and the shareholders share a common interest in curtailing expenses in order to increase profits.

However, that is not how it works in the public sector. Politicians who negotiate with unions only theoretically represent the interests of taxpayers. The major concern of professional politicians is to win re-election or be promoted to an even higher office. The support of a large and well-organized union can be very helpful in achieving those goals.

Clearly, there is an unavoidable conflict of interest in the public sector model of unionization. Citizens tend to ignore this conflict as simply the way society is structured. However, like other flaws in the system, the time usually comes when the problem creates conditions which are unacceptable. The dramatic rise in health insurance costs has created such a situation.

The national recession has reduced revenues to cities and towns even while health care costs have continued to rise. In Boston, health insurance costs have doubled over the past 10 years, a rate of increase that has surpassed inflation and the growth of other municipal expenditures. However, there is little Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino and other city mayors can do to remedy the problem because state law gives public unions veto power over changes to health insurance plans.

Citizens as taxpayers are supposed to be the ultimate beneficiaries of municipal government. One is hard-pressed to find any way that such a law benefits the public. Unions used their clout to induce politicians to pass a law which is of no benefit to the general public, and is now detrimental. Also, state pensions that provide health insurance cannot require beneficiaries to enroll in Medicare at age 65. This increases the cost of the pension to the taxpayer.

In private commerce, companies have labor relations departments with the sole responsibility to understand the law and monitor union activity. It is time for citizens to provide the same scrutiny to assure that public-employee unions serve the public interest.

Individual effort needed

On “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, civil rights demonstrators were brutally attacked as they marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. In commemoration of the 45th anniversary of that event, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan went to Selma and promised to continue the struggle for equal educational opportunity.

It is indeed encouraging to have a federal administration that is acutely sensitive to the problem of racial discrimination in education. However, these efforts will be fruitful only with the hard work and commitment to excellence of African American students.

Now is the time for blacks to claim their academic birthright.