Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Okay - I will do the Unpopular Thing

and disagree with Nick here about the contracts for public employee unions. The fact is that the MTA gets a number of things in a collective bargaining arrangement:

1. Uniform vesting periods for pensions and other benefits as a necessary precondition to payment of those benefits

Not only does this provide inducement for people to remain on the job, but without meeting the preconditions, the MTA wouldn't have to pay anything (or much less)

2. A steady stream of trained labor for a unique position

One of the reasons Pataki coudln't fire everyone after the strike was that, unlike Reagan, who had military air traffic controllers to replace civilian ones in 1982, to whom would Pataki turn to run the trains?

3. Labor cost-controllability

4. Rules for discipline that are agreed on by both sides

5. Efficiency in labor relations (take advanatge of collective action and reduce free-rider problem)

Now while it could be argued that all of these things could be done on an individual basis (the free-rider issue could be fixed terms set by the MTA), collective bargaining, unlike regular at-will employment, also triggers legal requirements and protections for both sides under the Federal and State labor laws. The MTA is protected from illegal job actions taken by the union and union members, as we saw with the application of the Taylor Law. This is a much-sought after benefit, as most laws protect the employer from union activity.

Also, there is a lot to be said for treating workers fairly in the bargaining process rather then negotiating deals with individuals or, more likely, setting unilateral terms on job-seekers. The body public has an interest in treating its employees fairly and the bargaining process guarantees this to be the case (or at least it is presumed).

Further, the is nothing wrong with unions as an entity to balance power in the employer-employee context. Think of it this way, non-union, non-professional jobs typically pay much lower than their union counterparts. Many times this has to do with education and inability of workers to assess the market. Employers take advantage of such things in negotiations of salary and benefit terms with individual employees.

While you may have had fun at your cleaning lady's expense, my guess is that she is exactly the person unions were designed to protect - ones that could not effectively advocate on her own behalf and equalize power in the employer-employee relationship.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

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