Government Unions Break Cities

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal illustrates how government union leaders halted any reforms that may have prevented Detroit’s bankruptcy:

A major expense for Detroit is the cost of lawsuits filed against the city for various alleged injuries on municipal property. At the transportation department, there were hundreds of claims arising from bus accidents alone. How many of those claims were fraudulent? How many were settled (with the cost of settlement and legal fees posted against DDOT’s budget) at unnecessarily high cost? …

In the DDOT we tried to hire our own lawyers to fight these claims. But we were blocked by city charter provisions prohibiting any city department from hiring outside counsel without the approval of the Detroit City Council. When we inquired with the mayor’s office we were told that the union representing the law department—in Detroit, even the lawyers are unionized—would block any such approval.

Philadelphia faces a similar fiscal crisis, for many the same reasons, as governor union leaders are working against taxpayers’ in the City of Brotherly Love.  Axis Philadelphia writes about a proposal to block the mayor from appealing an arbitration ruling requiring the city to giver workers 3 percent raises for the next three years:

This proposed intervention in the bargaining process is not just a cynical attempt to pander to labor; it is a bona fide bad idea. Imagine the reaction if someone in Council introduced a bill to forbid unions from appealing an arbitrator’s decision? There would be weeping and gnashing of teeth over the unfairness of it all. Taking away the basic rights of working men and women and etc. and so forth.

Shouldn’t that equally be true of the taxpayer’s rights? It is, after all, the taxpayers who foot the bill for contracts for city employees.  The average fire fighter makes $58,000 a year and gets $44,000 in benefits.  This is not chump change, especially in a city where the average household income is $37,000 a year. It’s incumbent on city managers to keep those costs under control.

Our elected officials aren’t in office to protect the rights and power of city unions; they are supposed to be there to protect the taxpayers.

As Matt Brouillette explained in a recent commentary, government union leaders’ unwillingness to compromise regardless of the fiscal conditions pushes cities towards bankruptcy—harming taxpayers, residents and government workers themselves.