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A Discussion on the Challenges Facing Government, Public Services and Public Sector Collective Bargaining in the U.S.

December 2011

Based on a transcript of a seminar in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute entitled “The War Against Public Service and Public Employee Unions.”

On June 8, 2011, leaders of U.S. public employee unions met in Washington, D.C. to discuss the crisis facing government and public services in the U.S. and to consider strategies and actions that would introduce balance into a public discourse dominated by an anti-government and anti-union narrative. The meeting featured expert speakers, including top economists, legal scholars, and public opinion researchers, as well as national, state and local union officers.

Other participants were senior staff from the AFT, AFSCME, SEIU, CWA as well as officers and other experts from Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Planning for the program began in the fall of 2010, prior to the November mid-term elections. After those elections, governors in states such as Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana launched an attack on public sector unions, with the overt goal of eliminating or sharply reducing collective bargaining rights for public sector workers, events that added urgency to the event.

This unprecedented attack in late 2010 had its roots in an anti-government ideology that over the past 30 years has come to dominate political discourse in the U.S., and has already gone a long way toward undermining the social and economic institutions – like unions — that have sustained the American Dream since the New Deal period. The largely successful attack on private sector unions has eroded a non-governmental pillar of U.S. democracy and the country’s middle class.

Although the Institute’s programs are normally off the record — in order to encourage a frank and often provocative

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exchange on sometimes sensitive issues – -the urgency of the moment and the rich discussions offered during the program prompted a reconsideration of that practice. It seemed clear that the content of these presentations could contribute to the very important debate about the place of government and public services in a healthy economy.

Accordingly, with the permission of the speakers, the Institute has posted some of the key presentations, with their follow up discussions, on its website. The Q & A’s are featured without identification. The presentations are derived from taped transcripts of the meeting and have been edited only for clarity and readability.

The issues presented are far ranging, and touch on a number of critically important topics, including the impact of government spending on economic growth and healthy democratic participation; comparisons of public/private sector employee compensation; the legal status and history of public sector collective bargaining and suggested innovations to that process; the relationship of good government and a strong union voice to a healthy democracy; and the political forces driving the anti-union, anti-public services campaign and how they are funded.

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The program began with a presentation on “Why we need public spending.” an exhaustively-researched study on public spending, public services and economic growth in the OECD countries, including the U.S. Drawing on data reaching back as far as 135 years ago, the study rejects the view that government spending is a drag

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These data were particularly salient in view of the continuing debate over the best strategy to create jobs in this period of economic crisis — austerity or public spending.

Among the most compelling aspects of the presentations were those that focused on “myth-busting.” For example, speakers presented data that discredited the methodology and conclusions of the frequently heard claims that public sector worker compensation exceeds that of the private sector. Other speakers presented data comparing U.S. health

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data revealed that the U.S., which alone among advanced countries has a private health care system, pays far more for its health care, with worse results for its citizens, than countries with public systems. Other data examined myths about taxes, especially the notion that high taxes lead to low growth. The data show there is no such linkage. In addition, high tax countries score higher on quality-of-life indices.

Other cross/national comparisons revealed an interesting positive correlation between the rate of democratic participation and the level of government spending: the more government spends, the more people turn out to vote.

In addition top legal scholars discussed the history of public sector bargaining in the U.S., and its impact on government costs and effectiveness. The discussions included proposals for concrete reforms to ‘scope of bargaining’ laws, designed to encourage labor management collaboration on productivity and efficiency in government.

Below are links to the transcripts. We hope you find the information useful.


Demos transcript.f

Finkin Malin Kochan.f

DiCarlo-Keefe-Brynien Transcript.fl

MK Shanker PPT 06 08 2011 RED

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