Actually, public employee unions do four very bad, interrelated things.
First, as Barone points out, they force taxpayers to fund Democrat politicians. Taxpayers pay public employees, and union dues are generally taken by automatic payroll deduction from those paychecks and delivered to the unions. The unions then use those dues to elect Democrats into office:
Walker was staging “an assault on unions,” [Pres. Obama] said, and added that “public employee unions make enormous contributions to our states and our citizens.”
Enormous contributions, yes — to the Democratic Party and the Obama campaign. Unions, most of whose members are public employees, gave Democrats some $400 million in the 2008 election cycle. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the biggest public employee union, gave Democrats $90 million in the 2010 cycle.
Follow the money, Washington reporters like to say. The money in this case comes from taxpayers, present and future, who are the source of every penny of dues paid to public employee unions, who in turn spend much of that money on politics, almost all of it for Democrats. In effect, public employee unions are a mechanism by which every taxpayer is forced to fund the Democratic Party.
Thus, one of the problems with allowing public employee unions is similar to the main problem with public broadcasting. Both use taxpayer dollars to fund liberals and advance their agenda. That is wrong.
Second, the unions then “bargain” on behalf of their members with the very officials they are in large part responsible for electing. The unions thus have a seat on each side of the table, while taxpayers have none. As a result, public employees receive above-market salaries and benefits, and taxpayers get the shaft. Governments do not need to turn a profit — they merely go back to the taxpayers and try to extract more money in taxes — so there is no market mechanism to reign in spending on public employees.
Third, the budgetary mechanisms that might keep public employees compensation in check are gamed by the unions and the politicians they elected. Since salaries squeeze other budget priorities and are a visible budget item, much of the cost of public employees is shifted to the future through cushy pensions, early retirement, excessive “sick day” payouts upon retirement, etc., that the politicians then under-fund to hide the their true costs. When the bill comes due, the politicians who gave public employees and their unions gobs of other peoples’ money to secure their own seat at the public trough are long retired.
Fourth, (back to Barone) the unions’ “incentives are to increase the cost of government and reduce down toward zero the accountability of public employees — both contrary to the interests of taxpaying citizens.” Hence, the joy of going to the DMV.
But it is not just the cost of government that the unions have an incentive to increase. It is also the size. Every new public employee is an additional union member and forced donor to the Democratic party. And the cycle continues.