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Opinion

April 2, 2014

RYAN CUMMINS: How to deal with public-employee unions

An open letter to Indiana's city councils

By RYAN CUMMINS

gUEST COLUMNIST

The problem: A public-employee union has no check, no market mechanism, to temper its power. The solution: You, the councilman.

A free market theoretically provides a check on private-sector unions except that government so often steps in to establish special rules. Couple that with a general body of law biased toward union labor and we face a situation where public-employee unions (PEUs) can and will lead local and state governments and their taxpayers to ruin — think San Bernardino, Harrisburg, Detroit, Illinois.

But again, you can change that. The check on PEU excesses is the councilman, a principled representative of the taxpayer and all private citizens. You, legally and practically, are our only effective protection.

That said, I would recommend as a tactical matter not confronting the local unions directly by questioning their legitimacy, existence or certification. That sets up a scenario of you vs. them, management vs. employee, and that is the unions’ game.

Approach the issue from your constituents’ point of view. Indeed, it is your job to represent them in the purchase of local government services.

You must assess the purchase of that service the same way you assess the purchase of an item or service you make for yourself. That means the seller, the union or its administrative sponsor, must justify the price, make clear what will be done and detail every other aspect of the potential transaction.

In the private sector, if you, the buyer, object to some part of a transaction, you would tell the seller “no.” The same is true even when the seller is a municipal government or a public-employee union.

These sellers must meet your standard, and they should be willing to move heaven and earth to do so. It is not unreasonable to expect them to prove the value of what they are selling. And as a councilman, the buyer, it is your responsibility to continuously, tirelessly, persistently demand that the seller prove this value — every single time — or there is no sale. In the context of municipal government, this may mean a lot of “no” votes.

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