Pawlenty: ‘The Moral Case For Unions…Does Not Apply To Public Employment’

Last week, Gov.-elect John Kasich (R-OH) said that his “personal philosophy” entails no public employee ever having the right to strike. “If they want to strike, they should be fired,” Kasich said.

As Tanya Somanader pointed out, Ohio public safety employees are not allowed to strike, but Kasich also wants to eliminate alternatives to striking that those workers were afforded by a 1983 collective bargaining law, so “not only would Kasich like to fire any police officer or firefighter for a right they are not given, he wants to eliminate the only remaining tool they have as a viable alternative.”

But Kasich is not the only Republican governor who casually dismisses the notion that public employees should be afforded worker’s rights. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed today, Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) wrote that the moral case for unions “does not apply to public employment”:

The moral case for unions — protecting working families from exploitation — does not apply to public employment. Government employees today are among the most protected, well-paid employees in the country. Ironically, public-sector unions have become the exploiters, and working families once again need someone to stand up for them.

Throughout the op-ed, Pawlenty also perpetuates the myth that government employees are being paid significantly more than their private-sector counterparts. According to data from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, federal workers actually earn 22 percent less than comparable private sector workers. Research by Harvard economist George Borjas shows that, at the top-end, private sector pay is so much better that the public sector has “found it increasingly more difficult to attract and retain high-skill workers.”


Pawlenty’s simplistic view of unions is really the focus of the piece, though. First, it’s folly to think, as Pawlenty seems to, that government employees can’t be exploited on the job. Just last month, In These Times released a report showing that The Department of Veterans Affairs “is paying some of its employees — including veterans — close to poverty wages.”

But unions are about much more than simply protecting workers from exploitation. Workers unionize so that they have a voice on the job, can collectively bargain for better wages and benefits, and to push for policies that will ensure that they and their families share in the fruits of their labor. It’s no surprise that as unionization has declined, wages have stagnated, even as productivity soared.

It’s become the meme of the moment to bash public employees — with Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN) disparaging them as a “new privileged class” — and even President Obama bought into it with his misguided federal pay freeze. But to say that these workers shouldn’t be afforded the rights to organize for better pay, benefits, and work conditions simply because they work for the government is another step altogether, as Pawlenty plays for the support of the far-right.