The tyranny of public sector unions

Public sector unions across the country have distorted public policy, rendered government less efficient and effective than they otherwise could be and maintain this unaffordable state of affairs through brute political force.

This is expertly argued and explained in the forthcoming book “Not Accountable: Rethinking the Constitutionality of Public Employee Unions” by longtime civic leader and author Philip K. Howard.

Howard, who heads up the nonpartisan good government group Common Good, walks readers through the origins of public sector union power and how they have ravaged systems of accountability in public sector systems they have managed to take over.

“Governing not only requires supervisory judgments about personnel, but it also requires coordinating people, allocating resources effectively, and continually adapting to new needs and circumstances,” writes Howard.

Public sector unions have eviscerated these decision-making abilities through collective bargaining agreements imposing their preferences on how public agencies and departments function.

It is thanks to police union protections, for example, that someone like Derek Chauvin could rack up numerous complaints over the course of years and not get fired. It took Chauvin murdering George Floyd, and setting off riots across the country, for him to be held accountable. And let’s not pretend Chauvin was the only thug in uniform protected by his union.

And it is thanks to teachers union protections here in California that the Golden State’s K-12 can produce truly mediocre results — with most students not being able to read or do math at grade level, and ranking at or near the bottom on national standardized tests — and yet few teachers are ever terminated for being objectively terrible at their jobs.

Public sector unions are able to get away with all of this because the people they negotiate with, the politicians, are, quite often, people the unions got into office in the first place.

It is here that Howard reminds the reader that, once upon a time, labor leaders recognized that public sector unions were not, in fact, the same as private sector unions. Completely different beast.

“It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government,” said George Meany, who helped found the AFL-CIO, in 1955.

And of course there was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who once said, “Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the government…The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.”

And yet, this is what happened, creating a voter bloc out of public sector unions who care about their own wealth, convenience and power far more than the interests of the taxpaying public.

The public sector unions spend vast sums of money to get what they want by ensuring only the people they want are in power.

Locally, we have seen the police union in Santa Ana recall Councilmember Cecilia Iglesias for voting against their contract. The deputies union in Riverside County spent massively to take out Sheriff Stan Sniff in 2018 for daring to run the sheriff’s department without their permission. They took out Supervisor Jeff Hewitt in 2022 for daring to question lucrative new union contracts. In 2020, we saw the prison guard union spend around $1 million to take out Sen. John Moorlach to get their puppet Dave Min elected. Police unions in Orange County likewise worked hard to keep Moorlach and Pat Bates off the Board of Supervisors in subsequent years.

The unions want obedient minions only.

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Those are just some obvious examples, not to mention the countless examples of people discouraged from running or people in office right now who know better but are terrified of the public sector unions.

Is that in the best interests of taxpayers? Of ordinary people who just expect government agencies and workers to do a competent job?

Any reasonable person knows the answer to that.

“No one elected unions to co-run American government,” writes Howard, who calls for dismantling public sector union power and barring them from political activity.

After a decade as a journalist in California, I agree.

I highly recommend readers interested in this matter seek out a copy of Howard’s book, which is due to be released on Tuesday.

Sal Rodriguez can be reached at

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