This is JosephSlater's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following JosephSlater's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
Recent Activity
Orin: Yes, I think the idea is that if you are assigned to work a 40 hour work, they assume you work 40 hours. Your worry about that gets back to the claim I thought you were making earlier -- public employees work less hard than private sector employees often enough to call into question these pay studies. Again, that's not been my experience. But even if one thinks that in some jobs, some public employees work less hard than analogous private employees, that's a far cry from the "we have to eliminate collective bargaining because that causes public employees to be massively overpaid to the point that it's wrecking state budgets" claim -- which seems to have pretty much no actual evidence supporting it. Matt: I agree that "rights talk" is unlikely to convince folks who aren't already sympathetic to it, especially talking about "human rights" that international organizations recognize. And as you say, there are some other vague aspects to the concept as well. On the other hand, I think it's fair to note that removing collective bargaining rights from broad swaths of workers as proposals in Wisconsin and Ohio would do would be pretty radical, not just in the "what do other industrialized democracies do" way that we liberals sometimes sigh about, but also in the "how the clear majority of the U.S. has done it for decades" way. So I think it's worth noting that much of the U.S. has traditionally thought that giving workers the ability to choose to have a collective bargaining representative at the workplace is an important right.
Orin: I've seen studies that specifically take into account (among other things) the number of hours folks are assigned to work. See, e.g., Jeffrey H. Keefe, “Are Wisconsin Public Employees Over-Compensated?” (Economic Policy Institute, Briefing Paper #290, Feb. 10, 2011), available at This study even gives separate numbers, adjusting for annual hours and not adjusting for annual hours. Without adjusting for annual hours, the study found that public employees in Wisconsin are undercompensated by 8.2% compared to comparable workers in the private sector. Adjusting for annual hours, the public workers were undercompensated by 4.8%. Keefe has done similar studies for other states, including Ohio and Michigan, which also take hours into account.
Matt: Excellent post, one minor quibble. With the caveat that I'm not an expert on the "it's a fundamental human right" argument, my impression has been that folks who argue that aren't saying that not being in a union = not having a fundamental human right. Rather -- and analogous to the point on which you agreed with me -- I thought the idea was that it was a fundamental human right to be able to choose to be in a union if you wanted to be in one. In other words, the right would be satisfied if a law was in place that gave workers a genuinely free choice whether or not to be in a union that had collective bargaining rights. Another analogy: the government would deprive me of a fundamental right if it took away my right to speak on certain matters, independent of whether or not I had spoken or wanted to speak on those matters.
Beyond the federal sector, Orin, let me ask you this: do you think faculty at public universities work significantly less hard, as a general matter, than faculty at private universities? Do you think teachers in public primary and secondary schools, as a general matter, work significantly less hard than teachers at private schools? Do the janitors that sweep the floors or the secretaries in public agencies work less hard than the janitors and secretaries in private schools? It may well be true that lawyers in the private sector, as a whole, work more hours than lawyers in the public sector. I don't know that for a fact, and I know public sector attorneys who work very hard, but the billable-hour model common in the private sector is famous for creating incentives to work -- or claim to have worked -- lots and lots of hours. And we are lawyers, so we tend to think about that. Beyond that, though, are you confident that people with pretty much the same jobs are really working that much less in the public sector?
Orin: I would be happy to send or cite to you multiple studies on the comparing-pay issue, but I would be the first to admit that none of them assume that full-time public workers are only working 30 minutes in a day. But since you shared your personal impression about federal workers, let me share mine. Before becoming an academic, I worked in Washington, DC for a decade as an attorney, and one of my main clients was a union that represented federal workers. Various locals of this union represented a range of folks, from secretaries and paralegals in the Justice Department, to janitors working for the Architect of the Capitol, to investigators and others at the Department of Agriculture. I had the general impression that at least the overwhelming majority of those folks were pretty serious about doing their jobs well, and that they were not slacking.
Also, I note that nobody has yet responded to Sanford Jacoby's excellent comment (the sixth one from the start), which points out that despite the theory Calvin espouses, nothing of the kind has actually happened in the many decades public sector bargaining has existed. Public sector compensation lags private sector compensation, comparing similar workers doing similar jobs. Total public sector compensation is under 4% of state budgets. A number of the minority of states that don't allow public sector collective bargaining have some of the most serious state budget problems (see North Carolina and Arizona -- state deficits of over 30%; same for Nevada which does not allow collective bargaining for state employees). Some public sector pensions may be underfunded, but they are usually not legal subjects of bargaining in the public sector, so you generally can't blame bargaining rights for those problems. In short, as Prof. Jacoby notes, the parade of horribles that Calvin's theory predicts have not occurred. My economics teacher used to say, "if the facts don't fit your theory, get a new theory."
Paul H.: Much more than in the private sector, wages, hours, and working conditions are set by statute and not by collective bargaining. For example, in Ohio, Wisconsin, and most jurisdictions, rules on public sector pensions are set by statute and not by collective bargaining. But it seems impractical to deal with the many, day-to-day, unique-to-a-particular-workplace issues that collective bargaining deals with via over-arching statute. And my guess is that those opposed to public sector collective bargaining wouldn't be keen on creating new statutory rights for public workers. And I don't think that proponents of collective bargaining rights are adverse to economic arguments. The drive to deprive workers in Wisconsin (and Ohio) has nothing to do with economics and everything to do with attempts to press a hyper-partisan agenda.
Also, a nice piece by Joe McCartin on Wisconsin at,1
Also, Orin, while you are certainly right that Democrats tend to be pro-union and Republicans tend to be anti-union, that's a somewhat different question than being pro-or-anti- the existence of collective bargaining rights. I haven't heard any Republicans calling for the repeal of the NLRA, for example. And that's not necessarily strange -- one can believe in the rights of people to form certain organizations, and believe that those organizations should have rights, without necessarily being a personal fan of those types of organizations. But Republicans do, at least in Ohio and Wisconsin, want to take away the right to choose to be in a union with collective bargaining rights for broad swaths of working people. That is radical not only among other industrialized democracies, but also is clearly be a minority view in U.S. politics (only 9 states or have refused to authorize collective bargaining for any public employees, and well over 30 have authorized it for public employees generally).
Always happy to plug an article that came out in my school's law review!
The classic responses to Calvin's arguments begin with the arguments in Clyde Summers, "Bargaining in the Government's Business: Principles and Politics," 18 University of Toledo L. Rev. 265 (1987). Although I'm not sure it's all that important what FDR thought in the 1930s, there's a nice interview with excellent historian Joseph McCartin in yesterday's on the topic. I would also note FDR's actions were more sympathetic than his quote suggests: he actually gave proto-collective bargaining rights to TVA employees, which was quite radical at the time. Orin, I think Paul's remark reflects that fact that in much of the rest of the industrialized word, and among many-most human rights types, the right to bargain collectively -- in the public or private sector -- really is considered a fundamental human right. I realize that some in the U.S. don't accept that or at least don't see why it's self-evident, but many of us believe it to be true. That doesn't mean it's out of bounds to disagree, of course. Finally, Grant, trust me on this: at least some of the commenters on this thread who disagree with you have a considerable amount of experience with public sector labor law and public sector labor relations -- and I don't just mean academic experience.