Productivity Isn’t in the Union Interest
The budget battle has come and gone, but one section of an op-ed that Independent state Senator Ed O’Neil published in May is worth considering:
George Nee, president of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, has said publicly that we should give our state workers a chance to improve productivity. They know best how to get the job done. I agree with Mr. Nee on this point.
Operational excellence is a natural outcome of people working as a team. Everyone needs an oar in the water to get our costs down. A new day has dawned, and Rhode Islanders are beginning to realize that we need to work together to get our state operations lean. That means better thinking, better systems, better tools, and better leadership.
Employees may “know best” how their workplace functions, but it isn’t in their interest to be more efficient. In the business world, employees at least know that increases in their pay require expansion of their employers’ revenue or dollars freed up through productivity. They also know that their jobs are at risk if the financial reality goes the other way.
In the government world, increases in pay are tied to political leverage. It doesn’t have to be that way; super-productive workers could lead to low-cost government that satisfies more recipients of government services while not causing excessive pain to taxpayers, thus accruing credit to elected officials, but decades of maneuvering by bureaucratic administrators and labor unions have left us in an untenable position.
Citizens are paying so much, often for services that they don’t want, that a correction is necessary. Therefore, employees would be far down the line in profiting from the efficiencies that increased productivity would create — after decreasing debt and eliminating deficits and after decreasing the cost of government to residents. Organized union entities have even more reason to undermine efficiency: An employee might stand to profit if his or her high efficiency eliminates the need for the public to hire additional workers, but the union to which he or she belongs would stand to lose dues and political clout.