Business Review Board / Mar. 28, 2017

Unions and Government ≠ Accountability

Kushner’s new role — inserting private sector accountability — is easier said than done.

Today, unions serve two notably nefarious purposes. They are reprehensibly exploited by special interest groups for political leverage, and they obstruct accountability. In January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 14.6 million Americans were unionized last year. This represents 10.7% of the entire labor force. There’s no question the trend is down — 2016 union membership saw a year-over-year reduction of 240,000. For perspective, the report notes, “In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.”

However, even though overall union membership is down by the millions, government workers are disproportionately far likelier to join unions. According to the report, “Public-sector workers had a union membership rate (34.4 percent) more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.4 percent).” Moreover, in 2014, $162.5 million in taxpayer dollars were steered toward promoting the interests of government union cohorts. This isn’t coincidental. As David French so eloquently states, “Aside from the tiny slice of presidential appointees, government workers enjoy extraordinary job security, and many of them take full advantage of their freedom to fail.” Which gets us to Jared Kushner.

Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and one of his closest aides, is being tapped to head the newly formed White House Office of American Innovation, or what The Washington Post is describing as a “SWAT team” whose role will be “harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions.” In other words, the office’s task is to take the successes of private sector ventures and implement those skills at the federal level to reform government bloat. Unfortunately, as French notes, this is easier said than done — if it can be done at all. “There is no substitute for meaningful incentives, and right now success or failure is more abstract for public employees than it is for private-sector workers,” says French.

The private sector has less cronyism because accountability keeps workers’ toes to the fire. Whereas employees at the VA, IRS and DOJ — many of whom are protected by unions — are getting away with egregious sins. Concludes French: “I wish Kushner well as he tries to make government great again, but I fear he’s been given a task that he doesn’t have the tools to complete.” Congress can give him those tools. The problem is that some inconspicuous lawmakers are more in tune with unions than they care to admit. And until that changes, the status quo will remain.

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