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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Public Employee Collective Bargaining and State Budgets

To hear Republicans tell the tale, destroying public employee collective bargaining rights–as is currently being attempted in Wisconsin and Ohio–is essential in addressing the current state budget crisis in most parts of the country.
Aside from the fact that many Republican governors and legislators are manufacturing or exacerbating budget crises by pushing for tax cuts or corporate welfare (notably in Wisconsin and in Florida), it’s not at all clear there’s any correlation between public employee collective bargaining rights and budget problems.
As it happens, (these numbers are from American Rights At Work) thirteen states have no collective bargaining rights for public employees, and others limit them to selected public employees. Are these states in fine fiscal shape? Not entirely. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, three of the 13 non-collective bargaining states are among the eleven states facing budget shortfalls at or above 20% (Texas, Louisiana, North Carolina). Another, South Carolina, comes in at a sizable 17.4%. Nevada, where state employees have no collective bargaining rights (but local employees do) has the largest percentage shortfall in the country, at 45.2%. All in all, eight non-collective-bargaining states face larger budget shortfalls than either Wisconsin or Ohio.
An agenda of busting public employee unions does not appear to be any sort of budgetary silver bullet, and instead, should just be understood as representing the ancient conservative hostility to unions and workers’ rights generally, with fiscal problems, real or manufactured, just serving as a fresh excuse to grind this particular ideological ax and wage class warfare.

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