by Hannah Cox
President Joe Biden has made it pretty clear he idolizes Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR). A painting of #32 hangs in his office, he frequently invokes the former president in his speeches, and the media often draws comparisons between the two progressives.
But as much as Biden seems to draw on FDR’s legacy, his knowledge of his positions seems to have one glaring omission. FDR was opposed to public sector unions.
Public sector unions are having a moment in the spotlight, and not in a good way. Their actions over the past year have incurred ire from all political directions. Many Americans have become aware of the role police unions play in protecting bad apples, blocking popular criminal justice reforms, and preventing transparency as extrajudicial killings and the resulting protests have demanded attention on our justice system.
And across the nation, millions of families have been harmed by teachers’ unions who in many states played a significant role in keeping schools locked down—often for overtly political reasons. Some demanded taxpayer-funded childcare before they would return to the classroom, others insisted on Medicare for All at the federal level, raising taxes at the state level, blocking charter schools, or defunding the police.
Corey DeAngelis, National Director of Research at the American Federation for Children found that, “School closures are uncorrelated with the actual incidence of the virus, but are rather strongly associated with unionization, which implies that the decision to close schools has been a political—not scientific—decision.”
These school closures have had devastating effects on families and children: the loss of education, loss of work, and mental health issues at the top of the list.
But while the public’s sentiments towards public sector unions may be shifting, membership remains five times higher than that in private sector unions.
For many Americans, labor unions have long been a fading issue. Private sector membership is at an all-time low, more than half the country prohibits workers from being forced to join a union, and thanks to a recent US Supreme Court decision, employees can no longer be compelled to pay union dues. It turns out that when given the choice, most workers feel they are better off without a union in the free market.
But in the public sector, government-employees continue to embrace unionization because of the ways it allows them to entrench their own power. This was a problem predicted by FDR.
It turns out that when given the choice, most workers feel they are better off without a union in the free market.
While FDR was a huge proponent of private sector unions and did much to increase their power over individuals, he was opposed to organized labor in the public sector for a few reasons. First, when public unions strike, they strike against taxpayers (their ultimate employers). He considered this “unthinkable and intolerable.”
Secondly, FDR and other earlier leaders in the union movement recognized that while unions serve as a vehicle to get workers more of the profits they help generate, government workers do not generate profits. Therefore, public unions merely lobby for more tax money.
And lastly, government collective bargaining ultimately means voters have less of a say in their own political process and on public policy. Their elected officials instead are forced to negotiate spending and policy decisions with unions versus the people they are supposed to represent. That is certainly a perversion of democratic processes, and it’s one democrats used to be opposed to.
Public unions merely lobby for more tax money.
President Joe Biden seems determined to elevate unions. In his first few months in office he has already pushed the PRO Act (which kills independent contracting at unions’ behest), advocated the elimination of Right to Work laws, and launched a new task force that will explore ways for the government to use its authority to push unionization. These actions are a grave mistake and will further remove power from the people and give it to special interests.
Instead of focusing on ways to eliminate workers’ choices and job opportunities in the free market, the Biden administration ought to be working to uphold the rights of taxpayers and free them from the oppression of public sector unions.
Ultimately, public sector unions work against the American people on their own dime. FDR opposed that injustice, and if Biden really wants to follow in his footsteps, he should, too.
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Hannah Cox is the Content Manager and Brand Ambassador for the Foundation for Economic Education.
Photo “Franklin D. Roosevelt” by Leon A. Perskie CC 2.0.