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When Public Servants Become 'Public Serpents'

Soon after the presidential election Washington Post reporter Lisa Rein wrote: “President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress are drawing up plans to take on the government bureaucracy they have long railed against, by eroding job protections and grinding down benefits that federal workers have received for a generation.”

We can only hope!

It wasn’t always this way. Fifty-five years ago President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10988, which allowed federal workers to unionize and collectively bargain.  

Labor unions had pressed President Franklin D. Roosevelt to permit federal employees to unionize, but FDR rejected the idea. And that’s how it was until JFK had to “show his appreciation,” shall we say, to organized labor for its support in the 1960 presidential election.  

Later presidents used executive orders to expand union protections to federal workers, until they became law.  

Today unionized government workers represent nearly half of all union membership.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2016, there were 7.1 million people in public sector unions vs. 7.4 million in the private sector.  However, the membership rate for public sector unions (34.4 percent) is five times higher than the private sector (6.4 percent). 

As President Trump is discovering, many federal employees no longer do their job—or any job, for that matter. And yet they are often protected from being fired by their unions. 

One job they do pay attention to is union business. According to a recent report from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), in 2014 federal employees spent 3,468,170 hours on “official time” (i.e., a term that, ironically, means working on union business). The report continues, “The estimated total payroll costs, average salary and benefits, for FY 2014 official time hours were $162,522,763.” 

Ouch! I’ll bet there are some much more productive uses for that money than paying union members to spend millions of hours trying to grab even more taxpayer money.  

It is time to end this nonsense. Federal workers are the most overprotected and overpaid workers in the country—with the possible exception of members of Congress. 

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker took on the state employee unions and won—and became a national hero. 

FDR had it right: Federal government workers should not be allowed to unionize and collectively bargain for more of your tax dollars. That right has turned them from being public servants into public serpents.