Here's where the difference matters. The unions collect dues (often mandatory) from the employees, then use those dues to facilitate the election of politicians. They then get to negotiate with those very same politicians for their employees' rights. Where do the taxpayers get represented? Well, quite often, they don't. Yes, the politicians doing the negotiations have to answer to the tax payers every 2-4 years, but with clever accounting, essentially burying the costs in the future the politicians, and the assistance of union money to campaign, these politicians have not been held to account for the one sided deals they have helped push through.
Now, the bills are coming due. Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, California, New Jersey and New York are all suffering from a significant budget shortfall, first triggered by flagging tax receipts in this recession, but now complicated by the overly generous contracts they've signed with unions in the past. Here's my dilemna: a deal is a deal. These states made deals with the unions, and absent a valid legal reason to nullify those deals the contract should stand. In the private sector this would force an employer to either conduct lay-offs, raise prices, or simply close its doors. The governments of these states do not have all of these options. The citizens of these states, complicit through their inattention and insistance on electing and re-electing the same people year on year, still cannot absorb yet another tax burden. The government cannot simply close its doors. That leaves layoffs. From all outward signs these would have to be MASSIVE. Extreme cuts in services, ballooning classroom sizes. I can't say I disagree with the ultimate conclusion that many of these governors are coming to, I just think that the alternatives should be fully offered beforehand. In lieu of these layoffs, should the unions wish to acquiesce to having its membership pick up the tab on some of its benefits, I'm sure the governors and legislators will be happy to return to the negotiating table.
History will repeat itself. Some have suggested that we limit the influence public employee unions are allowed to have on elections. I disagree. The burden is on the citizenry, to educate themselves, to understand that a vote has consequences and to PAY ATTENTION. We must hold our elected officials to account. We must not be complacent.
One day soon perhaps, we'll discuss the nature of unions in the private sector, but that day is not today.