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Enough with this union monopoly of the public sector: Time to contract out

Enough with this union monopoly of the public sector: Time to contract out

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Published by Manning Centre

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Published by: Manning Centre on Oct 20, 2009
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11/14/2013

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Enough with this union monopoly of the public
sector: Time to contract out
Gwyn Morgan, Globe and Mail \u2013 July 20, 2009

Competition is key to the vastly superior living standards of capitalist
nations. It stimulates cost efficiency and innovation, while providing
the public with the ability to "shop around" for the best combination of
price and service. Private sector monopolies are either illegal, or tightly
regulated.

But when it comes to taxpayer-financed services such as health care,
education, water supply, public transit and garbage pickup, various
levels of government are the dominant monopoly provider.
Consequently, cost efficiency and innovation are light years behind
where they would be in a free-enterprise, competitive environment.
While public sector monopolies are seldom regulated, we can generally
trust public officials to avoid deliberate abuse of government monopoly
power. But what if the power to abuse is in the hands of another
entity?

Torontonians are being forced to endure a stinky summer, held
hostage by monopolistic public sector unions. In last winter's bitter
cold, Ottawa residents were held hostage by a transit strike timed to
coincide with the World Junior Hockey Championships. Big international
events are manna from heaven for union organizers. City councillors in
Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., paid dearly for peace at the 2010 Winter
Olympics, granting municipal workers a 12-per-cent wage hike over
three years, igniting a growing backlash over the tax hangover
residents will suffer for years after the 17-day Olympic party is over.

Even before this difficult recession, unionized public employee
compensation was way beyond competitive "real world" levels. Now,
when the average Canadian feels fortunate just to have a job, and
many are losing them, public sector unions feel entitled to permanent
employment and defend their excessive wages and astoundingly
generous benefits as a sacred right.

Private sector union membership has steadily fallen, mainly because of
the decline or failure of the businesses that employ them. In a
competitive, globalized world, there is little room for the rigid work
rules, prohibition from rewarding superior employee performance,
strikebound production losses, and adversarial atmosphere that
renders unionized companies uncompetitive. Witness the performance
differences between Air Canada and WestJet, or General Motors and
Toyota.

Now the only safe harbours for big labour are public sector monopolies,
where competitive alternatives are few or non-existent. Another
advantage for union leaders is that those on the other side of the
bargaining table don't have to worry that too rich a settlement might
drive them out of business. Union leaders are acutely aware that their
survival depends on a continuation of their monopoly powers and, all
too often, strike-bound public officials support this quest by acceding
to "no contracting out" clauses.

This mission to maintain Big Labour's power manifests itself in other
harmful ways. For example, the Canadian Union of Public Employees
(CUPE) recently celebrated a successful grievance against PeerScholar,
a new online application at University of Toronto wherein students can
file papers for grading by fellow students who have completed the
same assignment. CUPE spokesman Michael Swayze justified blocking
this innovative educational advancement on the basis that "if students
are doing marking, then they're in our bargaining unit and must be
paid."

This illustrates another glaring flaw in our labour laws: the requirement
that anyone doing work which could be done by union members must
join the union, even if they don't want to. So we have two toxic levels
of public sector monopoly power: government-imposed restrictions
against private service providers, and unions that are legally
empowered to deprive individuals of the right to work outside a union.

When it comes to the delivery of public services, Canadians are
amazingly tolerant of behaviour and service levels they would never
put up with from any private business. But the time is nearing when,
abused by the workers they are being taxed to pay, Canadians will cry
"enough."

Bureaucratic, uncaring and unaccountable "service" delivery
experiences bring that breaking point nearer. Images of beleaguered
Torontonians struggling to cross picket lines so they can dispose of
their smelly garbage will only accelerate the outrage. The contrasting
images of residents of nearby Etobicoke serenely putting out their
garbage for pickup by privately contracted workers, and the happy
Toronto parents who chose "for-profit" daycare while 57 municipal
centres are temporarily closed, clearly illustrate that we just don't have
to put up with it any more.

The fact that we've seen it all so many times before has spawned a sort of numbed resignation. But what we haven't seen before is the confluence of a painful recession and the spectre of public sector unions using their powers to abuse the very people who pay their wages. Once public outrage catches fire, these unions will have

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