Public Unions Are “Designed for Inefficiency”

(p. A13) Mr. [Philip] Howard, a lawyer and writer, first noticed how unions stymie governance during his public service in New York as a member of a neighborhood zoning board and chairman of the Municipal Art Society. “I kept wondering why my friends who had responsible jobs in government couldn’t do what they thought was right,” he recalls. That might be speeding up a land-use review for a construction project or approving repairs on a school building.

“I’d have discussions with them about what made sense in a particular situation, and they would say, ‘I wish I could, but I can’t.’ ” Any careful or profitable plans were quickly blown up by union rules, such as limits on workers’ hours and duties.

This week the New York transit union gave an example for the ages. It blocked the subway system’s plan to sync its schedule to new ridership norms, with fewer trains on slow days and lightly traveled routes and more trains on busy ones. The change would have saved $1.5 million a year, benefited riders and preserved workers’ paid hours. But an arbitrator shelved it Tuesday because the union couldn’t bear the “variations in start and end times.”

“They’re not just inefficient,” Mr. Howard says of the unions. “They’re designed for inefficiency.”

“They’re designed to require a new work crew to come cut a tree limb because the people fixing the rails don’t have authority to remove a tree limb. They’re designed to prevent supervisors from observing teachers, except under very controlled circumstances. They’re designed to prevent the principal from giving extra training to a teacher. They’re designed to prevent a supervisor in an agency from going and talking to a worker and soliciting ideas about how to make things work better.”

Mr. Howard, 74, keeps listing examples until I jump in to stop him. They’re fresh in his mind because these schemes are the target of his new book, “Not Accountable: Rethinking the Constitutionality of Public Employee Unions.”

For the full interview, see:

Mene Ukueberuwa, interviewer. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Public Unions vs. the People.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 4, 2023): A13.

(Note: bracketed name added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date March 23, 2023, and has the same title as the print version. In both versions, the word “designed” is in italics.)

Philip Howard’s book mentioned above is:

Howard, Philip K. Not Accountable: Rethinking the Constitutionality of Public Employee Unions. Garden City, NY: Rodin Books, 2023.

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