The Problem With Public Sector Unions

Bloomberg Businessweek reports:

Moments before a single-engine aircraft and a helicopter collided over the Hudson River near Manhattan in 2009, an air-traffic controller who should have been advising the plane’s pilot was on the phone, joking with an airport worker about a dead cat.

Nine people, including three teenage boys, died. The Teterboro, New Jersey, controller, whom safety investigators said was distracted and partly to blame for the accident, still works for the Federal Aviation Administration. Although the agency tried to fire him, his punishment was reduced to a suspension, a transfer and a demotion.

What happened to the controller isn’t surprising, according to data obtained by Bloomberg News under the Freedom of Information Act. More than four of every 10 air-traffic workers the FAA tried to fire over almost two years kept their jobs or were allowed to retire, the data show. That included two-thirds of those targeted for firing over drug or alcohol violations.

The FAA’s firing rate, as a percentage of its total workforce, is similar to that of other federal agencies, where disciplinary terminations are also rare, government data show.
Federal workers have due-process protections to prevent wholesale firings when a new administration comes to power. Union contracts provide another layer of protection.

The full article can be found here.

8 Responses to “The Problem With Public Sector Unions”


  • And the problem with depriving public sector employees of a union is that now the boss can broadly hint that he needs sexual favors and if he doesn’t get them he’ll fire the females and bring in new ones that will do what he wants. A unionized check that prevents arbitrary terminations prevents this abuse.

    There’s abuses on both sides. Does a union sometimes prevent an incompetent employee from being terminated? Sure. But it also prevents abusive terminations. Which alternative is better? You know my answer.

  • Jon writes, And the problem with depriving public sector employees of a union is that now the boss can broadly hint that he needs sexual favors and if he doesn’t get them he’ll fire the females and bring in new ones that will do what he wants.

    I’m curious Jon: is your job unionized? ANd if not, does this sort of thing happen at your work? My job isn’t unionized and this sort of thing does not happen.

    Remember, we have to focus on the real world. Not some theoretical possibilities. And lastly, even if it does happen, that’s what the legal system is for. That type of behavior is illegal.

  • Nobody where I work failed to do their job and got people killed and yet couldn’t be fired. So does that mean we shouldn’t talk about it because it didn’t happen where I work? The kind of abuse I described does happen and probably a lot more frequently than the type of union abuse you describe.

    I’m not aware of this stuff happening where I work now. Where I used to work we did have a situation like this. One guy was essentially fired because he tried to fire an incompetent person. Unbeknownst to the manager that was trying to get rid of an incompetent employee, that employee was dating a director. Everyone knew to fear that director and kiss ass after that and other punishments meted out to those he had a gripe with, because whoever he wanted gone for whatever personal reason was gone.

    You got no chance resisting that stuff without a union. They’ll pick you off one at a time and let you know that you do what your told and kiss ass as necessary. You’re powerless without a union. So of course wealth likes to demonize unions as much as possible.

  • Of course Jon, the world would be so horrible without unions…except of course that most people work without a union and do just fine. Fantasy world.

  • Union efforts have made the lives of a lot of people better that aren’t in unions. 40 hour work weeks were typical when I started in engineering. I used to get paid more if I worked more than that. So have pensions. They are now replaced with 401k’s. And the companies yank the company match when times get tough. Wasn’t true when unions were strong. Even engineers got pensions. My Dad was not in a union, but he got a pension anyway and is retired now and able to draw a sufficient income with that pension and Social Security. Look at the balances people today have in their 401k’s. It’s a nightmare. The new retirement plan is simple. Don’t retire.

    So doing just fine? Some are. A lot more are doing much worse.

  • Your reply assumes that pensions are better than 401k’s. A dubious claim. Remember, the same market forces that affect 401k’s would have affected pensions. See more here.

  • Outdated yes, but he still stands by his statements…as that post was written earlier this year.

    So again: I have academic economist, you have anecdotes. A trend.

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