A major argument for unionizing private workers is that they otherwise face arbitrary treatment by their employers. Collective bargaining contracts commonly create procedures for handling workers’ grievances against such treatment, often including binding arbitration.
Long before collective bargaining, however, most government workers were already well-protected from high-handed treatment. Our federal and state governments had enacted merit civil service systems providing excellent security against arbitrary dismissals and other mistreatment.
Before 1883, government employment was very insecure. When the White House changed hands, many workers were fired to make room for supporters of the new administration. This was known as the “spoils system.”
The assassination of President James A. Garfield in 1881 by a disappointed office-seeker prompted the 1883 Pendleton Act. Later, state governments also created merit civil service systems.
Governor Walker’s critics claim that his reforms will leave public workers in a much worse position than private workers. But they overlook the fact that these workers will still be protected by
In fact, federal and state civil servants have been protected so well that it is sometimes impossible or too expensive to fire even disastrously incompetent workers. J. Edgar Hoover used to deal with this problem by relocating FBI agents who had messed up to
Of course most government employees are competent, hard-working, and doing important work. But even someone like Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was very sympathetic to such workers, drew the line at collective bargaining.
Roosevelt, strong supporter of private collective bargaining, went on: “Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. . . . . . It is, therefore, with a feeling of gratification that I have noted in the constitution of the National Federation of Federal Employees the provision that "under no circumstances shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government."