As workers in the private sector struggle with stagnant wages, disappearing benefits, and retirement ages that are moving further and further out onto the horizon, unionized gym teachers and lifeguards employed by the public sector retire in their fifties with over $100,000 a year in pension and healthcare benefits.
Some even supplement this generous income by taking other jobs in their "retirement." Attempts to rein in the unions, as in Wisconsin and New Jersey, have met with massive resistance.
Yet as Daniel DiSalvo argues in Government against Itself, public sector unions threaten the integrity of our very democracy.
DiSalvo, a third generation union member, recognizes the difference that collective bargaining made in the lives of his immigrant grandfather, a steelworker in Pittsburgh, and his father, a carpenter.
He is not opposed to unions on ideological grounds. Rather, he opposes the form they have taken in the public sector, where they often face no real opposition in negotiations.
Moreover, the public sector can't go out of business no matter how much union members manage to squeeze out of it. Union members have no incentive to ever settle for less, and this has a profound impact on the health of our society, as the costs get passed along to the taxpayer.
States and municipalities break under the weight of their pension obligations, and the chasm between well-compensated public sector employees and their beleaguered private sector counterparts widens.
Where private sector unions can provide a necessary counterweight to the power of capital, public employee unions are basically bargaining against themselves; it's no wonder they almost always win.
The left is largely in thrall to the unions, both ideologically and financially; the right would simply take a hatchet to the state itself, eliminating important and valuable government services.
Neither side offers a realistic vision of well-run, efficient government that serves the public.
Moving beyond stale and unproductive partisan divisions, DiSalvo argues that we can build a better, more responsive government that is accountable to taxpayers.
But we cannot do it until we challenge the dominance of public sector unions in government. This carefully reasoned analysis of the power of public sector unions is sure to be controversial, and will be an important contribution to the debates about public vs. private unions, increasing inequality, and the role of government in American life.