Rooted in Reason: Nurturing the Seeds of Liberty


Bureaucracy 1, Heroism 0 by maliab
July 27, 2011, 6:45 pm
Filed under: Security | Tags:

Back when I was in grade school , lessons about unions inevitably focused on courageous picketers and abused factory workers.  Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was involved.  Even the slow kids got the message: Unions save the little people from unfair circumstances.  In retrospect, the fact that my teacher was a member of a union undoubtedly had an influence on the content of those lessons.  Still, it’s interesting to imagine a grade school history class that showed more recent union history.  One that included collective bargaining, NFL-style, Furlough Fridays, and public employee pensions that can bankrupt the state.  For those who doubt that unions can come between the employee and the public they are meant to serve, consider this recent column by Steven Greenhut of the Pacific Research Institute:

On Memorial Day, a suicidal man waded into San Francisco Bay outside the city of Alameda and stood there for about an hour, neck deep in chilly water, as about 75 bystanders watched. Local police and firefighters were dispatched to the scene after the man’s desperate mother called 911, but they refused to help. After the man drowned, the assembled “first responders” also refused to wade into the water to retrieve his body; they left that job for a bystander.

The incident sparked widespread outrage in Northern California, and the response by the Fire Department and police only intensified the anger. The firefighters blamed local budget cuts for denying them the training and equipment necessary for cold-water rescues. The police said that they didn’t know if the man was dangerous and therefore couldn’t risk the safety of officers.

After a local TV news crew asked him whether he would save a drowning child in the bay, Alameda Fire Chief Ricci Zombeck gave an answer that made him the butt of local talk-show mockery: “Well, if I was off duty, I would know what I would do, but I think you’re asking me my on-duty response, and I would have to stay within our policies and procedures, because that’s what’s required by our department to do.”

. . . .

There’s no doubt that firefighters and police have tough and sometimes dangerous jobs, but that doesn’t mean the public has no business criticizing them, especially if they have become infected with the bureaucratic mind-set spread by public-sector union activism. The unions defend their members’ every action; to the extent that they admit a problem, they always blame tight budgets.

The unions that represent first responders also have a legislative agenda to reduce oversight and accountability. I recall when a state Assembly member closely aligned with public-safety unions contacted me about a union-backed bill that was too egregious even for his taste. Sponsored by a firefighters union after a district attorney prosecuted an on-duty firefighter for alleged misbehavior that led to a death, the bill in its original form would have offered immunity to firefighters even for gross negligence on the job. The legislation failed after the media started paying attention and ignited a contentious public debate.

(Read the whole article here.)

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