My grandfather would have agreed with Jeff Jacoby’s June 10 op-ed column on public-sector unions, “The end is near for a 50-year mistake.” He was Vincent J. Murphy, mayor of Newark from 1941 to 1949, and president of the New Jersey AFL-CIO from 1961 to 1970. He and George Meany, president of the overall AFL-CIO, agreed that public employees should not be unionized, although I think it was my grandfather's experience as mayor that led him to persuade Meany.
It is likely my grandfather held a position unique in US history, having been a big-city mayor and president of a union. Therefore, his perspective would have been uniquely balanced. He believed that civil service protections were more than enough to protect public employees from arbitrary conduct by administrators while preventing the employees from gaining the upper hand in wage, benefit, and working conditions that would come from collective bargaining. He saw it as a balancing of interests of the employees and the polity. I believe Governor Scott Walker’s recall victory in Wisconsin is an affirmation of Walker’s attempt to balance the interests of the public employees and the taxpayers. The unions would call this an unprecedented assault on their rights and gains, but it is really a reversion, not a retrenchment, to the balanced position of my grandfather, George Meany, and Franklin Roosevelt.