Debate over public workers unions is about sustainability

President Barack Obama is not going to waste political capital joining progressives in protesting the loss of benefits and collective bargaining for most public employees unions in Wisconsin. Obama won’t act like this, or this.

The president must understand that the debate over public unions is not over resentment of government workers, or hatred. It’s about the sustainability of retirement and insurance benefits that many public employees enjoy. In Wisconsin, as well as San Diego and San Jose (cities that coted to reform public retirement plans on Tuesday) the voters are telling public union leaders that they must adapt and live within the means that taxpayers provide them.  

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in an editorial on the Wisconsin vote, put it perfectly: “Taxpayers want the people they employ to be on the same footing as them — paid fairly but not exorbitantly for their service, compensated for efficiency but not for indolence.” (Read)

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP legislature reformed a public unions system that required low contributions of employees for excellent insurance and retirement programs. The practice of full collective bargaining, where public unions have bullied excessive benefits from cowardly pols, was curtailed considerably. Private-sector workers, who support the public unions with benefits that don’t exist in their real world, watched progressives throw a year-plus long tantrum that ended with a deservedly failed attempt to remove Walker from office.

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11 Responses to Debate over public workers unions is about sustainability

  1. midwinter says:

    “The president must understand that the debate over public unions is not over resentment of government workers, or hatred. It’s about the sustainability of retirement and insurance benefits that many public employees enjoy.”

    Considering that two of the largest public unions in WI publicly gave in on every cut Walker wanted—except the right to bargain collectively, which effectively undoes them—and that Walker dismissed the concession because he didn’t believe them, I’d say that this had nothing to do with the sustainability of benefits at all. This was a brazen, and successful, attempt to take out the WI public sector unions, and in doing so, to take out a what’s left of the major Democratic fundraising apparatus (union membership is at a 70-year low; something like 11% of American workers).

    Don’t get me wrong. I thought the WI recall was stupid and petulant and a horrible waste of money on all sides and it should never have happened. I’m enormously glad that the DNC and the Obama admin stayed out of that morass.

    But when your opponent gives you everything you want except slitting his own throat, the debate isn’t about principles anymore.

  2. Charles Trentelman says:

    It is hard to see how the economy can improve when major segments of it keep cutting wages and laying off workers. Goverment jobs have been some of the biggest losers in the last three years both in terms of wages and lost positions — something like 500,000 despite the fact that jobs, overall, have gained during the Obama administration.

    These stats put the lie to the myth that government is bigger, or overpaid (utah and federal wages are all frozen and have been for three years or more), but anyone who does business with government workers is going to discover he/she is selling less to them, or seeing the out shopping less.

    What do you expect? The myth that government doesn’t create jobs is driving part of this — but in a consumer economy the employer doesn’t matter — I make my living pushing paper around and punching computer keys, and so do a lot of government workers, and we all spend money.

    If we have less to spend, the economy suffers.

    • Brent Glines says:

      “If we have less to spend, the economy suffers.”

      Where does the money for government spending come from, Charles? Partly, it comes from deficit spending and borrowed money, mostly from the Chinese. Not to mention adding to the debt, the interest spent servicing that debt sucks money away that could be spent elsewhere. Borrowing more isn’t going to help that situation any.

      The rest comes from taxes that probably would have been better off left were it was rather than sucking it off to support inefficient, ineffective government programs. Money drawn off in taxes can’t be used to pay for goods and services in the economy, nor can it be used to create private sector jobs.

      Giving the government more to spend is not the way to go. The last 4 years demonstrate that very clearly.

  3. Dovie says:

    I guess the only point I would like to make is that union numbers and strength varies widely among states and Wisconsin is not Utah. Assuming Wisconsin is over the edge (it very well may be), it does not justify clobbering Utah teachers. I hear Utahns make that fallacious association frequently. Many Utah teachers are not in the union at all – my Dad taught for years and never joined the union.

  4. Mark Anderson says:

    It’s just nice to know that my sixth grade teacher is really the nations economic problem. I used to think it was all the billionaires on wall street. Now I know that they actually deserve all of the middle class money created for them.

    • rthoms says:

      I am in construction and worked non union for years. When I joined the union the main reason was because of benefits. In the private sector I received no medical insurance for me or my family and no retirement. The pay was about the same when you considered union dues. Having a baby with no insurance compared to having one with insurance was financially like a huge weight was gone off our lives. For that reason alone being union was worth it.
      To say that they were bullied during the bargaining is ignorance on your part. You don’t know that. I have been involved with the bargaining process and yes there is arguing from both sides and it can get pretty heated, but both sides have representation. And both sides have to agree or it doesn’t get accepted. So where is the bullying?
      Doing away with bargaining is taking away the rights of the people to fight for their families’ well being.
      And by the way you find anyone more patriotic than union workers.

  5. Doug says:

    An excellent perspective on this issue from the San Diego newspaper:

  6. gil m says:

    I’m pro union and always have been. If it wasn’t for unions we would still be living in the 19th century wage wise. Utah is a good case in point. It has always been anti union. Consequently, it has always been one of the lowest states in per capita wages. My daugher, a teacher, moved from California to Utah several years ago. Her yearly wages went form $65,000 to $45,000! Enough said!

    • Brent Glines says:

      Her income went down, but so did her cost of living. I have a son who lives in southern California. For what he pays in rent for a small apartment, he could buy a nice house in Utah. Salary is not the only factor.

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