Posts Tagged ‘Government Unions’
On the heels of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s history-making recall victory, the governor of nearby Indiana with his own record of curtailing union benefits suggested public-sector unions are past their prime and should be abolished.
“I think, really, government works better without them,” Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told “Fox News Sunday,” when asked whether public-worker unions should even exist.
Daniels had cracked down on collective bargaining for state workers as soon as he took office in 2005, six years before Walker and his GOP allies in the state legislature started down the same path — triggering a backlash that forced him to stand for election this past Tuesday. Walker made history as the first governor to survive the recall test, beating Democrat Tom Barrett.
Daniels said that vote should send a message about the problems with public-sector unions.
“I think the message is that, first of all, voters are seeing the fundamental unfairness of government becoming its own special interest group, sitting on both sides of the table,” he said.
The pushback on union benefits extends far beyond Wisconsin. In California, voters in San Diego and San Jose just backed ballot measures to curtail retirement benefits for city workers. Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Walker said he thinks his victory is a sign that Americans want “people willing to take on the tough issues” in his state and “across the country.”
Daniels said private-sector unions, while in decline in America, remain “necessary.” But he suggested the public-sector unions have hobbled governments by gobbling up taxpayer resources with generous benefits and salaries and “bulletproof” job protections.
Daniels said he hopes Tuesday’s election marks “some kind of turning point” in addressing the public union system.
Top representatives of that system, though, pushed back on the idea that the Wisconsin election opens the door to a dismantling of public-union benefits.
Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, said Walker’s victory was in part a product of “unlimited corporate funding in elections.” He said Walker’s side simply was able to push out its message better than the governor’s opponents.
AFL-CIO Deputy Chief of Staff Thea Lee said the public does support pensions for public- and private-sector workers.
“That’s something that people do support at the end of the day. We have to figure out how to fund it, we have to figure out how to make it viable, but I don’t think that voters in this country want to go to a place where our elderly people are living in poverty,” she said. “When times are tough, people are trying to figure out who’s to blame, but we need to be able to fund our public sector.”
Public-sector workers continue to enjoy better benefits than in the private sector. About 64 percent of private-sector workers have access to pensions, compared with 90 percent of state and local government workers. Private-sector workers earn an average of $8.53 in benefits per hour, while government workers earn $14.31 in benefits per hour.
Lee, though, said government workers are not overpaid when salaries are taken into consideration, noting that highly skilled professionals like doctors make less in the public than private sectors.
She said the debate should focus on how the private sector can offer better retirement benefits, not on how the public sector can offer fewer benefits.
Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/06/10/after-walker-victory-indiana-governor-suggests-public-unions-should-go/#ixzz1xULlZq5b
The across-the-board pay jump would be the first increase for federal workers since before a two-year freeze began in late 2010. Raises for within-grade step increases and promotions have continued during the freeze.
The proposal, which requires congressional approval, differs from Republican plans supported by lawmakers and presidential candidates that would freeze basic pay rates for one more year. Some of those plans also call for denying within-grade raises. In recent weeks, GOP lawmakers have called for extending the pay freeze as a way to pay for a payroll tax extension.
But, “a permanent pay freeze is not an acceptable policy,” one of the senior Obama administration officials said Friday. “While modest, a 0.5 percent increase reflects the belt-tightening we must do in these difficult times.”
The officials were unauthorized to speak publicly on the matter, but said that the White House notified agency budget offices about the decision Friday morning so that agencies could complete their 2013 budget requests.
The White House is expected to formally unveil its fiscal 2013 budget proposal in early February. No decision has been made yet on a potential pay raise for uniformed military personnel, the officials said, though lawmakers and federal worker unions traditionally push to ensure pay parity between civilian and military personnel. Pay parity was the standard practice for many years before 2009.
The pay bump is below the 3.6 percent cost of living adjustment that went into effect this week for Social Security recipients and most federal retirees to keep pace with inflation. It is also far below private sector earnings, which climbed roughly 2 percent in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Federal worker union leaders voiced tepid support Friday.
William R. Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, called the move “a breath of fresh air for all those who serve their country every day.”
But John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the nation’s largest federal union, said the move “doesn’t make me yell and cheer.”
“Clearly I don’t think it comes close to paying federal employees what they’re worth, but at the same time, it also breaks this terrible pay freeze that has been put on us,” Gage said. “And hopefully it will carry through, and we will avoid any pay freezes that might come from the payroll tax deduction negotiations.”
Gage said “a real threat” remains that Republicans will successfully enact a pay freeze as part of the payroll tax negotiations. AFGE and other unions believe Republicans should focus on raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans instead of federal employees, the vast majority of whom are middle-class wage earners.
Lawmakers who track federal personnel issues were not immediately available for comment.
The federal government employs roughly 2 million civilian federal employees, with about 85 percent living and working outside the Washington area…
Republicans voted 18-1 to pass the stripped-down budget bill in a hastily arranged meeting. None of the Senate Democrats were present.
The state Assembly is expected to vote on the bill today.
. All 14 Senate Democrats fled to Illinois nearly three weeks ago, preventing the chamber from having enough members present to consider Gov. Scott Walker’s so-called “budget repair bill” — a proposal introduced to plug a $137 million budget shortfall..
The Senate requires a quorum to take up any measures that spend money. But Republicans on Wednesday split from the legislation the proposal to curtail union rights, and a special conference committee of state lawmakers approved that bill a short time later.
March 7: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker addresses the media regarding a letter received from Sen. Mark Miller, D- Monona, in Madison, Wis.
Wisconsin Senate Democratic leader Mark Miller said Wednesday Democrats will “join the people of Wisconsin in taking back their government,” but he refused to say when.
The lone Democrat present on the conference committee, Rep. Tony Barca, shouted that the surprise meeting was a violation of the state’s open meetings law but Republicans voted over his objections. The Senate then convened within minutes and passed it without discussion or debate.
Spectators in the gallery screamed “You are cowards.”
Before the sudden votes, Democratic Sens. Bob Jauch said if Republicans “chose to ram this bill through in this fashion, it will be to their political peril. They’re changing the rules. They will inflame a very frustrated public.”
Walker praised the legislative action.
“The Senate Democrats have had three weeks to debate this bill and were offered repeated opportunities to come home, which they refused,” he said in a statement.
“In order to move the state forward, I applaud the Legislature’s action today to stand up to the status quo and take a step in the right direction to balance the budget and reform the government,” he said. “The action today will help ensure Wisconsin has a business climate that allows the private sector to create 250,000 new jobs.”
State Senate Democratic Socialists Minority Leader Mark Miller issued a statement saying, “Tomorrow we will join the people of Wisconsin in taking back their government.”
The biggest myth about labor unions is that unions are for the workers. Unions are for unions, just as corporations are for corporations and politicians are for politicians.
Nothing shows the utter cynicism of the unions and the politicians who do their bidding like the so-called “Employee Free Choice Act” that the Obama administration tried to push through Congress. Employees’ free choice as to whether or not to join a union is precisely what that legislation would destroy.
Workers already have a free choice in secret-ballot elections conducted under existing laws. As more and more workers in the private sector have voted to reject having a union represent them, the unions’ answer has been to take away secret-ballot elections.
Under the “Employee Free Choice Act,” unions would not have to win in secret-ballot elections in order to represent the workers. Instead, union representatives could simply collect signatures from the workers until they had a majority.
Why do we have secret ballots in the first place, whether in elections for unions or elections for government officials? To prevent intimidation and allow people to vote how they want to, without fear of retaliation.
This is a crucial right that unions want to take away from workers. The actions of union mobs in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere give us a free home demonstration of how little they respect the rights of those who disagree with them and how much they rely on harassment and threats to get what they want.
It takes world-class chutzpah to call circumventing secret ballots the “Employee Free Choice Act.” To unions, workers are just the raw material used to create union power, just as iron ore is the raw material used by U.S. Steel and bauxite is the raw material used by the Aluminum Company of America.
The most fundamental fact about labor unions is that they do not create any wealth. They are one of a growing number of institutions which specialize in siphoning off wealth created by others, whether those others are businesses or the taxpayers.
There are limits to how long unions can siphon off money from businesses, without facing serious economic repercussions.
The most famous labor union leader, the legendary John L. Lewis, head of the United Mine Workers from 1920 to 1960, secured rising wages and job benefits for the coal miners, far beyond what they could have gotten out of a free market based on supply and demand.
But there is no free lunch.
An economist at the University of Chicago called John L. Lewis “the world’s greatest oil salesman.”
His strikes that interrupted the supply of coal, as well as the resulting wage increases that raised its price, caused many individuals and businesses to switch from using coal to using oil, leading to reduced employment of coal miners. The higher wage rates also led coal companies to replace many miners with machines.
The net result was a huge decline in employment in the coal mining industry, leaving many mining towns virtually ghost towns by the 1960s. There is no free lunch.
Similar things happened in the unionized steel industry and in the unionized automobile industry. At one time, U.S. Steel was the largest steel producer in the world and General Motors the largest automobile manufacturer. No more. Their unions were riding high in their heyday, but they too discovered that there is no free lunch, as their members lost jobs by the hundreds of thousands.
Workers have also learned that there is no free lunch, which is why they have, over the years, increasingly voted against being represented by unions in secret ballot elections.
One set of workers, however, remained largely immune to such repercussions. These are government workers represented by public sector unions.
While oil could replace coal, while U.S. Steel dropped from number one in the world to number ten, and Toyota could replace General Motors as the world’s leading producer of cars, government is a monopoly. Nobody is likely to replace the federal or state bureaucracies, no matter how much money the unions drain from the taxpayers.
That is why government unions continue to thrive while private sector unions decline. Taxpayers provide their free lunch.
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His Web site is www.tsowell.com.
The Wall Street Journal MARCH 1, 2011
What Wisconsin reveals about public workers and political power.
The raucous Wisconsin debate over collective bargaining may be ugly at times, but it has been worth it for the splendid public education. For the first time in decades, Americans have been asked to look under the government hood at the causes of runaway spending. What they are discovering is the monopoly power of government unions that have long been on a collision course with taxpayers. Though it arrived in Madison first, this crack-up was inevitable.
We first started running the nearby chart on the trends in public and private union membership many years ago. It documents the great transformation in the American labor movement over the latter decades of the 20th century. A movement once led by workers in private trades and manufacturing evolved into one dominated by public workers at all levels of government but especially in the states and cities.
The trend is even starker if you go back a decade earlier. In 1960, 31.9% of the private work force belonged to a union, compared to only 10.8% of government workers. By 2010, the numbers had more than reversed, with 36.2% of public workers in unions but only 6.9% in the private economy.
The sharp rise in public union membership in the 1960s and 1970s coincides with the movement to give public unions collective bargaining rights. Wisconsin was the first state to provide those rights in 1959, other states followed, and California became the biggest convert in 1978 under Jerry Brown in his first stint as Governor. President Kennedy let some federal workers organize (though not collectively bargain) for the first time in 1962, a gambit to win union support for his re-election after his cliffhanger victory in 1960.
It’s important to understand how revolutionary this change was. For decades as the private union movement rose in power, even left-of-center politicians resisted collective bargaining for public unions. We’ve previously mentioned FDR and Fiorello La Guardia. But George Meany, the legendary AFL-CIO president during the Cold War, also opposed the right to bargain collectively with the government.
Why? Because unlike in the private economy, a public union has a natural monopoly over government services. An industrial union will fight for a greater share of corporate profits, but it also knows that a business must make profits or it will move or shut down. The union chief for teachers, transit workers or firemen knows that the city is not going to close the schools, buses or firehouses.
This monopoly power, in turn, gives public unions inordinate sway over elected officials. The money they collect from member dues helps to elect politicians who are then supposed to represent the taxpayers during the next round of collective bargaining. In effect union representatives sit on both sides of the bargaining table, with no one sitting in for taxpayers. In 2006 in New Jersey, this led to the preposterous episode in which Governor Jon Corzine addressed a Trenton rally of thousands of public workers and shouted, “We will fight for a fair contract.” He was promising to fight himself.
Thus the collision course with taxpayers. Public unions depend entirely on tax revenues to fund their pay and benefits. They thus have every incentive to elect politicians who favor higher taxes and more government spending. The great expansion of state and local spending followed the rise of public unions.
Professors Fred Siegel and Dan DiSalvo point out that even during the Reagan years, growth in state and local government jobs was double the rate of population growth. The effect on the private economy is a second order problem for public unions, as we’ve seen from the recession’s far more damaging impact on private than on public workers.
Current AFL-CIO chief Rich Trumka has tried to portray Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s reforms as an attack on all unions, but they clearly are not. If anything, by reining in public union power, Mr. Walker is trying to protect private workers of all stripes from the tax increases that will eventually have to finance larger government. Regarding public finances, the interests of public union workers and those of private union taxpayers are in direct conflict. Mr. Walker is the better friend of the union manufacturing worker in Oshkosh than is Mr. Trumka.
Notice, too, how fiercely the public unions are willing to fight for collective bargaining power even if it means public job layoffs. Without Mr. Walker’s budget reforms, Wisconsin will have to begin laying off thousands of workers as early as today. The unions would rather give up those jobs—typically for their younger members—than give up their political negotiating advantages. They know some future Governor or legislature will get those jobs back, as long as they retain their inordinate political clout.
This is the imbalance of political power that Mr. Walker is trying to break up, and he is right to do so. As important, the public in Wisconsin and around the U.S. seems to be listening and absorbing his message. The cause has been helped by the sit-ins and shouting of union members, the threats toward politicians who disagree with them, and by the flight of Democratic state senators to undisclosed locations in Illinois. It’s hard to claim you’re protecting democracy when you won’t show up to vote. Taxpayers need to win the battle of Wisconsin for the sake of self-government.
The Wall Street Journal
JANUARY 29, 2011
By ALLYSIA FINLEY
Visitors to this tiny town on the banks of the Blackstone River would never guess that it was once a prospering manufacturing hub. Thousands of Irish and Scottish immigrants flocked here in the 19th century, drawn by opportunities to work in the mills and mines. But since Rhode Island’s public employees received the right to collectively bargain in the 1960s, government unions have driven Central Falls into the ground.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when the town started deteriorating, says City Council President William Benson, but “it started with the John Hancock [pension] plan,” named after the company that administers the benefits. In 1972, the city created a new pension plan for public-safety officers that allowed them to retire after 20 years and earn 50% of their final year’s salary thereafter. What the city didn’t anticipate was that firefighters would use the minimum staffing requirements that were part of their collective-bargaining agreement to rack up overtime and increase their last year’s salary. Or that nearly a third of police officers would retire with a higher-paying disability pension.
Over time, such labor costs have swamped the city’s budget. In 1991, the state took over the schools because the city could no longer afford to fund them. But that didn’t solve the problem of costly and restrictive collective-bargaining agreements.
Last year, labor costs made up roughly 70% of Central Falls’s budget. (The finance director of Pawtucket, a neighboring town, tells me theirs is closer to 53%.) Unable to pay its bills, Central Falls wanted to declare bankruptcy, but the state intervened and put the town into receivership.
Retired judge Mark Pfeiffer was appointed last summer as receiver to review and fix the city’s finances. His first move was to strip the mayor of his powers. Then he hiked property and car taxes by nearly 20%, and cut labor costs by $900,000. Those tax hikes have merely driven more people out of town: City officials tell me nearly half of the houses are boarded up.
Despite these reforms, the city will likely face shortfalls of $5 million for each of the next five years. Then there’s the $80 million unfunded liability for pensions and retiree health benefits.
Retiree benefit liabilities are so huge that raising taxes and cutting services aren’t enough to save the city. This is an immigrant community where more than 25% of families live in poverty. Besides property, there’s not much else to tax.
The city’s manufacturing base has collapsed. Toy maker Hasbro closed up shop over a decade ago. Glass manufacturer Osram Sylvania laid off most of its workers several years ago. Those “jobs have moved overseas or down south,” says Mr. Benson.
Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, center, with Central Falls school superintendent Frances Gallo, right, and teachers union president Jane Sessums, left, after the union approved an agreement that allowed the Central Falls High School staff to be rehired earlier this year.
The only private-sector jobs left are at a few mom-and-pop shops, a Dunkin Donuts and a CVS. A mother of three who works at the Dunkin Donuts tells me that she won’t let her adolescent sons out of the house because there’s nothing for them to do besides get into trouble, like drugs. Just last November, two women were arrested for selling cocaine in a car with their four kids. The mom tells me that cops patrol the schools because teachers can’t, or won’t, discipline the students.
Last year, the school board fired the entire staff at Central Falls High School when the teachers union refused to accept the conditions of a reform model for failing schools. To wit, teachers didn’t want to attend after-school professional-development meetings, eat with students once a week, or submit to more rigorous evaluations. And if the district was going to force them to tutor students after school once a week, they wanted $90 an hour in compensation, not the $30 that was being offered them (The average teacher at the school earns nearly four times as much as the average town resident, according to the district superintendent.)
After months of protest, the teachers accepted the initial plan and were rehired. The federal government has just awarded the district $1.3 million to buy new computers and to pay teachers for professional-development time. But if the past is any indication, government aid alone can’t fix the town’s failing schools. State aid to Central Falls schools has nearly quadrupled in the last 20 years, yet over half of Central Falls’s high-schoolers drop out. Only 6% of city residents over 25 have a college degree, according to U.S. census data.
Too bad Central Falls was denied bankruptcy, which would allow it to break its collective-bargaining agreements and force public employees to accept significant cuts. Now the city will likely have to be hooked up to the state IV or merge services with Pawtucket. But Pawtucket has its own serious budget and pension liabilities. So do most other cities, and so does the state.
“They’re all in trouble,” Mr. Benson says. Pension problems have “shown up in every city in the state . . . [and] the governor is scared about the bond ratings” if the town files for bankruptcy. So to preserve the pretense of a safe municipal debt mine, the state must keep the Central Falls canary on life support.
Ms. Finley is assistant editor of OpinionJournal.com.