Friday, February 25, 2011

Public employee unions--challenging issue for centrists

Here's my problem as a centrist:

1. It's clear to me that the real motive by the Republican leadership in Washington is to do a kind of fiscal Sherman's March to the Sea against the Democratic Party by eliminating its major source of funding: public employee unions.

2. But it's equally clear to me that the public employee unions really do, on the whole, get both more compensation and more security than their private sector equivalents, and that the conflation of public and private sector unions ignores a critical fact: private sector employees are working for rich bosses, while public sector employees are working for ordinary taxpayers--many of whom are in trouble right now, or looking over their shoulder.

So it's brilliant of the Republicans to wrap their efforts to permanently marginalize the Democratic Party around a legitimate beef. But it puts centrists like me in a quandry. I don't want to see the GOP get away with this, but the public sector unions have got to give on this--or their intransigence will destroy the Democratic Party.

Remember when American Motors' union members voted to strike, because they didn't believe the bosses there who said they'd close the company if they did?

Well you may not--because American Motoers doesn't exist any more.

You have to know when to hold and when to fold. Public employee unions have got to give way on plush pensions and overcompensation where it exists--otherwise we're handing the GOP a loaded shotgun and begging them to point it at us.


Anonymous said...

Hi Ehkzu, I've been wanting to comment on your posts for some time, but was unable to because I didn't know what my Google Account info was. Now I see there are more options.

I am a retired Florida state employee. Scott, the new governor and tea party darling, is going after state pensions and insurance benefits as part of his plan to balance the budget.

State employee pensions and benefits appear quite generous to those outside state government and are easy targets. However, I can tell you that without those benefits, the salaries paid by the State would not attract educated persons such as myself (who has a graduate degree).

Some salary comparisons are made that make state salaries appear high compared to selected private organizations. Those are apples to oranges comparisons. For one thing, when I started with the State there were many low level clerical positions. With the advent of PCs, however, mid-level employees now do most of their own word processing. Secondly, many of the menial duties have been contracted out.

There is one legitimate issue, namely right to work vs. mandatory union dues. Florida employees, who haven' gotten raises in six years, have not always been well represented by AFSCME (the government union). One year the legislature chose to raise employees' annual salary rate six months into the fiscal year. For some reason, AFSCME fought this and got the legislature to give a lump sum raise at the beginning of the year. That was misguided, because increases in salary rates become part of your salary base in ensuing years.

I would, however, have concerns about shifts in the balance of power in politics if unions lose a major funding source.


Ehkzu said...

These are valid considerations, A. It's unfair to tar all public sector unions with the same brush.

And you're invoking the traditional set of tradeoffs between public and private sector work: more money for less security in the private sector.

OTOH I'm sure you'll agree that there are abuses--especially with cops and firefighters and prison guards.But few public sector employees have their opportunities to game the system.

At the same time, it's equally unfair to conflate public and private sector unions, since taxpayers are the employers in the former case.

Yet when you want to talk about such nuances it tends to get lost in the yelling from both sides.

Democrats reflexively defend all unions under all circumstances; Republicans do the converse.

Here again we see the triumph of tribe over principle.