Category Archives: Unions

Hey, Wisconsin Public Employees –

Roland Martin thinks the public employee unions in Wisconsin should take one for the team.  (Hat Tip – Ralphb)

Walker wants public employees in Wisconsin to pay more for health care benefits and to contribute to their pension plans. Frankly, those are reasonable requests. Where he has largely run into trouble is the effort to end the collective bargaining rights of the various public employees.

Oh, is that all Walker wants?  Walker only “ran into trouble” because he tried to end collective bargaining rights.  I see.  This doesn’t have anything to do with Walker taking it to the Legislators rather than the union.  Good to know. 

First, the need to pay more for health care and pensions. An increasingly number of Americans who work in the private sector are paying 50 percent or more of their health care costs. Yet when you look at government employees, many local and state governments are paying upwards of 80 percent to 90 percent of health care costs. I just do not think that unions will be able to win over the public when elected officials ask them to pay for an additional 5 percent to 10 percent of their health care costs.

Why would Roland Martin think changing the public employees benefit package to look like the private sector would be a good idea?  Maybe because advocating something like this will NEVER impact him.  Roland is a author and TV “journalist”, he doesn’t live like us in the un-washed masses. 

Giving up benefits now to “do our share” means they are never coming back.  Period.  It is easy to rally the “have-nots” against the “haves” at a time like this, but the only guarantee in that scenario is that everyone will become “have-nevers”

The public employees in Wisconsin and the people of the state would ultimately be better off if the public employees were laid off to the level the state can afford.  (In Washington State the state employees have had days where they are laid-off.  While it does reduce our cost in the state and reduce their pay, it doesn’t change thier benefits as much or reduce their hourly rate.)   That would mean EVERYBODY suffers from the reduced government services but can feel really good about the cost savings.  The people who want lower cost *SHOULD* get lower services.  We aren’t helping ourselves AT ALL if we advocate pitting one group of middle class workers against another.  

Here are some ideas to reduce the financial obligations in the state:  Reduce the number of days government offices are open, increase class sizes, make parents purchase the construction paper and pencils.  Have the kids and government workers wear sweaters everyday and lower the temperature in the buildings.  Reduce the number of social workers and civil engineers.  These options mean that all the people participate in helping to save money in the state with the added benefit that when money is better, they will be sure that the service levels are increased by increasing employees. 

Don’t reduce the pay per person.  That will hurt all of us when employment comes back (slowly) then all of those screaming for lower salaries and benefit packages for the public servants will end up being worse off than they were before.  We will all get what they got, only it will be worse because public servants have always received lower pay in exchange for stable work and better benefits.  Does anyone really think shifting more of the cost to the public servant will make their package look more like the rest of us in the private sector?  I think it will just set the “high bar” for great benefits a little lower. 

Reductions in the value of labor through benefit and pay cuts will NEVER come back.  People forget that they lose the compounding of raises on their base amount and the compounding effect of reserving for retirement and interest.  The cost is way more than the percentage of the initial reduction.  Also remember that increasing the employee share of premiums, co-pays and deductibles reduces realized take home pay even further, with the most difficutly going to the sickest workers or people with kids.  

The government should be the “premier” employer in a time like this because it will set that “high bar” for the salary and benefit packages of the jobs that get added back in when the economy improves. 

Roland Martin is a privileged and coddled journalist with poor analytical skills.  We’ve known that for years, this isn’t a good time to forget.

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Sneering at Unions

When I was a teenager, Ronald Reagan was president.  I can remember that complaining that the union members were getting “more than their fair share” was popular at that time.  What I can’t say for sure is whether that was happening before I was a teenager.  I pretty much became aware of the greater world in high school.   

Today, the anti-union sentiment is still going strong.  It must have been some advertizing campaign!  If there is any news story on the local newspaper or TV website having to do with unions, the comments are widely anti-union and cheering any move by corporate interests to “bust” unions.  When a Boeing announced they were building a production facility in South Carolina a couple of years ago, the machinist union was widely blamed.  Last year, there was a dispute between a waste management company and garbage collectors and then, right before Thanksgiving, there was talk that the grocery workers might strike.  In each case, where the local news reports that unions might strike, the sentiment in the comments is largely negative and largely anti-union.

The anti-union sentiment has helped business leaders loot the public with “our” blessing, God forbid we get anything we don’t deserve!

Which brings me to an interesting opinion piece by Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post.  Meyerson argues that the e-book, “The Great Stagnation” by economist Tyler Cowen is not a complete picture and doesn’t fully explain the growing wage disparity between the rich and everyone else.  I have not read the e-book myself, but according to Meyerson, Cowen promotes the hypothesis that stagnating incomes in America are caused by declining innovation with world-changing force as the automobile or electricity brought.  Meyerson also points out some of the government policies that contribute to the growing wage disparity:

Lagging innovation may explain many things, but it doesn’t explain the rise of the rich over everybody else. For that, we need to look at changing power relationships, something that most mainstream economists resolutely ignore. Surely, the shrinking of unions – from 35 percent of the private-sector workforce in the 1950s to less than 7 percent today – has decreased American workers’ ability to win good wages. Surely, the offshoring of manufacturing has diminished both the number of good jobs and our ability to exploit our innovations productively. Surely, the deregulation of finance has diverted more and more resources to a relatively small circle of bankers and speculators. And that tiny cadre has chiefly enriched itself at the expense of the rest of the nation. (emphasis mine)

You can read his entire opinion piece here: What’s holding back the U.S. economy?