The current uproar in Wisconsin has brought to the forefront the inequities of the ongoing economic crisis in the U.S. Yes, I said ongoing because despite a few improved economic indicators there is still massive unemployment and more U.S. families on food stamps than ever before.
Yet through this entire economic mess the least affected group has been unionized government workers. For example, the average union government employee pays less than 10% of their annual health insurance cost while in the private sector the average is over 25%. Nationally, union workers in both state and local government jobs earn approximately 45% more in total compensation than workers in the private sector.
It is estimated that the tab for the unfunded liabilities created by these government union contracts now exceed $3 trillion.
In the private sector during this time we have seen massive lay-offs, wage and benefit reductions or freezes. While in the public sector contractual wage and benefit increases hum along even though the economic conditions no longer support them.
The problem with the public unions at the state and local levels is simple to understand. The unions help elect the politicians that ultimately become their “bosses”. They make large campaign contributions and use their influence to rally union members to vote for candidates that they can count on to cooperate with them in future negotiations. The Center for Responsive Politics estimated that in the recent elections, public sector unions contributed over $20 million to candidates as well as another $90 million to the political parties. Over 90% of that has gone to the Democrats.
Meanwhile back in Wisconsin, the average teacher earns $77,857 per year (including benefits). Compare that to the median household income in Wisconsin which is only $50,000 and many households have more than one wage earner.
Over the past three years government employees have not experienced the erosion in their standard of living that rest of the workforce has had to endure. Public sector employees must come to grips with the fact that their real employers, the taxpayers, will not continue to fund a lifestyle that indemnifies them from the national economic reality.
As states and local governments try to cut costs in a tough economy, the unions are facing a rising backlash against their pay, benefits and pensions.
Wisconsin is not alone in looking at aggressive changes to their relationship with unionized government workers. Other states (MI, IN, OH, TN, NY, NJ, ID, IA) are also looking at a variety of strategies to try to control union labor costs.
Some examples are:
Limiting their collective bargaining to base pay excluding benefits and some work rules
Aligning maximum raises to the Consumer Price Index
Requiring higher levels of contributions toward pensions
Requiring higher levels of contributions toward healthcare
Eliminating excessive fringe benefits (such as Viagra coverage)
These measures are not designed to eliminate the unions but rather to level the playing field. It gives the taxpayers and elected officials ability to negotiate in a more equitable manner with unions that control essential services. It seems we are tired of having a gun to our head.
What has developed is a death match between the old guard of the Democrats, organized labor and the new guard of the Republicans, small government, fiscal conservatives. In the end Americans want fairness, equity and fiscal responsibility from their government. The resentment toward public sector unions has been building for some time now. Taxpayers are fed up their taxes being squandered on union contracts for public employees that do not reflect the reality of the private sector job market. It isn’t like most people associate government employees with service and performance excellence as a whole.
It is time to end the excessive influence and continue appeasement of these unions over state and local governments. This influence for years has been the fuel for backroom deals, corruption. The result is economic crisis at the state and local government level across the nation with dozens of states teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
Wake up, America! It’s time to face reality and make the changes necessary to save our country. We must end the circular relationship between unionized government employees and the politicians they help to elect!
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