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October 7, 2009
The rise of the new aristocracy: government workers and their unions
Taxpayers are going to be digging a lot deeper in order to pay for the lush retirement benefits state and local governments have promised to the public employee unions, coincidently, also major campaign donors.
American Thinker has run several columns of mine warning of the dangers to our nation's fiscal health arising from the rise of a new labor aristocracy - government workers. They often enjoy exceedingly generous salaries along with rock-solid job security. Retirement packages often allow them early retirement with pensions not just guaranteed by law, but the pensions are often vastly inflated by artificially - and manipulative - spiking of the final years' salaries on which the pension levels are based.
Another problem is that the nation's experienced workers are able to retire young - thereby filling the government ranks with inexperienced and incompetent employees. But the worst problem is that they are just bankrupting this nation and our politicians and bureaucrats are in cahoots with them. Fred Siegel and Dan DiSalvo at the Weekly Standard recognize the danger in their new article "The New Tammany Hall: Public sector unions have become a labor aristocracy-and they are bankrupting states and municipalities:"
Once upon a time public sector workers received less pay than their private sector counterparts in return for better benefits and greater job security. But that bargain has been breached. Public sector wages have more than caught up, while the differential between public and private sector benefits has increased so much that public sector work, particularly for the unskilled, is greatly coveted...
The authors point to Washington State where government workers successfully lobbied to lift restrictions on collective bargaining, thus doubling the number of union workers. This paid off in the gubernatorial election of 2004 when Democrat Christine Gregoire was elected in a very close recount paid for by AFSCME. Once in office, "Gregoire negotiated contracts with the unions that resulted in double-digit salary increases, some exceeding 25 percent, for thousands of state employees.
So, in reality, our taxpayer dollars are being money-laundered through the hands of politicians into the hands of well-healed government workers and their unions. They in turn recycle part of them as political donations to politicians who are in their pocket. That is pay for play politics at its worst.
Siegel and DiSalvo illustrate the problem by using the basket case of New York City and Californian to show how politicians - usually Democrats (or RINOs such as Arnold Schwarzenegger of California) - worsen the problem by their obeisance to the government unions.
Even municipally owned hospitals suffer from the actions of one of the more powerful unions in America - The Service Employees International Union which is inextricably linked to ACORN) - that bragged of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to elect President Obama and fill the halls of Congress with amenable politicians (in their pockets).
Of course, teachers' unions have also wrought great damage-at the expense of our children. Tenure is easily granted, vacation days (and numerous ill-defined days, such as "teacher development" days) detract from the needs of our children, and to fire a teacher is a quixotic adventure in Kafka-land (there are hundreds of teachers in New York City who spend their days in what is called the "rubber room" watching TV while collecting their salaries-they cannot be trusted to watch our children but they are protected by their union contracts from being let go).
The problem is worsening.
The article points out a parade of horrible cases that exist around the nation regarding public employees getting rich at our expense. Unions often magnify their power by forming alliances with other groups - including ACORN and nonprofit advocacy groups pushing for more government power in the economy and society. In new York City they have all but taken over control of a political party, the Working Families Party (an alliance between ACORN and labor unions), that has been a spoiler in city elections there for many years, selling its support for whoever will give workers the best deal.
Unions being the fourth branch of government in not what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they formed or nation.
England has learned from its mistakes. After decades of disaster at the hands of its public workers. They are being forced by a massive budget deficit to seek a freeze on pay of government workers and a lifting of their retirement ages. Meanwhile, under the presidency of Barack Obama - labor's man - we are moving in the exact opposite direction. He has placed labor union leaders in key positions throughout the government, abolished rules requiring unions to be transparent in how union dues are spent (on political campaigns), vastly expanding our deficit by kowtowing to labor unions on government building contracts (the stimulus bill is a boondoggle) and, egregiously, using gerrymandering style actions to load the key government board that oversees labor relations with air and rail industries with union officials. These union officials will then be able to gut a 75 year old rule meant to ensure that our transportation system runs smoothly and is not held hostage to unions' extortions (recall the air traffic controllers' strike-an illegal act then and now-but will that hold true in the future?)
Welcome to the Unionized States of America.