FREE SPEECH ZONE | In defense of public workers

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When I hear Republicans demonize public employees about pay and benefits, and Newt Gingrich call for states to be able to go bankrupt to get out of paying public employee pensions because of unfunded public pension liabilities, I think of my nephews: one a fireman–the other a policeman–and I recall their stories of guns fired, lives saved, babies delivered, and injuries received. My nephew’s stories-representative of countless public servants–are many and are filled with death, danger, courage, and nobility.

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Public employees are everyday people just like you and me. They aren’t perfect. They have bad days. Some work hard and some don’t. They sometimes do stupid things. Some are jerks and others not good at their jobs–just like people in the private sector. Some “work the system” to get all they can for themselves-just like politicians and everyone else. They are our family, friends, and neighbors who struggle to pay the bills,   raise their children, and deal with a tough economy just like the rest of us do. They deserve better than threats and name calling.

Some pundits and politicians demonize and scapegoat these middle class citizens to dehumanize them, to paint exaggerated negative pictures of innocent folks so they can justify mistreating them. Their nasty claims about our neighbors are designed to deflect attention from the real issues.  Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote:

Republicans would rather deflect attention from corporate executive pay that continues to rise as corporate profits soar, even as corporations refuse to hire more workers. They don’t want stories about Wall Street bonuses, now higher than before taxpayers bailed out the Street.

Economist Dean Baker dismissed the conservative attacks as a “sleazy case of scapegoating that is intended to divert people’s attention from the real villains in this economy…”

Are public workers overpaid?

The nonprofit and nonpartisan National Institute on Retirement Security found that, on average, wages and salaries are 11 percent less for state employees and 12 percent less for local employees nationally compared to comparable non-government workers.

Total compensation (including retirement, health care, & other benefits) is 6.8 percent less for state employees and 7.4 percent less for local employees than for comparable non-government workers. Their report stated:

  • The compensation of state and local workers is not excessive,
  • This remains true when including benefits,
  • The pattern of results over the last 20 years has generally been one of declining relative earnings of state and local workers compared to similar private sector workers, and
  • These implications lead to the policy prescription that now is not the time to advocate for large-scale rollbacks in the compensation of state and local workers.

The study concluded: “If the goal is to compensate state and local sector employees in a manner comparable to those in the private sector, the data do not call for reductions in state and local wages. If anything, they call for increases.”

Tea Party Senator Rand Paul say federal workers make twice as much as private sector employees. Conversely the federal Office of Personnel Management says that federal workers are paid 24 percent less than private sector employees. Both amounts are from data not designed for the kind of analysis they are trying to conduct according to Factcheck.org, and the data to know where the truth lies does not exist.

A new federal survey is needed that adjusts for skills, location, education, experience required, and carefully matches duties and responsibilities of comparison jobs.

Public employees did nothing wrong. The played by the rules the politicians set just like all of us do. They are victims of the Great Recession caused by the same entitled Wall Street and banks that received massive buyouts to cover their losses-villains were rewarded for their failures. But taxpayer handouts won’t be there to fund the pension shortfalls of innocent middle class victims (or the loss of their home values). While those on Wall Street make record compensation and benefits, the retirements of middle class Americans are threatened-their income and benefits attacked.

Doesn’t seem right, does it?