Government workers got it easy.
Good pay, good benefits and a great retirement package.
What’s not to like?
Except when the government budget’s got a hole in it because of tax breaks to the rich, and the politicians and the press start screaming about cutting government jobs and slashing wages and benefits.
Newly elected Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin has to close a deficit of $137 million in the current state budget. and he faces the prospect of a $3.6 billion hole in the coming two-year budget. Walker’s solution is to cut the salaries of all public employees’ unions by 7 percent (except the firefighters, state troopers and police that endorsed him last fall in the election) by making state employees contribute that much of their salaries to their pension and health plans. But Walker is going even further. He wants to limit collective bargaining by barring unions from negotiating health benefits or working hours. He would stop unions from deducting dues from paychecks, and he would require annual de-certification elections every year.
In Minnesota the situation is different. Governor Dayton has proposed tax increases on the very rich to cover the additional costs of maintaining current levels of government services. But, after the dust settles and Dayton and the Legislature finally agree on a budget, everyone expects there will be some job cuts. And whose jobs are they going to cut? Not the ones at the top. Not the ones in the $150,000 to $250,000 range. Those are the guys who get to decide where the cuts will be made. The folks at the bottom are the ones that get cut: the last hired are the first fired.
And a lot of other workers outside of government think government workers have it pretty good. Most other workers don’t have a strong union, good pay, good benefits and a strong pension. So, like crabs in a bucket, they want to pull down the ones above them so they can get on top. But it makes a lot more sense for all Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and other public employee unions are the only organizations outside the government that monitor public employees. We need their information and their leadership.
Public employee unions need to do a close inventory. Present a realistic budget to the governor. Get rid of some of that dead weight at the top.
Ease some of those people out of there. Save and improve public service, but take responsibility for eliminating waste and inefficiency. That’s the image of a public servant that’s easy to sell to voters and taxpayers.
And the second thing that public employees’ unions need to do is to organize the unorganized. The best way to get other workers to stop wanting to tear down your benefits is to help them get the same benefits where they work.
There is strong leadership in the Twin Cities in the hotel and restaurant workers unions and in the service employees, but they need the support of older, more established unions. Workers have to recognize by now that an injury to one is an injury to all.
AFSCME and the other public employee unions have to know that they are the gold standard for workers. Other workers compare their wages, their benefits and their pensions to public employees-the people they pay to run the government for them. So, it only makes sense for public employees to support good wages, good benefits and good unions for all other workers.
Working people need to recognize that the attack on public employees’ unions is an attack on all working people. The rich, the same ones that got us into this mess by refusing to pay their fair share of taxes and by running the stock exchange as a rigged casino, are behind the attack on public employees because they know if they can drive down their wages and benefits, then they can drive down the wages and benefits for all workers. And that means more profits for them.
We can’t let them get away with it.