Thursday, February 17, 2011

Love's Labour's Lost

"Kill the bill!"
Update: All the Dems in the Wisconsin legislature are hiding out in Rockford, Illinois, to prevent a vote on the legislation. Shades of Texas circa 2003 ...

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It's either a great time for taxpayers or a sad day for American labor, depending on your point of view.

Angry public-sector workers are protesting at the capitol in Madison, Wisc., where newly elected Republican Gov. Scott Walker is proposing legislation that would significantly weaken government unions. The Cheesehead protest follows similar outcries over other governors who are also playing tough with the unions. Chris Christie (R-NJ), Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), Jerry Brown (D-CA) and even our own Dan Malloy (D-CT) have also asked for significant concessions.

I'm heartened that even Democratic governors are active in telling the unions that public-sector compensation packages are unsustainable. Let me be clear: I do not think public employees have salaries that are terribly out-of line, adjusted for education levels, with the private sector. The problem lies mostly in the legacy costs of state workers who contribute relatively little to their health insurance and pension funds and, regardless of market conditions, receive guaranteed benefits, allowing them to retire at an age that makes private-sector workers insanely jealous.

Even worse, in Connecticut and New York, retirement benefits are based on the last two years of an employee's gross wages (including overtime). I've spoken with retired state troopers here in Connecticut who tell me they piled on the overtime their last two years on the job (with the encouragement of their supervisors) so that they can retire for life on six-figures or close to it.

And of course, there is the infamous case of the Yonkers cop who, thanks to overtime spiking, retired at 44 on a more than $100,000 annual pension after working only 20 years with a top base salary of $74,000. This has got to stop.

Having said that, I think Wisconsin's Walker is going too far. He wants to strip the public unions of their rights to collectively bargain for all but their wages. And if they wanted a raise greater than the consumer price index, then such an increase would have to be approved by taxpayers at a statewide referendum. Plus, he conveniently exempted two typically Republican constituencies — police and firefighters' unions — from that very requirement. Hmmm ...

But any change in pension benefits will only result in savings many years down the line. Right now, the unions will have to either make significant wage and benefit concessions or face huge lay-offs. Given their track records so far, the union bosses would prefer lay-offs. So be it.

P.S. On the way home from shuttling one of my children, I heard an NPR reporter refer to the proposed Wisconsin legislation as "anti-union." Couldn't it just as plausibly be called "pro-taxpayer?"


  1. It gives me some pleasure to see no or few comments on some of your more frothing posts such as this one. Allow me to step into the void and offer some possible reasons why your amen choir is suffering from sudden silence:

    = They realize that the government has handed over tens of billions of dollars to the banks, insurance companies, mortgage lenders, and others who got us into this financial mess in the first place, thereby allowing us to rob us not once, but twice -- and it's not the fault of government laborers, their puny wages, or their puny pensions.

    = They realize that the government has thrown away hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars to fight illegal, unnecessary, and self-destructive wars around the world -- and it's not the fault of government laborers, their puny wages, or their puny pensions.

    = They realize that wealth has become more skewed in this country than in nearly any other country on earth, and the richest Americans continue to get massive tax breaks and subsidies and wallow in multimillion dollar bonuses and perks -- and it's not the fault of government laborers, their puny wages, or their puny pensions.

    = They realize that the attack on supposedly bloated pensions is just another form of class warfare, the same one going on here in Connecticut and in New York, and almost everywhere else -- and it's not the fault of government laborers, their puny wages, or their puny pensions. Next up: "Entitlements," the only good and democratic thing our "democracy" has ever done.

    If you look at the whole picture, you might begin to see things differently. It's a question of priorities and political power; it always is. Your posturing as Defender of the Lowly Taxpayer is just so much posturing, and "taxpayers" are or will be every bit as much the victims and targets of the class war as the unions and government pensioners are now.

    Wisconsin may just be the beginning of a great awakening. I've always believed that it would take real pain to move people to action. First it was Egyptians feeling the pain, and now it's Wisconsin. Watch what happens as gas nears $4, people can't pay to heat their homes, inflation really kicks in while home prices continue to stagnate. You and I are next on the hit list. Don't kid yourself. The worse things get, the more we'll be asked to bear the burden and sacrifice (code for take it, um, on the chin), not the plutocrats and kleptocrats in charge.

    Quote from an interesting article today: "In sum, Americans have a delusional democracy. Various corporate interests, especially banks and other financial entities, control and manipulate the American system, especially the economy, making its dictatorship far more difficult to discern, oppose and overturn. Most Americans seem to want to cling to the fiction that they still have a great democracy, which only reveals their stupidity and inability to think critically. Only continuing widespread economic hardship is likely to pierce the psychological defenses against seeing the ugly truth of American tyranny."

    Whadya say there, lurkers? Are you ready for the hard truth?

  2. Fred, my "amen chorus," as you put it, doesn't usually comment much on issues like this. But I write about them anyway because I think it's important. Typically, blog posts are commented on by 1% of readers. Thanks for noticing anyway. You are one sharp cookie.

    [BTW, if you think this is an "amen chorus, then you really have not been paying attention. Take a gander at Victim's Revenge, for example, who continually attacked me from the right and has been banned.]

    It is absolutely laughable that you would characterize this post as "frothing." That gives me a pretty good idea of where you get your news and opinion material if you think what you just read here passes for rabid commentary.

    I said that public employee benefits packages (not salaries) need to be reformed and cited specific numbers and examples to support my contention -- something you have not done here. On the other hand, I also criticized the governor for trying to take away their right to collectively bargain and for practicing crony politics by exempting the unions that supported his election.

    My wife is a public-sector union member. For obvious reasons, I don't demonize union labor. But you deem any criticism as unacceptable because it doesn't feed into your long-held belief that every problem in America can be traced back to corporate thievery.

    I have said before that we are going to need to raise taxes, too. But I guess you didn't notice that either. I guess I was just "posturing" then.? You, on the other hand, speak truth to power. Ooooh ...

  3. P.S. I think you are sincere in your beliefs and I do not question your motives. It would be nice if you extended me the same courtesy.