Friday, December 10, 2010

Public Unions Must Begin Giving Their ‘Fair Share’

Sure to anger many who think their positions within government entitle them to preferential treatment and compensation, but something that is being seen more and more as a much needed act and soon, if we are to ever recover from this deep economic blight we continue to struggle with, unions, public unions especially must begin sharing in the burden of this elongated economic downward spiral.

I don’t blame public unions for all of our troubles, but they have played a significant role in getting us here and I see little from them in helping get us out. For those who will inevitably flock here to cry I am anti-Police or anti-Firefighters, don’t waste your time. I am anything but and I am reminded that we have Troops fighting and dying to protect our country who receive far less compensation than either do.

I also openly admit that in the past, unions have accomplished much good, fighting for and winning safe work places, fair work hours and conditions and reasonable wages from private sector companies. But, somewhere along the way, that was forgotten and far exceeded as business agents convinced union members they were entitled to more and more and gained concessions from companies that were passed along in the way of higher consumer prices. Higher prices that even the union members had to pay, necessitating yet another strike vote for even more compensation which too was passed along in the form of higher prices.

In my personal estimation, a self-defeating vicious circle.

But, somewhere also along the way, unions began figuring out that government workers unionized did not have to negotiate with a company that must remain profitable to stay in business as negotiators seemed to have bottomless pits of money in the form of our taxes paid.

As private sector union membership waned, public sector union membership grew, as even acknowledged by the staunchly left-leaning, pro-union New York Times in a January 2010 article, Most U.S. Union Members Are Working for the Government.

“In its annual report on union membership, the [Bureau of Labor Statistics] undercut the longstanding notion that union members are overwhelmingly blue-collar factory workers. It found that membership fell so fast in the private sector in 2009 that the 7.9 million unionized public-sector workers easily outnumbered those in the private sector, where labor’s ranks shrank to 7.4 million, from 8.2 million in 2008.”

While a later New York Times article makes the claim that “Many Public Employees Will Pay More,” I find the claim hollow and empty when it comes to the public unions in Washington State and Clark County in particular.

With the growing budget deficits, increases in taxes and fees, ever growing unemployment, Clark County remaining the highest in the state at 13%, what real concessions have we struggling taxpayers seen from public employees?

Our illustrious County Commissioners just voted unanimously to pass off yet another 1% increase in property tax for the county general fund, “for health services.” I had the opportunity, along with several other struggling property owners, to testify to the commissioners on our struggles and apparently, our voices went ignored by the 2 Republican, 1 Democrat commission.

In the deal, we are told “the committee voted to have [public union] employees pay higher service costs rather than start taking payroll deductions,” but just what does “service costs” mean? Unless it means county employees begin contributing to their health insurance premiums, that they currently contribute not one dime towards, there is absolutely no relief to struggling homeowners who will pay this increased tax.

Clark County paid $26 Million so far this year alone for health insurance premiums while the 1640 public union employees paid no portion of those premiums. The private sector must pay upwards of 70% of their health insurance premiums.

Then too we read on the decision for public union employees to pay “higher service costs,” “How this is accomplished will depend on the outcome of ongoing [public union] contract negotiations,” by County Administrator Bill Barron.

The city of Kelso, in Cowlitz County just saw their Police Union rejecting a 5% pay cut, which means they will lose 3 Police Officers and 1 Police Clerk. Less Police is not serving the community. And, it must be noted that many in the private sector have received a 100% pay reduction due to being placed on the unemployment rolls.

While the state did reach a tentative agreement with state public unions to have their members pay 12% to 15% contribution to their health insurance premiums, that sum is paltry compared to those of us still struggling in the private sector. Most laughable is seeing that we taxpayers will pay ONLY 85% of their premiums now.

Then too, as the state still faces yet another multi-billion dollar budget deficit, can we forget the outrage expressed by union members over furloughs in the attempt to decrease state spending?

Also not to be forgotten is how we lost a grant in 2008 to our schools because the teachers union in our state couldn’t control the $13.2 Million grant to teachers, the benefactor desiring to handle it directly.

On and on it goes. Example after example could be provided as to how we in the private sector continue to tighten our belts and do without while well paid state workers, public union members, make no or very slight concessions to help weather this deep economic morass we continue in.

Who in government is willing to stand up to these unions? Who will take the bull by the horns and say enough? Obviously the unions will not voluntarily give up a little so all may survive.

Negotiators do not worry about being profitable, they just raise taxes or fees. The public unions pour money in by the droves to defeat common sense approaches that might lower spending, as they did recently in our state against measures to privatize the sale, warehousing and distribution of liquor, currently wholly managed by the Washington State Liquor Control Board, who just happens to be filled with public union members stocking shelves and selling liquor in state owned stores at upwards of $15.00 an hour, with generous benefits and pension, on our dime.

I can’t help but recall back in 1979, as Chrysler Corporation Chairman Lee Iacocca was seeking wage and benefit concessions from the United Auto Workers Union and was asked just what could he guarantee members should they make those concessions as he answered rather matter of factly, “THEIR JOBS!

If public unions are not willing to concede and begin accepting their fair share in this continuing “Great Recession,” they must be broken. They must be decertified. They have become little more than what they were formed to fight, greedy corporations.

Should public union members decide to “walk-off” the job, stage a “sick-in” or otherwise express their unwillingness to help out, with a continuing 13% unemployment in Clark County and nearly 10% statewide, I am sure we would have no problem finding someone willing to fill their positions.

4 comments:

Nick Rowe said...

Teachers in Fremont, CA rejected a $20 per week pay cut which forced the district to lay of 75 people.

Unions are all about preserving the coerced pay and benefits for the senior members at the expense of junior members, non-union workers, employers, and customers.

We all admire and respect police officers and fire fighters, which is why they've been so successful at gaining unsustainably high benefits. Members of the military retire after 20 years at only 50% of base pay. Most firefighters and police do far better than that. They also spike their pensions with overtime, and cash in unlimited amounts of sick leave and unused vacation. Soldiers, on the other hand, must use or lose any leave above 60 days at the end of the fiscal year, and can cash in only 90 days worth of leave in their entire careers.

The "folks who brought you the weekend" really didn't bring their members weekends, evenings, and holidays off to preserve workers' dignity, sanity, health, and family. What they did bring them is time-and-a-half or double-time for overtime worked.

Every 40 hours of overtime worked is a full-time job, with benefits, that someone is not getting. In the short-run, the cost of overtime is justified by saving administrative costs. But when overtime becomes routine, it is a needless cost at the expense of people seeking work.

Lew Waters said...

Then too, Nick, I don't recall a whole lot of paid holidays off in Viet Nam.

Sure, we had a Christmas "stand-down," but even then we doubled the guards because we knew Charlie didn't "stand-down."

Unions, especially public unions, have become greedier than any CEO I know of and with all of the dues paid, members have no say in how they are dispersed or what political cause (party) they go to support.

Nick Rowe said...

Public sector unions were illegal, I believe, until John Kennedy allowed them.

You are quite correct that private sector union membership is on the decline while public sector unions account for almost all the growth.

There are many economic reasons to oppose private sector labor unions. They achieve higher wages for their workers at the expense of shareholder profits, suppliers of capital, higher customer prices, and lower output. The higher wages also reduce employment in the union sector. These people get jobs in the non-union sector, lowering wages there.

In other words, unions help themselves at the expense of everyone else.

But they don't even help themselves. At the first downturn, the junior workers get laid off first. Their high wages remove incentives to gain human capital which increases their job flexibility.

Public sector unions are worse. In the private sector, at least you have profit-maximizing management and shareholders pushing back. In the public sector, you've got politicians who are not spending their own money. When the unions vote for the politicians in a block, it helps to overcome any token resistance the politicians get from rising deficits. By the time the entitlements become unsustainable, it's too late for the public to roll it back by electing new representatives.

The SEIU is the most militant, radical, leftist union in the country. They are almost constantly on strike somewhere.

Lew Waters said...

As we have seen, if the SEIU isn't on strike, they are beating up someone who disagrees with them.