Apparently Wisconsin isn’t the only state dealing with self-entitled, thuggish government-employee unions.
So, according to the Wall Street Journal’s William McGurn, speaking to Hillsdale College, is New Jersey:
Many scholars are better versed on the history of public employee unions than I am, but there is one credential I can claim that they cannot: I am a taxpayer in the People’s Republic of New Jerseystan. That makes me an authority on how public sector unions—especially at the state and local level—are thwarting economic growth, strangling the middle class, and generally hijacking the democratic process to serve their own ends rather than the public. …
It’s not that I don’t consider the unionization of federal workers to be an issue. Plainly it is an issue when the teachers unions represent one of the largest blocs of delegates at Democratic conventions, when the largest single campaign contributor in the 2010 elections was the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, when union money at the federal level goes at an overwhelming rate to Democratic candidates, and when the Congressional Budget Office tells us that federal employees earn more than their counterparts in the private sector. Nonetheless, I believe that the greater challenge today—to state and city finances, to democratic representation, to the middle class—is at the state and local level. This is partly because state and city unions have the power to negotiate wages and benefits that their counterparts at the federal level largely do not. More fundamentally, it is because we cannot reform at the federal level without correcting a problem that is bringing our cities and states to bankruptcy.
When I say we need to change our understanding, what I mean is that we have to recognize that public sector unions have successfully redefined key relationships in our economic and civic life. In making this argument, I will suggest that the elected politicians who represent us at the negotiating table are not in fact management, that our taxing and spending decisions at the city and state level are in practice decided by our public sector contracts, and that when you put this all together, what emerges is a completely different picture of the modern civil servant. In short, we work for him, not the other way around.
Let me start with the relationship between government employee unions and our elected officials. On paper, it is true, mayors and governors sit across the table from city and state workers collectively bargaining for wages and benefits. On paper, this makes them management—representing us, the taxpayers. But in practice, these people often serve more as the employees of unions than as their managers. …
Scarcely six months after he was elected, Governor [Jon] Corzine appeared before a rally of state workers in Trenton in support of a one percent sales tax designed to bring in revenues to a state hemorrhaging money. Not cutbacks, but a tax. Naturally, Mr. Corzine’s solution was the one the public sector unions wanted: Get the needed revenues by introducing a new tax.
The twist was that there was someone in the New Jersey government who understood the problem—who understood that a new sales tax wouldn’t do much to fix New Jersey’s problems, and that the only way to get a handle on them was to get state workers to start contributing more to their health care and pensions.
These were the pre-Chris Christie days, so the author of this bold proposal was the Senate president, Stephen Sweeney. Mr. Sweeney is not only interesting because he is a prominent and powerful Democrat. He is also interesting because in addition to his political office, he represents the state’s ironworkers. And what Mr. Sweeney proposed for the public sector unions was something private union members such as his ironworkers already paid for. It was also common sense: He knew that if New Jersey didn’t get a handle on its gold-plated pay and benefits for its government employees, it would squeeze out the private sector that hires people such as ironworkers. …
Manifestly, the problem is not that Mr. Corzine and other elected leaders like him—mostly Democrats—do not understand. In fact, they understand all too well that they are the hired help. The public employees they are supposed to manage in effect manage them. The unions provide politicians with campaign funds and volunteers and votes, and the politicians pay for what the unions demand in return with public money.
In New Jersey as elsewhere, most leaders of public sector unions are not sleeping with the politicians who set their salary and benefits. They are, however, doing all they can to install and keep in office those they wish—while fighting hard against the ones they oppose. And until we recognize the real master in this relationship, we will never reform the system.
… Not only have the public unions too often become the dominant partner in the relationship with elected officials, but the contracts and the spending that goes with them are setting the other policy agenda. In other words, even when we recognize that the packages favored by public employees are too generous, we think of them simply as spending items. We need to wake up and recognize that in fact these spending items are the tail wagging the dog—that they set tax and borrowing decisions rather than follow from them. …
That leads me to my third and final point: If I am right that the public employee unions are in fact the managers in the relationship with politicians, and that public sector spending is driving tax and borrowing policy, the inescapable conclusion is that you and I are working for them.
That’s not how we usually understand and speak of public service. Traditionally, the idea of a public servant is someone who is working for the public, with the implication that he or she is sacrificing a better material life to do so. But can anyone really define today’s relationship this way? Especially when health care and pensions are included, government workers increasingly seem to live better than the people who pay their salaries. How many of you walk into some local, state or federal office these days and leave thinking, “The men and women here are working for me”? …
Across the nation we have governors and mayors trying to solve their public employee problems with varying degrees of seriousness, from Chris Christie in New Jersey to Jerry Brown in California to the great experiments going on in the Rust Belt—in Indiana, which has done the best, and Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan. Only Illinois, led by Democratic Governor Pat Quinn, has opted for business as usual with a mammoth tax increase that is now being followed up, in today’s typical way of Democratic governance, with tax breaks for large companies threatening to leave Chicago because of the tax burden.
In most of these places, there’s probably little we can do about the contracts that exist. What we can do is bring in new hires under more reasonable contracts and pro-rate contributions for existing employees. Even marginal changes can have a big impact, as Wisconsin found out when Governor Scott Walker’s collective bargaining reforms for public workers helped restore many of the state’s school districts back to fiscal health.
On Saturday, while those who pay their salaries were out doing normal weekend activities, Da Union and its toadies were out protesting the one-year anniversary of their being forced to pay smaller percentages of their benefits than private-sector workers — and, as Ann Althouse chronicled, in always classy fashion:
What is the protesters’ alternative plan for fixing multibillion-dollar budget deficits caused by, among other wasteful spending, excessive employee compensation?
Yes, these are the faces of those spending your tax dollars. And, by the way, “your” includes those who are members of private-sector unions, of whom David Blaska writes:
Real people in economically depressed Northern Wisconsin are paying the price for the Democratic Party’s fealty to government employee unions. Who has declared war on the middle class? Democrats have.
That is the upshot of this week’s party line vote in the state Senate to defeat the mining reform legislation — with one defection by quasi-Republican Dale Schultz to give the Democrats a 17-16 victory.
For the minority party, recalling Scott Walker is Job Number One. Creating conditions that would produce 700 family-supporting jobs that the Gogebic Taconite iron mine would have brought to Mellen, in Iron County? Not even close.
Legislative Democrats defeated the mining bill in order to sabotage the governor’s job-creation efforts. Those Democrats intend to play working men and women off each other: they’ll happily trade the industrial unions, whose numbers have been declining for decades, in exchange for the more numerous and more prosperous teachers unions and AFSCME affiliates.
For, make no mistake, the blue collar unions wanted the $1.5 billion mine in Mellen.
“We had an historic opportunity to pass mining legislation that would have ensured thousands of new jobs in the state at a time when jobs are scarce and we blew it,” lamented Terry McGowan, business manager of Local 139, Operating Engineers. His was one of five unions to endorse the mining legislation offered by Republicans.
A close second in importance to public sector union support is the well-heeled Environment First, People Last movement.
The professional environmentalists of the Sierra Club, One Thousand and One Friends of the Environment, et al., want to keep The North Woods their happy hunting grounds and exclusive playground. …
Retaining current law is, in effect, a prohibition of mining. No new iron mine has been opened since its passage in 1974. Existing law allows the professional enviros to tie up proposed mines for years by making unlimited and open-ended appeals to administrative law judges. …
This was all about politics, not science.