Plundered by Our Own Employees

Bruce Bialosky

10/4/2010 12:01:00 AM - Bruce Bialosky

Steven Greenhut may be the most annoying man in America. No, it’s not because he’s a mean guy or that he has created some silly reality show like Jersey Shores. It’s because Steve, a former Orange County Register columnist, writes books that you need to read, but are totally infuriating and raise your blood pressure a good fifty points.

Even though I met Steve while he was covering a variety of political events in his pure journalism days, he didn’t inform me when his first book, Abuse of Power, was published in 2004. I actually learned about it when it appeared on the great Thomas Sowell’s year-end book list, and I figured that if it was good enough for Sowell to recommend, it had to be worth reading. After Steve shipped me a copy of the book – which addresses the issue of eminent domain – I immediately began to read it over that holiday season. After each chapter, I sent Greenhut cursing emails about how disgusting the abuse of eminent domain was, and how reading his book had made me peeved. Yet despite my fury, I bought 24 copies and had them mailed to local politicians I knew in California so they too could understand the abuses that wPlunderere taking place in the name of our Constitution.

Greenhut is up to it again, but this time Steve had the book shipped to me upon release. The subject of this book is one with which I am much more familiar – how excessive public employee compensation and benefits are driving our local, state and federal governments into bankruptcy.

Plunder! still managed to infuriate me and teach me more than I could have imagined.

Greenhut not only addresses the financial exposure we face from the unsustainable pension and health care benefits that our public employees are receiving, but describes how they are taking advantage of us in other ways. For example, several years ago unions argued that in order to protect their privacy, police and firefighters should not have their addresses available in the Department of Motor Vehicles database. Whether or not that makes sense, it has now been expanded to virtually every government worker in California. That amounts to over 1 million people, which is 1 out of every 22 California licensed drivers. If you get a photo-ticket for a questionable move at an intersection, you will likely have to pay a very hefty fine. But because their information is not in the DMV database, public employees and their families virtually never receive that same ticket. There are a myriad of other traffic violations they escape because of this exclusion, and it’s not just cops who are protected – it’s also the school janitor!

Most of us have still not gotten the message that our public employees are soaking us. We want to believe it is still the 1960’s when government jobs were unattractive except for the extra holidays they got off. If you watch TV shows made today, they leave you convinced that the hardworking cop is struggling and if he crosses the line he will lose his pension. Neither is true in the real world, and there is a reason you cannot get some of these jobs. After all, if you could retire after 20 years with a lifetime pension almost equal to your final pay – and then go take another job – wouldn’t you sign up? Greenhut told me that the one thing that upset him most of his findings was how impossible it was to fire any government employees. Layering union contracts on top of civil services rules has made it near impossible to dismiss the worst scofflaws.

But you say their job is really dangerous. You would be shocked to see the list of eleven professions that are statistically more dangerous than law enforcement, including taxi cab drivers and roofers, and they don’t earn nearly as much or receive any of the benefits that your local cops get. Plunder! largely uses examples from California, but don’t think this book is applicable only to the Golden State. Thirty states allow public employees to unionize, and each one of them is suffering most of the same consequences of out-of-control public employee unions and the related costs. These people want their money and they don’t care if they drive your state into bankruptcy. In California, the unions are pressing the legislature to eliminate bankruptcy as an option for local and county governments. First, they create utterly unaffordable contracts, and then demand that they be paid no matter what by eliminating the taxpayers’ last means of legal protection. There is no limit to the greed of these unions, or to their desire to manipulate the tax laws to extract all of your money. If you live in a state that doesn’t have public employee unions, this book is also for you. It is a wakeup call to make sure that you do not allow this to happen in your state. In addition, we are all affected by the excessive salaries and benefits – now almost twice the rate of the rest of us – that are now given to federal employees.

A highly readable book, Plunder! will make you wonder why the Tea Party movement does not include everyone in America who isn’t a public employee. It is time, if you have not already, to realize that your local teachers, firefighters and policemen are not selfless individuals, but people who live by different rules than you and I. Read Plunder!, and then buy copies for your unaware friends. It will be the nicest thing you could do for them.