Dealing with public union benefits and collective bargaining rights is a very charged issue. No one relishes anyone losing promised benefits or jobs, but a balanced approach to our fiscal crisis requires shared sacrifice and a hard look at what government priorities to protect and fund.
On Wednesday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Republican senators stared down union leaders, demonstrators and absent state senators and passed a law limiting the collective bargaining to negotiating salaries for most public employees.
President Obama has expressed concern over this "assault on unions." Some union signs call Walker the "Mubarak of the Midwest," and Walker's face has been superimposed on Hitler's. Gov. Walker makes an easy target, but the resulting media circus disregards the fact that many states have no collective bargaining rights for public unions, and many more are moving to do the same.
Gov. Walker and others face possible recall elections over their actions. But, even though thousands may have taken to the streets in protest, conservative politicians are counting on support from millions of frustrated taxpayers. There’s reason to expect that support.
When the U.S. economy was humming along, no one noticed or complained about the public employee salary and benefit packages. But with states struggling with unprecedented deficits, taxpayer outrage has been heightened.
In cash strapped CA, higher taxes have just stifled the private sector, motivated corporations to leave the state, and strangled job growth. The economic pain is not shared equally. According to the Employment Development Department, while private-sector workers have lost over a million CA jobs since the recession began, CA government employment has increased 1,200 jobs. CA now has over 489,000 state workers who are paid by a million fewer taxpayers, many of whom have seen their incomes compromised.
In the private sector, when a union strikes, customers can find a competitor. With public employees, there is a virtual monopoly. Yes, rich parents can send their children to a private school, but the only affordable, “free” choice is a public school.
As a result, collective bargaining is an invitation to disaster for state budgets. Allowing public unions to use union funds to support the campaign of politicians and expecting those same politicians to protect taxpayer interests in collective bargaining, is unrealistic. When you are beholden to unions and you’re using someone else’s money, it’s easy to be extravagant.