Public-sector labor unions could bring more of our cities, counties, and states to the brink of bankruptcy. Members of Congress who proudly wear the union label are helping the effort. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi disgracefully led the way in amending the war-funding appropriation bill to include language to force police officers, firefighters, and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) into “exclusive” union bargaining in every state in the U.S.
The collective bargaining legislation carries the feel-good name “The Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act.” It was passed by the House July 1. But its fate in the Senate is iffy. A spokesperson in the office of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a strong supporter, said the legislation could pass before the Congressional recess or, if not, later in the year.
Unionization of government employees spells politicization of the workplace, inflexible work rules, fewer high-performance workers, and even such workplace lunacy as the New Jersey Port Authority contract with the police union that pays officers “suspended without pay” for unearned overtime during their suspension.
Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, wrote in an op-ed article for the Washington Examiner July 8 that “policies expanding public-sector monopoly unionism have played a major role in driving many states to the verge of insolvency.” He said 41 percent of government employees nationwide were subject to a contract negotiated by a union monopoly-bargaining agent. Mix said:
But in the 22 states that prohibit forced union dues for government workers, fewer than 30 percent of public workers are unionized. Not one of these 22 states was found ‘most likely to default’…. Laws empowering government union officials to negotiate contract terms for all front-line employees at a public agency, even for employees who want nothing to do with the union, are behind the [fiscal] messes in Sacramento, Springfield, and Trenton.
Not to dismiss brave cops and firefighters who put their lives on the line. But unionized police and firemen’s sky-high pay already has bankrupted one California city. In Vallejo, CA, population 120,000, a cash flow crisis was insufficient to cover contract obligations, which totaled nearly 80 percent of the city’s general fund.
As reported by columnist George Will in December of 2008, each of the 100 firefighters paid $230 monthly in union dues and each of the 140 police officers paid $254 monthly “giving their unions enormous sums to purchase a compliant city council.” A police captain racked in $306,000 a year in pay and benefits. Twenty-one of the firefighters made more than $200,000. The previous year, 292 city employees each pulled in more than $100,000. All police and firefighters were guaranteed lifetime health benefits after just five years of service. Many California firefighters earn more than $200,000 a year in pay alone.
For the first time in American history, a majority of union members now are government workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The New York Times reported that the 7.9 million unionized public-sector workers easily outnumber those in the private world, where recession woes have shrunk the private-sector. Manufacturing and construction were hit particularly hard. Construction lost 900,000 jobs, and 1.3 million factory jobs were lost, BLS data showed. Among government employees, union membership grew to 37.4 percent last year.
Fred Siegel, a visiting professor at Brooklyn’s St. Francis College and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, was quoted as describing “enormous political ramifications” that public-sector workers are now the majority in organized labor. He said “at the same time the country is being squeezed [financially], public-sector unions are a rising political force in the Democratic Party….In four big states—New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and California—the public-sector unions have largely been untouched by the economic downturn. In those states, you have an impeding clash between the public-sector unions and the public at large.”
New York City taxpayers’ share of the city’s pension costs have zoomed up more than 900 percent in the past decade, according to the financial report of the NYC comptroller, the New York Post reported July 11. Taxpayers’ share of city pension costs went from $703.1 million in 2000 to $6.5 billion in 2009, the city comptroller reported. The toll is expected to hit $7.6 billion this fiscal year. E. J. McMahon, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, was quoted in the article as saying: “It’s a double whammy for taxpayers. If they’re privately employed, they shoulder the risks of saving for their own retirement. At the same time they have to pay a steadily mounting cost of guaranteed pensions for government workers.”
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