This Week’s Mtg: Public Unions – Problem Or Scapegoat?

Government employees are under attack all over the country.  Why?  Maybe they’re overpaid and pampered and deserve to share disproportionately in the coming pain and sacrifice of recession-adjustment.  Maybe a concerted campaign to scapegoat them during 10% unemployment just makes us think that.  One thing is certain : Support for Labor in general is at an all-time low, and public sector unions seem to be taking the brunt of it.  Sixty Minutes even did a big story on it. 

I view my job as to present some facts on this issue.  Only then can we make any normative judgements about whether the public sector is part of the problem.  We also have to be clear about what problem(s) we’re talking about and whether the unions are to blame. 

To start us off on Thursday, I’ll address these broad factual questions [Note: Slightly reworded from my original post]:

  1. What do government employees actually do?  How many are unionized?  Why do public employees need unions? 
  2. What problems does unionization cause?   Overcompensation?  Lack of accountability?  Ineffective government?   
  3. Have these unions contributed to the dire fiscal crises in California and nationally?   Regardless, should government workers share in the sacrifices that will be imposed on all of us to restore fiscal balance?
  4. What is driving the politics of this?  Whose values and interests are being served?

 Several actual experts may be attending, as well.

LINKS,  Technical–  

  • NPR story:  Government workers are being squeezed in these hard times.
  • Thorough explanation of the role state and local government pay, benefits, and health care costs play – and don’t play – in state budget woes.
  • Two longish, more than I typically link to papers that compare government workers’ pay to private sector pay.  The results may surprise you.
  • The $1 trillion state employee pension gap (note: This sounds worse than it is.  I can explain).

LINKS, Advocacy —

I’m bringing the gavel.  Also, I’ll add more posts on the above issues of substance as soon as I can.

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3 responses

  1. Alas, I will be smoking cigars, playing poker, and downing fine alcoholic beverages and can’t make this discussion. But I will note several issues:

    1. Unions benefit “everyone” instead of the meritorious. Thus, they force all in union to take pay cut or get raise rather than the people who deserve it the most. For instance, the TA union at the UCs refuses to consider the idea that some TAs might be worth more/better at TAing than others. They also love to dole goodies out to people with specific “needs” (i.e. politically potent interest groups) at the cost of everyone.
    2. Often, the debate is over the wrong thing- i.e. how much we should pay workers rather than “are all the workers really needed?” This is important because bureaucracies love expanding and capturing the very legislators who are supposed to be watching over them. They’ll always need more $$ for more positions and will only come forward with painful, public cuts.
    3. That Mother Jones article was refreshingly honest and interestingly noted that public-sector employees at low-skilled jobs are overpaid while those in high skilled jobs are underpaid. That sounds about right to me.

  2. On 1), of course, the point is who gets to decide who is “meritorious.” I would have no hesitation in doing so, myself, of course LOL.
    But will everyone accept the decision? Particularly, will those who are excluded from that category accept it?

  3. This debate is tainted by the goal of the right wing leadership to eliminate large policial donors to Democratic Party candidates. It’s expected that two sides of a debate such as this one will each see things from their point of view and frame the issues accordingly. But when one side is making a conscious effort to sell a lie, You no longer have an honest debate, you have a propaganda campaign on one side, selling its lie with a well oiled machine against the other side which is still just debating an issue. In other words, this is not a fair fight. Sadly what is really lost with such an unfair fight is democracy for all of us.

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