National Security: Public Sector UnionsJan 25th, 2011 | By Submitted | Category: Editorials
By Joe Boyles
There’s an economic storm brewing across the country that, for the most part, Florida is spared, at least so far. I’m referring to the growth of public sector unions and their outlandish pensions which threaten to bankrupt many municipalities and even some states. The same phenomenon is causing social unrest in Greece and other cash-strapped, over committed European nations.
Organized labor began in this country in private industry mining and manufacturing sectors. In the early years of the Eisenhower Presidency, unions reached their nadir when 37 percent of our nation’s workforce was organized. Today, that figure is below 12 percent. The one place where unions have steadily grown is the public sector – people who work for the government in one capacity or another. Today, public sector unions far outnumber those in the private sector – a warning.
In some cases, these public sector unions have extracted huge concessions from politicians in the form of pensions and health care plans. Now, to quote the Reverend Wright, the “chickens have come home to roost” in the form of economic factors and debt that are simply unsustainable. Some cities and counties have already declared bankruptcy (like Vallejo, CA) – they cannot pay their debts. Are the states of Illinois, California and New York far behind? Now that the Illinois legislature has addressed the problem by increasing their state income tax by two-thirds, how many of their citizens will leave and move to another state that lets them keep more of their own money?
I might have included New Jersey in that list if it were not for the tough, draconian measures that its new governor, Chris Christie, is forcing on the legislature and individual unions. Christie was voted into office two years ago to meet these problems head-on. Garden State voters drew the line at liberal attempts to balance out-of-control spending with more taxes. Like his supporters, Christie knows that it is impossible to spend your way out of debt and more taxes represent a fiscal death spiral.
It isn’t coincidental that most of the state and local governments in fiscal hot water are Democrat bastions. The Obama Administration is under a lot of pressure from both officials and unions to bail out the financially irresponsible. About a quarter of the failed 2009 Stimulus Bill was devoted to just such reckless spending, but it only postponed the fiscal day of reckoning. Republicans who now control Congress will appropriately counter with this question: Why should responsible taxpayers in places like Texas and Florida pay for the mistakes of irresponsible lawmakers and union officials in place like California and New York? Good question!
There is something inherently wrong with government unions where the workers are at odds with the taxpayers who hire them to provide services. The insanity of this became evident in the New York City Christmas blizzard where city sanitation workers were ordered by their union to “go slow” to protest cost-cutting measures. People actually died because EMS personnel were prevented from responding because streets weren’t cleared of snow drifts. So much for the notion of “public service.”
One of my biggest complaints about unions is that, too often, their agenda benefits the labor bosses rather than the workers they supposedly represent. The unions served their purpose a century ago when workers were often exploited, but they have outlived their usefulness and the union has become more about the bosses and less about the people.
I saw this first-hand 20 years ago in California where I had to frequently negotiate with the local chapter of AFGE – the American Federation of Government Employees. The chapter president, who had been elected by a whopping majority of 12 votes to seven, represented more than nine hundred wage grade employees at Edwards Air Force Base. He was on an ego trip. Although he was a highly paid jet engine mechanic, all he did was union work; he hadn’t set foot in the engine shop for more than 10 years.
At the beginning of this piece, I said that Florida was in relatively good shape with respect to this issue. We are a Right-to-Work state (you aren’t required to join a union in order to work) so only about six percent of our state’s workforce is organized. Also, our ratio of state workers to population is among the lowest in the nation and our new governor says that he will cut the state workforce by another five percent. But we cannot afford to be complacent; public sector union employees far outnumber those in the private sector – taxpayers beware!