Greed: what is it good for?
In my other life, I play a member of one of the major political parties, and I regularly engage in issues, campaigns, and debates on a partisan level. In all of my activities, however, I try to maintain a level of civility that encourages healthy debate and discussion that allows for, when appropriate, compromise.
Right now, however, I find myself viewing the events in Wisconsin, the antics of the union antagonists, and it merits little in the way of compromise.
What happened in Wisconsin?
If you haven’t been paying attention (or, perhaps, you have been away from your t.v., internet, and radio, like these guys), allow me to sum up what’s happening, very briefly: Wisconsin, like a lot of states, is having budget problems aggravated by expensive pension liabilities growing faster than the money going into them. Rising costs, falling tax revenues.
Governor Walker, to fix the problem, is proposing that government employees, including teachers, pay into the pension funds, just like the rest of us do in the private sector. Further, to prevent the problem again, he’s changing the teacher’s right to collective bargaining.
As Governor Walker explained in an email to government employees,
Collective bargaining units will have to take annual votes to maintain certification as a union. Employers will be prohibited from collecting union dues and members of collective bargaining units will not be required to pay dues. These changes take effect upon the expiration of existing contracts.
And, taken together with the contributions to pensions and healthcare funds, it’ll save Wisconsin $30 million over three months and save 1,500 jobs this year.
Empire Union Strikes Back
Naturally, unions representing the teachers, as well as a lot of unions not representing the teachers, protested. And the state legislators tasked with solving the budget problem? They fled the state for Illinois:
Image by Jessie Reeder via Flickr
Fourteen Democrat state Senators have fled the state, forcing the state legislature to delay the vote by preventing a quorum. Holed up in Illinois, they have a list of demands they want met, including the right for unions to continue as-is with their collective bargaining agreements. Governor Walker wants to limit the wages that union bosses can insist on by tying it to the state’s consumer price index, or putting it to a public vote, and removing their ability to bargain for pension benefits. Only one of those Senators is needed to give the Wisconsin Senate their quorum and allow for the vote to proceed.
The fact is that the state doesn’t have the money. They either have to fire people, raise taxes, or government employees have to pay their share of their retirement, just like the rest of us with 401ks do.
In other words, the protests are, in large part, based on greed, not real concern for the general welfare. Unions are afraid of losing their ability to extract disproportionate shares of the state coffers for themselves and their members, so they’re doing all they can to bring the state to its knees. It has nothing to do with what is good for the state; it’s all about what’s good for the union.
Facts are facts
As it has been said more and more often, lately, “reality is not negotiable,” and these unions are not seeking the general welfare of the state. Rather, they’re looking out for numero uno–themselves. The money has run out, but they don’t care. They want their benefits, and it doesn’t matter that the state doesn’t have the money for them.
A friend articulated it well:
My employer sells widgets. Widgets have not been selling very well- so my employer doesn’t have as much money as he use to. My employer says to me “Look I’m out of money, so you have an option- take a pay cut or work somewhere else”
If you work in the private sector, that’s the end of story.
But if you work for the government (which, coincidentally, means you make pay above the average of the private sector…way above average. One study found that average pay for public sector work is $39.60, while the same job in the private sector pays only $27.42). Then, you call the union rep, or the union rep calls you, and you go protest…during work hours.
Yeah. During work hours.
Despite the obvious–that we’re in a recession and if you want more benefits from the government, then your neighbor is the one who will have to pay for them–there are those out there who aren’t willing to give up primo benefits given to them for nothing.
And yet, there are very real questions about who is helping who when the union calls a protest:
There are deeply divided opinions and shifting allegiances over whether unions are helping or hurting people who have been caught in the recent economic squeeze. And workers themselves, being pitted against one another, are finding it hard to feel sympathy or offer solidarity, with their own jobs lost and their benefits and pensions cut back or cut off.
Killing the Golden Goose
Greed, I’m telling you. It pits you against your neighbors, against your employees, against your state, and against your country. While you receive higher wages, free healthcare, and a pension you didn’t contribute to, your neighbor is paying higher taxes to fund those benefits, looking for a second job, and hoping they don’t get hit by a car, because the insurance policy just expired, the insurance policy they can not afford.
In other words, you’re killing the goose that provides the golden eggs.
It’s unfair, and it’s immoral. But it’s the facts. When the union demands benefits far and above those the state can afford, not to mention far and above what the average person has in their private sector job, the state can, and should, require that government employees pay their fair share.
Greed: what is it good for?
(h/t to My Soapbox, Sen. Dan Liljenquist, the NYT, the MacIver Institute, and the Reason Foundation)