Union arguments in favor of their members’ lush pensions are falling by the wayside as the public examines the facts. For instance, union officials argue that the average pension benefit in California is “only” $30,000 a year, while neglecting to mention that the number, according to the Little Hoover Commission, rises to $66,000 a year for recent retirees — a reflection of the massive pension-increasing that has gone on in the last decade.
No wonder the public is angry. But the public is angry at more than the unsustainable pension debt and the unfair imbalance between the amounts received in the public versus the private sector. People are getting angry at the abuses by public employees and at the lack of accountability even when bad apples are caught red-handed.
The Sacramento Bee has reported recently on state employees who walk away with as much as $800,000 in unused sick time at retirement — a clear violation of the rules. Now the newspaper is reporting that a “top NATO general who formerly led the California National Guard enhanced his salary during his state tenure by collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in dual pay … .” Maj. Gen. William Wade padded his pay by about $155,000 — “beyond the legal limits” as the Bee put it. There are hasty legislative proposals, but there’s no apparent push to put Wade — since promoted to a top NATO position in Italy — where he belongs, in the hoosegow. Somehow, when government officials commit offenses we get euphemisms about being beyond legal limits and improper behavior.
The private sector doesn’t work perfectly. No human endeavor does. But in my lifetime there, I have never seen managers cover up for and defend miscreants. In government, officials typically circle the wagons. The unions stand up to protect the worst of the worst. The disciplinary rules are so cumbersome that it’s generally not worth trying to do anything about misbehavior. That’s why the public schools have “rubber rooms” — places where allegedly bad teachers wile away the years receiving full pay and benefits as their cases are adjudicated.
Notice how only a handful of sleeping air traffic controllers — union members who endangered lives by neglecting their responsibilities — received suspensions and other minor punishments. There’s rarely any accountability.
The California Supreme Court ruled recently in a case involving two Orange County social workers who were found by a jury to have filed false reports and held back evidence so that they could unjustly take away a woman’s two children. In this case, the state’s highest court upheld a verdict of nearly $5 million plus millions more in legal fees and remarked that this was no isolated incident. So what happens to these people who were admonished by the courts and who put a family through more than six years of living hell? One retired and the other was promoted. She now trains other social workers.
Orange County officials actually argued that social workers should be afforded immunity, even for wrongdoing. Do we really want to provide powerful government agents with full immunity even when they break the law and misuse their power?
My prediction is that the public employee issue is not going away — not simply because the pension debts are depleting budgets, but because we are only scratching the surface of the accountability issue, which touches on the foundation of what we are as a society. It’s about time that we bring on this necessary debate.
Steven Greenhut is editor of www.calwatchdog.com; write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.