Exposing cost of public employee unions 

A silver lining in the dark cloud of the recession that began in 2008 is that it has awakened the nation’s beleaguered private sector workers to the fact that government employees are prospering at their expense.

For the private sector, the recession meant layoffs, pay cuts and reduced benefits. State and local employees felt nary a scratch. In fact, life is pretty good if your paycheck comes from taxpayers.

In 2009, hourly compensation (wages plus benefits) for the average state and local government employee was 45 percent higher than the private-sector average. The share of state and local employees offered health care benefits was 88 percent, versus 71 percent in the private sector.

For retirement benefits, it’s 90 percent to 67 percent. State and local employees are more likely to be offered life insurance (80 percent to 59 percent) and paid sick leave (89 percent to 67 percent).

Did I mention that defined-benefit pensions are offered to about 80 percent of state and local employees versus 20 percent in the private sector? Or that they’re typically twice as generous? That’s kind of a problem because these pensions are underfunded by about $3 trillion, and state and local government finances are already in poor shape.

But wait, there’s more.

Try job security. Layoffs and discharges in state and local government occur at just one-third the rate of the private sector. In fact, life in state and local government must be good considering that workers there quit at one-third the rate of private-sector employees.

Public-sector unions have had a hand in creating this privileged class of citizens, and any threat to their power is viewed as a threat to their existence. That’s why Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s move to limit collective bargaining privileges for state and local employees became a national issue.

If the state that gave birth to public-sector unionism were to change, others across the country could follow.

Now that Walker has won the legislative battle, the unions and their allies on the left are determined to make sure he, and those who believe taxpayers’ interests should come before union privileges, loses the war.

The unions and the left are scurrying to raise millions of dollars to fund recall campaigns against the Wisconsin senators who dared challenge their interests. Walker himself is likely to be targeted. They’re also mobilizing manpower and money to head off similar threats in other states.

President Gerald McEntee of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said, “The country is now seeing more clearly the radical right-wing effort to destroy the power of working men and women.”

The attempt to make common cause with “working men and women” is as repulsive as it is backward. Employee compensation accounts for half the money state and local governments spend each year. That money is taken from working men and women in the form of income, sales, property and a multitude of other taxes on the private sector.

One can sense how desperate McEntee and his ilk are to maintain their grip on the taxpayers’ wallets by the ridiculousness of their rhetoric. In trying to rally the public to his cause, McEntee enlisted Lech Walesa and Pope John Paul II, while tarring the opposition as kindred spirits of the Bolsheviks and Iranian mullahs.

Although the government employee unions might be desperate, they also possess substantial financial resources and a motivated network of support. And they benefit from an unwarranted level of sympathy in the mainstream media.

Therefore, it will be up to the “forgotten” men and women — the unorganized, and often unheard, taxpayers — to fight back against a force that views it as its “right” to live comfortably at their expense.
Tad DeHaven is a budget analyst at the Cato Institute and co-editor of www.downsizinggovernment.org.

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