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Public Sector Unions and the Clash with Government
Compiled by Sarah Spiker
State budgets cannot deficit spend like the federal government, which leaves states in a financial pinch. Many are turning to government employee labor unions to start cutting fringe benefits and decrease costs. Multiple states have utilized a number of measures. This week’s articles provide two sides to the debate by providing articles that both show how public sector unions are helping (advising) public policy and acting as a barrier to a solution. On one end, you have the anti-union lobby who (as expected) will denounce labor unions in any form, even if the union is in the public government sector. On the other hand, labor unions have increased pays or fought off cuts in pay for essential services like teachers. Try attracting good teachers when the pay gets worse than it already is!
- Examines Washington State’s employee unions
- Argues that the public unions are interrupting the state budget process
- “four unions… dominate and dictate public policy”—is this fair?
- “It’s a never-ending — and toxic — unsustainable cycle, and our state is paying the price.”
- Supports arguments that public sector unions have too much political power
- 17 states have made cuts by changing public union benefits
- States are also bargaining with their labor unions to either cut salaries or force employees to contribute more to pensions
- “Unions have priced themselves out of a job.” –specifically firefighters, police officers, librarians and city employees
- “Nationwide politicians looking for budget cuts are confronting politically powerful unions that represent state and local government employees—15% of U.S. workers and organized labor’s biggest stronghold.”
- Provides multiple viewpoints on Obama’s evaluation of public and private sector contracts
- Public labor unions have supported the effort
- Unions are one of the key agencies being consulted in the public sphere to push the Obama Administration to bring back public sector contracts
- New York government labor union members received a 4% hike in payrates (despite recession!). As the most unionized state in the nation, they provide a critical view of how the government union-state government partnership unfolds
- “The pay raise adds $400 million to the state’s annual payroll expenses. There are 196,375 workers on state payroll; 94 percent of them are unionized.”
- Government union workers earned $5.49 more than their private worker counterparts
- “The scheduled pay raises hit as Gov Paterson and state legislators continue to tangle with a budget deficit of $9.2 billion. Paterson wanted unions to give up the pay raise as a way to help the state balance its budget.”
- Public sector benefits have increased three times faster than the private sector
- “All public employees are a critical part of our state government. They deliver essential public services and, for that, they deserve our respect…”
- Unions were able to broker a deal with the state to avoid jobs cuts and unemployed state workers
- This website includes a variety of links about PLAs or Project Labor Agreements with unions. The website argues that PLAs provide additional entitlements to unionized groups
- One of your arguments may be that government unions unfairly compete with the private sector
- Obama’s recent executive order may stir up more debate on this area, so keep an eye out for upcoming articles
- “PLAs help ensure that state money goes to companies that pay the prevailing wage, comply with unemployment compensation and workers’ compensation laws, and don’t hire undocumented workers.”
- “Imposing PLAs means non-union Massachusetts construction workers will, through their taxes, help fund projects where they have no real chance of being hired.”
- Non-union workers constitute about 80 percent of the state’s construction force, which means that 20% of the unionized state workers get the advantage
- “Labor unions and public schools are among the most well-protected special interests in the Legislature. The state’s teachers unions and other public worker unions spend millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions, particularly in election years like this one.”
- Public unions are standing up against state budget slashes to government sector jobs arguing that “None of us, including the Legislature, will benefit from a budget that appears to substitute election-year window dressing with real fiscal reform…”
- Teacher unions in local schools in Indiana are forgoing pay raises in the face of deficits
- “The disadvantage is that at some point our salaries and benefits are going to become so unattractive that we can’t get good quality people to come into education…” You could argue that high wages for teachers increase the quality of the employment and thus serves a public benefit. Unions, as an extension, would be serving the public good. This argument is not articulated in the article, but could be the start of further research into arguments for the quality of applicants in public good projects.
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