Monday, February 28, 2011

Why Public Sector Workers Are Not the "New Welfare Queens"

Contrary to the outrageous charge by Governor Christie, neither teachers nor any other public sector workers are the “new welfare queens.”  Teachers, firemen, agency personnel … all of these people provide a valuable service to the state and to the community. 

Anyone who says that they are overpaid has not looked recently at salaries in the private sector where many, not just the top dogs, earn substantially more while providing questionable benefit to the community, other than shareholders.  And that brings me to a point totally forgotten in both the Republican attacks and the workers’ defense. 

The reason why workers in the public sector generally have better benefits than those in the private sector is not because their unions have a cozy relationship with government.  It’s because government executives felt that in order to attract good people to government employment, strong benefits were needed to offset the fact that they could never hope to achieve the type of salaries and bonuses that were available in the private sector if you were a strong performer.

Granted, not everyone is a strong performer.  But benefits, as opposed to wages and promotions, have never been tied to performance either in government or private settings.

As a secondary reason, many public sector employees work under very difficult conditions … think about teachers, firemen, and policemen.  The better benefits can be thought of as equivalent to combat pay.

There are without question many valid issues to be raised with teachers’ unions and others.  One can also make a strong argument that in difficult economic times, public sector workers must make some sacrifice along with everyone else … taking a pay cut, paying a higher percentage of medical insurance costs, etc.

And indeed, the unions in Wisconsin agreed almost immediately to such changes.  They understand the need. 

But to take away their collective bargaining rights and eliminate dues check offs, among other things, turns this from a valid state effort to cut costs to an invalid state effort to bust the unions.  And that is basically what Governor Walker is trying to do.

The Republicans are constantly talking about the need for sacrifice in these difficult times.  But why is it that the sacrifice they suggest always comes solely or mostly from the workers and the poor?  If the well-off were asked to sacrifice by giving up their Bush tax cuts, then the Republicans could make a moral argument that everyone must sacrifice, each according to his ability.

Instead they are just playing their usual game.  Take from the poor and workers; give to the rich.  They have no concern for the common good.  They are hypocrites masquerading as the party of the people.  They have no shame.