By Gery L. Deer
DEER IN HEADLINES
A serious uprising is currently in progress against several state legislatures around the country. In capitol buildings around the country public employees are protesting en mass in response to a proposed bill that, among other things, would limit their collective bargaining power.
When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced that there would be an immediate vote on the bill, thousands of teachers, firefighters, nurses and other public workers descended on the capitol and entrenched themselves in dissent.
A similar bill has been introduced in other states, including Ohio, resulting in the same kinds of resistance. In an unprecedented and brilliant political publicity stunt former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland joined the protestors on Thursday, even donning their red-colored clothing. The red clothing is an effort by union members to steer opinion away from the belief that unions are purely democratic organizations.
While protests flare, the democratic members of the Wisconsin legislature fled the state in an effort to stall the vote. Both states are in a serious budget deficit and their republican legislative members are insisting that correcting the disproportionate benefit investment requirements between the public and private sector employees would help to shore up state coffers.
In addition, the Ohio bill would replace negotiated salaries for teachers with merit raises, which is how wage increases are granted in the majority of private sector jobs. Limiting the power of unions to engage in collective bargaining activities on behalf of public employees has sparked rage across the country, and now the Tea Party movement has jumped into the fight, showing the instability and unfocused actions of its organizers.
The Tea Party’s involvement in the collective bargaining debate serves only to contradict its own foundation. The Tea Party movement began because certain groups of conservative Americans were unhappy with the ways in which their legislative representatives were handling their interests in Washington, in effect, limiting their collective bargaining strength.
The point of a union is to work on behalf of its members to bargain with employers for the best possible working conditions and benefits. Representation of a group of constituents, whether they are made up of voters or union members, is essentially the same concept. In Ohio, Governor John Kasich is not only supporting the current bill but also wants even further union limitations.
If balancing the budget is really the problem, perhaps unions and legislators should do a better job at bargaining in the first place. Some salaries for public workers seem totally off balance with the position. The idea that anyone in a public school system, for example, makes a six-figure income should infuriate people more than anything else.
Consider the superintendent of Dayton Public Schools whose salary, as of July 2010, was $150,000. Why? The Ohio governor earns only $145,000, and that’s only the 14th highest in the country. How does running a school system possibly warrant more money than overseeing the operations of an entire state?
Besides the collective bargaining argument, there is also the debate as to whether public workers should be required to contribute as much to their retirement and healthcare plans as their private sector counterparts. The answer to this is a resounding yes. There is no reason that public employees should have their health care or retirement over-subsidized by the taxpayer when those same constituents already provide their paychecks.
Some teachers are underpaid and some are making too much, as do firefighters, police officers and health care providers. But in the end, they are taxpayers too and they should appreciate that everyone else has to ante up for their benefits and forcing the public to pay the majority of it is unreasonable.
There is no question that that there may be inherent union corruption and their power should be reasonably limited to work for the good of lower level employees, not to boost overinflated benefits of a few. Sadly, unions are still a necessary evil in the continuing effort to ensure fair labor practices whether public or private. That said, if the governors of these troubled states are paying attention, there are only two words to keep in mind: remember Egypt.
Columnist Gery L. Deer is a freelance journalist and business writer based in Jamestown. Read more at http://www.gerydeer.com