Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Public unions are out of control

A labor union, a collection of like-minded workers banded together to use their collective leverage to garner equitable wages and treatment makes a certain amount of sense in a labor intensive commercial enterprise. At one point in the history of America unions may have even been absolutely essential. Many of the benefits all "workers" take for granted today were brought about by men and women demanding a fair shake and we would be remiss in not recognizing these truths. However, once the world opened up for business beyond the U.S. borders private sector unions began disappearing at an incredible rate. They are not coming back.

Not to worry there are plenty of public sector unions...

It was President Kennedy, whom I'm told acquiesced against his better judgement to allow Federal workers to form unions. This is when the seeds of our current fiscal crisis were sown. Cities, counties and states  all over the fruited plain allowed unions to form inside their work forces and during the good times when economies and tax receipts rose year after year no one batted an eye.  Let the good times roll.

Getting a "government" job use to mean decent wages, though not great, but very good benefits and some measure of job security. When the economy began to change in the 1970's it was lower skilled manufacturing jobs in the private sector that disappeared and with them union membership. The industries that remained saw their unions lose power, wages stagnate and benefits cut. This was as much out of necessity as it was good old fashioned corporate greed - or they would see the industry leave entirely. In the meantime public sector unions became more powerful, demanding and receiving better pay and much, much better benefits. After all, the money was still rolling into state and local coffers.

While the paradigm shifted for everyone else the promises of excellent wages, wonderful pensions and marvelous medical insurance for public unions continued on unabated. The political machines responsible for them were rewarded time after time with generous campaign contributions and re-election.

So here we are today. The private sector has done away with unions for the most part - the worldwide labor situation dictated it and it became so. Now state, local and federal governments are broke and it has come like a monumental slap in the face just how much these outlandish contracts and promises are costing all of us. It is clear to everyone who is not in one of these privileged unions that it can't continue this way, it just can't. There is no more money.

Instead of going quietly along so that state and local governments can balance their books (they rely on tax receipts and can't print funny money like Uncle Sam) the unions have thrown a tantrum. The rest of us watch our measly 401k's tank as our PTO hours disappear on December 31st while learning our health care contribution and co-pays are going up again and look on incredulously at these babies who might have to pay a lousy $5 co-pay to visit the doctor's office.

These unions are bankrupting the country and they don't care. How many stories are we going to see of teachers and sanitation technicians and social workers retiring at 55 or 60 with 100,000+ pensions and full medical while the rest of us face working into our 70's to pay for them. Many paid nothing out of their wages for their own retirement. Just because they worked for a government employer instead of a private sector employer they somehow deserve and have the right to these generous retirement lifestyles.

We've learned recently that the Postal Service - which is a quasi governmental organization - is bankrupt. It has made extremely generous promises to it's union workforce and now that the paradigm has shifted they can't meet these obligations. The USPS's fate was sealed when Congress ordered them to fund a $5 billion pension obligation by the middle of next year. The Postal Service is going to have to lay off tens of thousands, close thousands of branch offices and lobby Congress to change the mandate from 6 days of door to door delivery to 5 days. The union will lose thousands of dues paying members, but those generous benefits will continue - and you and I (taxpayer) will end up with the bill, again.

Most of those who work or did work for a government employer worked hard and did necessary jobs that made our lives better, I'm certain of it. Still those of us in the private sector work hard too. What we do is important too - we help make lives better by creating and delivering products and services people need. Why are government employees deserving of worry-free retirements?

Plain and simple fact for you public unions - something's got to give.