Public-sector unions are shaping up as a 2012 issue

Public labor-union members have been a key voting bloc for Democrats for years now, so it’s interesting to read this Politico story about bipartisan wariness over civil servants’ pay and benefits. Democrats in Illinois (Gov. Pat Quinn), New York (attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo) and California (left-of-center blogger and U.S. Senate candidate Mickey Kaus, not cited in the article) have acted or spoken against the growing disparity between the public and private sectors, something I’ve written about before here, here and here.

The story also quotes some Republicans who may be prime challengers to President Obama in 2012: Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and, if you believe the early talk about GOP voters possibly going for an Obama-style fast-riser, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

For whatever reason, the authors didn’t connect the 2012 dots. So, allow me.

Suppose that Daniels is the GOP nominee in 2012. Such a contest would pit a two-term governor who “rescinded state workers’ collective bargaining power on his first day in office in 2006,” according to Politico, against a sitting president who took hundreds of billions of dollars, in the form of a taxpayer-funded “stimulus,” out of the private sector — with the primary effect of saving public-sector jobs. Nominating Pawlenty or Christie, to name two others, would set up a similar fight about the disparity between the public and private sectors.

And with the positions that Cuomo, Quinn and others are taking, many of Obama’s fellow Democrats will have a hard time defending him on the issue.

For further reading on the issue of public-sector unions, I recommend the work by the folks at Reason. Start here.

31 comments Add your comment

Jefferson

June 7th, 2010
12:50 pm

Link me up bro– nevermind you did.

Sorry I only have so many clicks and I used one just to get here…

Jess

June 7th, 2010
2:17 pm

Obama seems to have an unnatural affinity for unions, the SEIU in particular. It would be lovely to see this love affair play a part in his downfall.

CJ

June 7th, 2010
2:47 pm

How about eliminating any such disparities by striving to increase pay and benefits in the private sector rather than striving to reduce pay and benefits in the public sector?

Mike

June 7th, 2010
2:53 pm

CJ – and is that the government’s place?

DebbieDo Right

June 7th, 2010
4:02 pm

CJ How about eliminating any such disparities by striving to increase pay and benefits in the private sector rather than striving to reduce pay and benefits in the public sector?

Poor, poor CJ — they wouldn’t do that because that would make sense; AND because their main contributors, people like BP and Exxon, may get a bit surly.

Michael H. Smith

June 7th, 2010
4:24 pm

I’m glad to see you’re okay Kyle. I thought CJ and the other socialist libs might have done something terrible to you. I’ll be back later to join in. It’s nap time at the moment.

Kyle Wingfield

June 7th, 2010
4:27 pm

Being a private-sector worker, CJ, I’m all for better pay and benefits for the private sector. But where do you think the public-sector goodies are coming from?

Ezra

June 7th, 2010
4:31 pm

How does Ga public sector compare to the private sector Kyle?

Kyle Wingfield

June 7th, 2010
4:38 pm

Not sure, Ezra. But it’s something I plan to look into soon.

Moderate

June 7th, 2010
4:38 pm

The concept behind the private sector and free enterprise is the free exchange of labor and talent to produce goods and services of value. There are industries in which pay and benefits are very generous, just as there are certain professions that provide generous compensation. Employees are free to get additional experience and training to improve their value in the market. On the other side, companies will pay what is necessary for talent that is critical to their success. (Tried to hire a network administrator lately?) Governments are inclined toward a cookie cutter workforce with the same pay regardless of your abilities or productivity. Pray that the SEIU goes down with Presbo.

joan1

June 7th, 2010
4:40 pm

I think the SEIU is Obama’s personal hitmen. The SEIU president is the most frequent “visitor” at the White House. Who knows what those huddles look like. There was a time, not long ago, when you knew if you went into government you would never get fired, and while the pay was low comparably, the job security and benefits were excellent, so many people of integrity opted for private sector where they could make and invest their own money. Now, economics is on its ear. The public sector makes about 40% higher in salaries and still have the exceptional benefits, and us private sector folks are making it all possible. Time to eliminate the big benefits, and raise their retirement age. I can’t retire, and am 69, and I am mad.

Kyle Wingfield

June 7th, 2010
4:40 pm

Btw, Ezra, not sure why your earlier comment didn’t go through…try sending it again.

Jefferson

June 7th, 2010
5:52 pm

Oh no — greed and fear again…

Jess

June 7th, 2010
6:07 pm

Having lived and worked in Europe for six years, I have seen what unions are capable of doing. France, which has especially agressive unions, is almost constantly under threat of one strike or another, and it’s usually in a sector such as transportation which can a devistating effect on citizens daily lives. I camped out at Orly airport for three days once while the baggage handlers were on strilke, and had blocked all the runways with all manner of airport trucks and equipment. My company finally paid for me to take a taxi to the Netherlands so I could fly out.

Unfortunately, this is the kind of world this administration is hell bent to bring to our shores. Obama seems willing to spend as much tax payer money as necessary to buy union votes and broden their influence. Harkening back to one of Kyle’s first articles, this could only happen in an administration where 100% of the presidents advisors are politicians, lawyers, or academics. Not a free enterprise soul in sight.

Old Man

June 7th, 2010
6:53 pm

I don’t understand the logic here. I went to the Reason link as suggested. Here IMHO, are the 2 most important sentences from the article: “There was a time when government work offered lower salaries than comparable jobs in the private sector but more security and somewhat better benefits. These days, government workers fare better than private-sector workers in almost every area—pay, benefits, time off, and job security … the average federal worker made $59,864 in 2005, compared with the average salary of $40,505 in the private sector.”” These statistics prove, more than anything, the success of unions and the failure of your “free-market.” Instead of spending your time bashing unions, perhaps you would be better served to advocate more unionization for private sector workers. That is, if you actually want people’s wages to increase. Corporations do not.

Ignorance abounds about unions. For example: “SEIU” is Obama’s hitman.” SEIU is a private sector union. “Employees are free to get additional experience and training to improve their value in the market.” The assumption here is that, 1) a person has a at $40k per year job and 2) the employee has established the savings or credit to be able to afford school.

I don’t understand why so-called conservative, free-marketeers are all for contracts unless they are union-negotiated for public employees. The people in govt jobs traded unlimited income potential for job security & benefits. The unions negotiated for govt workers, otherwise they would have worked in the private sector. Those elected to govt. have spent the last 30 years telling you how bad unions are. Based on comments here, they have been successful.

Based on the comments from Kyle’s link, those who joined a union are faring better during this economic slowdown. There is power in a union. Most people should consider who they are most likely to become, a ultra-rich millionaire or a wage-worker. Those who fall into the ladder category would benefit more from unions than they would Republican or Democratic party majorities in any level of govt.

Michael H. Smith

June 7th, 2010
6:54 pm

Jess, one only needs look at Greece to see what public sector union workers are capable of doing. Unions have become nothing more than a legalized Mafia.

I agree Kyle, unions have become a voting bloc for Democrats. Even worse, they are in reality Democrat Political Action Committees. Given this fact, Corporations getting into the campaign fray is hard to argue against, especially when they have to pay taxes. Do unions pay taxes?

To the point on public sector pay and compensations, particularly at the Federal level: Politicians have given and promised more than the private sector taxpayers can afford to pay or sustain. Worse is this pursuit to grow the government payroll. It would be interesting to find out a couple of other things Kyle, if you should run across this information: How many private sector workers on average are needed to sustain the employment of one public sector employee? Is it a 5 to 1 ratio or 10 to 1? What has been the growth rate of Federal Government employment since 1900? I’d love to see that data in a chart.

I’ll leave the word “free” alone for the time being. Suffice it to say it really does not exist in commerce and very seldom anywhere else in life as we know it.

iRun

June 7th, 2010
7:27 pm

I work for the Federal government and I get paid about 3/4 of what I would make in the private sector, considering my advance high-tech degree, 8 years of experience, and advanced skillset.

I’d love to see that breakdown for the “average” public vs private salary. What percentage of these salaries are advanced degree?

Nevertheless, I took my job over the private one I used to have (early enough in my career that the pay difference was small, percentage-wise) because it allowed me more intellectual freedom, slightly more secure benefits, and a family-friendly policy (ie flexible working schedule). And it sounds corny but I like that I work for the American people. I take a lot from that.

Michael H. Smith

June 7th, 2010
7:40 pm

Why Not Work for the Government? Federal Workers Make Twice As Much

Data compiled by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis reveals the extent of the pay gap between federal and private workers. As of 2008, the average federal salary was $119,982, compared with $59,909 for the average private sector employee. In other words, the average federal bureaucrat makes twice as much as the average working taxpayer. Add the value of benefits like health care and pensions, and the gap grows even bigger. The average federal employee’s benefits add $40,785 to his annual total compensation, whereas the average working taxpayer’s benefits increase his total compensation by only $9,881. In other words, federal workers are paid on average salaries that are twice as generous as those in the private sector, and they receive benefits that are four times greater.

http://blog.heritage.org/?p=32508

Michael H. Smith

June 7th, 2010
7:45 pm

Government Unions vs Taxpayers

New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that a majority of American union members now work for the government. The pattern of unions adding members in government while losing members in the private sector accelerated during the recession. The typical union member now works in the Post Office, not on the assembly line. Representing government employees has changed the union movement’s priorities: Unions now campaign for higher taxes on Americans to fund more government spending.

http://blog.heritage.org/2010/06/02/government-unions-vs-taxpayers/

Michael H. Smith

June 7th, 2010
7:53 pm

Morning Bell: Andy – SEUI – Stern’s America

Stern told The Las Vegas Sun last year: “We spent a fortune to elect Barack Obama – $60.7 million to be exact – and we’re proud of it.” President Obama is well aware of his huge debt to the SEIU. That is why he admits in his autobiography, “I owe those unions.” And it also explains why Stern is the most frequent Obama White House visitor, according to official visitor logs…

…Explaining how organized labor really works, US Court of Appeals judge for the 7th Circuit Richard Posner recently wrote:

The goal of unions is to redistribute wealth from the owners and managers of firms, and from workers willing to work for very low wages, to the unionized workers and the union’s officers. … Unions, in other words, are worker cartels. … There is also a long history of union corruption. And some union activity is “extortionate”: the union and the employer tacitly agree that as long as the employer gives the workers a wage increase slightly above the union dues, the union will leave the employer alone.

http://blog.heritage.org/2010/04/13/morning-bell-andy-stern%E2%80%99s-america/

Michael H. Smith

June 7th, 2010
8:00 pm

Oops…SEIU. My bad Andy, didn’t mean to misrepresent you.

Dave R.

June 7th, 2010
9:30 pm

You’ll love this one, Kyle. In Boston, firefighters are AGAINST mandatory random drug testing as a condition for an increase in pay during contract negotiations going on right now.

Their desire to protect their fellow union brethren is so strong, they’d rather protect firefighters posing potential safety problems when having someone watch their back, and they STILL want their raise in pay.

Jimmy62

June 8th, 2010
6:31 am

Many of you seem to be under the mistaken impression that there’s an unlimited amount of money out there. There’s not. For every dollar that gets paid to some public sector worker, there’s a dollar that is not paid to a private sector worker. But the private sector is more efficient and a far better creator of wealth, so we are hamstringing ourselves by growing the public sector at the expense of the private.

Pablo Littleton

June 8th, 2010
9:17 am

Pretty quiet on this blog.

Gator Joe

June 8th, 2010
9:28 am

Kyle,
I hope your earnings provide a comfortable living for you and your family. Why do you, and most Conservatives, begrudge public sector workers a decent living wage, especially those who place their lives at risk such as firefighters and police officers? How about the teachers who work hard to educate our children, or a janitor cleaning a public hospital? How about turning your wrath on private sector companies who pay as little as possible and ingnore worker safety, or worse yet do so outside the US where they have moved jobs. These companies spend fortunes to undermine unionization, rather than provide living wages and decent benefits, so this where you and other conservatives need to look first.

david wayne osedach

June 8th, 2010
10:02 am

Wish I could join the union!

Ragnar Danneskjöld

June 8th, 2010
10:05 am

Well-argued. Seems that the current regime is taking nationwide all of the policies that put the rust into the rust belt.

Brannon

June 8th, 2010
10:10 am

I am a public sector employee (Department of Defense) and myself and my co-workers adamntly oppose unionization. We have fair compoensation, a generous benefits package and the satisfaction of serving our troops in a time of war.

-Not all of us are trying to suck the government tit dry…

No More Progressives!

June 9th, 2010
4:32 pm

iRun

June 7th, 2010
7:27 pm
I work for the Federal government and I get paid about 3/4 of what I would make in the private sector, considering my advance high-tech degree, 8 years of experience, and advanced skillset.

This begs an obvious question: why do you continue to work for the Federal Government?

No More Progressives!

June 9th, 2010
4:34 pm

Gator Joe

June 8th, 2010
9:28 am

These companies spend fortunes to undermine unionization………….

How does one undermine unionization? What does the NLRB say about that?

No More Progressives!

June 9th, 2010
4:41 pm

Michael H. Smith

June 7th, 2010
7:53 pm

There is also a long history of union corruption.

We are led to believe that Unions are as pure as new fallen snow. Google Jimmy Hoffa and see what you learn.

Unions served a purpose 75 years ago. They’re detroying companies today (GM comes to mind).