What is going on in Wisconsin is the first battle in what is a much larger, existential war for the soul of our country. Such are the stakes that we see, this week, the Obama administration applauding the breakout of democracy in the Middle East, yet at the same time fighting tooth and nail to undermine democracy in Wisconsin. What it boils down to is this - who owns our government? Is it the voters in their exercise of democracy, or is it the unions as part of a permanent Democrat entitlement? Do the voters excise control of the economic future of their locales and states? Or is their vote trumped by the public sector unions and their Democrat Party constituency. That said, for the left, questions of democracy are irrelevant. For Obama, the DNC and the Democrat Party, this is about preserving their single most important cash cow.
The electorate in Wisconsin voted to give Republicans all the levers of power in the state by a substantial margin. And the Republicans in that state have proposed legislation that will:
- Ask government workers to pay half the cost of their pensions - still less than private employees pay for their pensions
- Ask government workers to pay 12% of their own health insurance premiums - the national average for the private sector is over 20%
- End collective bargaining for government unions for pensions and benefits. Allow bargaining only for raises that are less than inflation.
- End forced union dues, collected by the state. Union dues would become voluntary.
- Union members get to vote yearly on whether to keep their union
Those proposals have Obama and the left interfering in Wisconsin state politics to thwart this legislation. Across the U.S. today, it appears that our politics and democracy itself are deeply distorted by public sector unions. And if Obama, the DNC and the left have their way, public sector unions will trump the democratic process.
There was a time when public service was considered a noble but lower paid calling. While benefits in the public sector were always good, public servants historically could expect to trade some level of wages in exchange for job stability. No more. Today, public sector union workers earn more than their private sector counterparts, they have far more job stability, and their benefits and pensions far outshine the average in the private sector. Looking specifically at Wisconsin, for instance, the "average Milwaukee Public School teacher will be receiving $100,005 in compensation this year – $56,500 of that is in salary, and a whopping $43,505 is in benefits." Note that a teacher's salary only covers a little over 9 months of employment. When adjusted for that, "teachers are among some of the most highly compensated employees in the state." And as far as quality for the tax payer dollars spent, it is notable that, according to Juan Williams on Fox News Sunday today, the reading test scores for black children in Milwaukee are the lowest in the country.
The left may portray this as fighting for a decent living or "for the children." Both are pure bull. For Democrats, what is going on in Wisconsin is about money, power, and, in an existential sense, their national economic foundation. And that is why virtually the entire Democratic Party, from Obama through the DNC and numerous other organizations, have nationalized Wisconsin state politics this past week.
It is impossible to overestimate how important public sector unions are to the Democrats. Public sector unions give Democrats a near inexhaustible source of taxpayer dollars to use for their own purpose, and they have used that money to deeply distort politics in America.
It is no surprise that the most money spent in 2010 federal elections came from a single public sector union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and that it was spent in support of Democrats. Nor is it any surprise to find public sector unions spending the most money in state and local elections. For example, in California, "the California Teachers Association spent $211,849,298 on lobbying and political spending to get its way in California in 2009. Along with the CTA, the Calif. State Council of Service Employees and 13 other organizations spent a total of one billion dollars on political lobbying of the State House at Sacramento."
And lastly, it is no surprise to find the states with a history of democratic control and public sector unions over the past decades today have high tax rates, crushing deficits and massive looming unfunded pension liabilities. The economic basket cases of Illinois and California top the list, though New York, New Jersey and many others are not far behind.
This is how it works. Ms. Jane Doe gets a job as a teacher in, say, Wisconsin. The local Wisconcinites are forced to pay taxes, and those taxes go to pay Doe's salary and benefits and to put funds towards her retirement pension and healthcare benefits. Ms. Doe is automatically enrolled in the existing union, she is not given a choice. The government automatically deducts $750 to $1,000 of taxpayer funding annually from her pay and they send those tax dollars to Doe's public employee union. Neither Ms. Doe nor the taxpayers have a say in that, nor in how the union uses that money. And in fact, the union then takes the money and uses it to stump to get their favored candidates elected - something that they have done with remarkable success.
That newly elected politician then sits across from the union at the negotiating table when it comes time for union and government to negotiate new contracts. Absent from the table are the taxpayers. The politicians are motivated to placate the unions in all of their demands. This becomes particularly insidious in regards to promises regarding pension and retirement benefits that won't come due until long after the politician is gone from office.
That scenario has played out across the country thousands of times. It is why today public sector union employees are, as a group, thriving, in contrast to the average private sector worker. And it is why unfunded pension nightmares threaten the long term fiscal solvency of many of our states. The total of unfunded retirement liabilities now tops $1 trillion among all states. A very large portion of that comes from California, now estimated to be $500 billion.
On the flip side of this unholy alliance, public unions invariably advocate for more government spending and taxes, since that is where their interests lie. Unions in the private sector are limited in what they can ask for by the realities of the marketplace - the need for the business to profit or go bankrupt. Public sector unions face no such limitation on their demands. As we can see happening across the U.S., when states and localities are operating in the red, public sector unions simply agitate for higher taxes to be imposed on the populace. It does not matter what is good for the community, the county or the state - only what is good for the unions.
Public sector unions are a toxin in our society of recent vintage. Many who argue today that public sector workers have a fundamental right to organize into unions are either deeply ignorant of history or lying through their teeth. While all people in this country have a right to free association and to petition the government, none have a right to force others to join their association and then demand payments from our nations tax payers. Whether public sector workers have the right to organize in America is anything but a "fundamental right" that is sacrosanct and beyond the reach of voters to change. Indeed, as a NYC Judge wrote in 1943:
To tolerate or recognize any combination of civil service employees of the government as a labor organization or union is not only incompatible with the spirit of democracy, but inconsistent with every principle upon which our government is founded. Nothing is more dangerous to public welfare than to admit that hired servants of the State can dictate to the government the hours, the wages and conditions under which they will carry on essential services vital to the welfare, safety, and security of the citizen. To admit as true that government employees have power to halt or check the functions of government unless their demands are satisfied, is to transfer to them all legislative, executive and judicial power. Nothing would be more ridiculous.
This sentiment was hardly unique. No less a person than FDR refused to allow collective bargaining for the public sector on similar grounds and, indeed, it "was orthodoxy among Democrats through the '50s that unions didn't belong in government work." It required legislation to allow public sector unions to organize in our country. In the states, ironically, it was Wisconsin that led the way, becoming, in 1959, the first state to allow public sector workers to unionize. At the federal level, it was JFK who gave us the toxic legacy of public sector unions when, in 1962, he signed Executive Order 10988.
This is the defining issue of our era. Do we control our destiny through the democratic process? Or is the ballot box subject to being trumped by public sector unions? The Democrats want the latter, for the economic life blood of their party depends upon it. Our nation's return to economic and political health requires that they be defeated.
Update: According to Ben Smith at Politico:
A new poll from the Washington-based Clarus Group asked:
Do you think government employees should be represented by labor unions that bargain for higher pay, benefits and pensions ... or do you think government employees should not be represented by labor unions?
A full 64% of the respondents said "no."
That includes 42% of Democrats, and an overwhelming majority of Republicans. Only 49% of Democrats think public workers should be in unions at all.
That suggests that the public understands what is at issue with public sector unions. That is very bad news for the left, and suggests that this will be a major issue in 2012 if the left continues to make this a national cause celebre - which they most assuredly will do. (H/T The Coffee Shop)
Good updates on the progress of the left-wing assault on democracy at Nice Deb, Michelle Malkin, and Ann Althouse.
1. Public Sector Unions: A Toxin, A Crisis & An Opportunity
2. Read'n, Writ'n & Unioniz'n
3. What, Marx Or Lenin Weren't Available?
4. Gov. Chris Christie, What Leadership Looks Like
5. California: From Riches To Public Sector Unions To Ruin
6. Detroit's Public School System, School Board & Teachers' Union
7. Unions & Teachers: The Alpha & Omega
8. Living With Public Sector Unions
9. Public Sector Unions
10. Obama, The Stimulus & Teachers' Unions
11. Yet Another Reason Why Public Sector Unions Should Be Done Away With
12. Grand Theft Democrat
13. Another Win For Teachers Unions, Another Defeat For DC Students
14. Reason 10,001 Why Public Sector Unions Need To Be Outlawed
15. Public Sector Unions Go To War To Prevent Democratic Change In Wisconsin
16. Change You Can't Have: Obama & The DNC Interfere In Wisconsin State Politics
17. Do Public Sector Workers Have A Fundamental Right To Organize?
18. An Instant Classic
19. Boehner, Obama & The DNC: The State Public Sector Union Issues Gets Nationalized