Thursday, June 7, 2012

Unions In Decline ... Taxpayers Establish Priorities

Labor Faces New Challenge is worth taking the time to read in its entirety. It's about the weakening state of public sector unions in America. Here's some of what it says:

"Organized labor, reeling from blows to government workers in Wisconsin and California elections, is grappling with the prospect of diminished political clout and fewer members in public-sector unions that have formed the core of the movement's power in recent years.

Now, even in some Democratic pockets of the country, voters are signaling they are comfortable with shaving benefits and bargaining power from government-worker unions.

The shift has broad economic implications. For cash-strapped states, it opens an avenue for cuts to obligations that are a big source of spending. For government employees, it erodes some of the benefits they have come to expect in recent years.

New figures show that membership in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—one of the nation's largest and most politically powerful unions—is declining across the country.

Membership in Afscme fell 4.2% to 1.32 million, from 1.37 million, between March 2011 and February 2012, according to internal union documents viewed by The Wall Street Journal. The union had declines in all but seven states. In the same period, the number of state and local workers nationwide fell less than 1%, according to the Labor Department.

Afscme membership in Wisconsin fell 45% after a law pushed by Gov. Scott Walker made membership optional. While some of the decline was due to layoffs, much of it came after the state stopped collecting union dues from paychecks. . . .

The rebukes to labor Tuesday came in two distinct parts of the country. In Wisconsin's recall election, Gov. Walker, a Republican, held on to his seat after he ushered in cuts to public-worker bargaining rights, pensions and health-care benefits.

In San Jose, Calif.—where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans—voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to force city workers either to pay significantly more toward their pensions or accept more modest benefits.

And in San Diego, voters backed a measure that will put many newly hired city workers into a 401(k) retirement plan rather than the guaranteed pensions current employees receive.

"Liberals and conservatives all understand the same thing: We have had to cut services to pay for pensions," said San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, a Democrat.

The shifting tide hasn't hit all parts of the country. In Ohio, voters in November overturned a law that limited public-employee unions' bargaining rights. Polls suggest the country remains divided over curbing the power and benefits of union workers. . . .

Afscme saw membership drops in other states that are politically important and tend to be labor-friendly. In the 12 months ended in February, Ohio's membership fell 8.5%, Pennsylvania's dropped 3.4% and Michigan's declined 11.7%. In California, membership rose 2%. . . .

In Pennsylvania, Republican lawmakers are pushing an effort to give state workers 401(k) retirement plans instead of defined-benefit pensions. . . .

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, a Republican, was surprised by how much support his city's pension measure received given there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in the city. "Anytime you get 66%, it means people were pretty fed up with something," he said."

Summing Up

While public sector unions aren't going away anytime soon, if ever, it does seem like taxpayers are becoming painfully aware of what's been happening to them over the years. In the public sector, staffing, pay and benefits have increased greatly, whereas funding for those promises hasn't kept up with the promises made. Not even close.

Thus, city services are being negatively impacted now, huge tax increases are on the horizon, and the severity of years of "under-the-table" negotiating and underfunding is coming into full view.

The unions have way overplayed their hand and taken advantage of the inattentive public, and the taxpayers are now reacting vigorously to having been taken for granted, if not fleeced. Of course, public sector employees, most of whom are clearly innocent of ill motives, also are being caught in  the crossfire.

Although the situation is definitely not a pretty picture, it's one that needs addressing by We the People. We can come together, clean this mess up and then move forward in a fiscally responsible manner.

My hope is that we never close our eyes to all this "public servant" behavior in the future. We can't afford to trust and not verify at the same time.

This brings to mind the psychological term "dissociative behavior," which in very simple terms involves a detachment from reality. Like daydreaming.

That's what We the People have willingly done all these years, trusting that our elected representatives would in the end act responsibly and always try to do what's best for us.

The reality is that they haven't acted as fiduciaries or worthy stewards. Their promises made on our behalf would cost enormous sums in order to fully meet the promises made to public sector workers and retirees.

But there's an even bigger story about our impersonal government leaders and taxpayer fleecing, intentional or not. We tend to think of the government as "it" or "they," and they tend to view us as bystanders with the money that they know better how to spend than we do. That's a crock.

MOM behavior trumps elitist OPM spending and judgment every time.

We see this all the time. Whether it's simple OPM thinking, crony capitalism or something else at work, We the People are all too often left holding the proverbial bag. See Crony Capitalism and the Crisis of the West. For example, did you know that 7 of the 10 richest counties are in suburban Washington, D.C.?  Neither did I.

So here's hoping and expecting that we're all wide awake now and intending to stay that way.  MOM is a benevolent individual but shouldn't allow herself to be taken for a sucker.

As the old saying goes, it's shame on you the first time, but shame on me if it ever happens again.

Makes sense to me.

Thanks. Bob.

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