Government unions bump up against reality

Washington Times:

Unions invested heavily in the 2008 election in Colorado, and it paid off: The labor movement defeated three anti-labor initiatives, including a right-to-work measure, and helped Democrats increase their edge in Congress and the Legislature.

Instead of celebrating, however, labor leaders find themselves butting heads with the very people they helped elect. Last week, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, confronted with a $56 million budget deficit, asked the city's police, sheriffs and firefighters unions to absorb a 2 percent cut in their scheduled 2009 pay increases.

It's a scenario being played out nationwide as states and municipalities grapple with the economic downturn. Forced to make deep budget cuts, many elected officials are opting for the low-hanging fruit of union contracts by slicing into pay increases and paid workdays.

Sometimes the unions are cooperating, and sometimes they're not. In Denver, for example, two of the three public-safety unions have agreed to discuss the possibility of renegotiating their contracts.

More often, however, unions are going on the warpath, often against Democratic executives and legislatures. The most visible examples can be found in New York and California, the states with the nation's largest budget deficits, the biggest unionized public-employee labor forces and, consequently, the most heated labor battles.

New York Gov. David Paterson, a Democrat, provoked the ire of public-employee unions earlier this year when he made it clear that he would opt for budget cuts over income-tax increases to deal with the state's $15.4 billion deficits.

His $121.1 billion budget, released Dec. 16, would cut more than 3,000 jobs from the state employee rolls, eliminate a scheduled 3 percent pay raise, require workers to contribute a larger share of their health care costs, and defer five days of pay, which would be collected when employees left their jobs.

Public Employees Federation President Kenneth Brynien, whose organization represents 53,000 white-collar workers, made it clear that the union would fight the proposal.

"Make no mistake, reopening our contract is not an option," said Mr. Brynien, who accused the governor of making a decision "more based on ideology rather than the need to provide immediate savings."

Union officials have argued that the state budget should be balanced by increasing taxes on the rich, spending less on outside consultants and tapping into the state's $1.2 billion "rainy day" fund.

Labor probably can count on more sympathetic ears in the Legislature, but even there, Democratic leaders already are throwing around words like "sacrifice" when referring to employee contracts.


Labor is not immune from the realities of the marketplace and cash flow. The suggestion of raising taxes on the riches shows how ignorant they are when it comes to economics and spurring an economy. The rich can do more to generate jobs with that money than the state can and those jobs will create more tax payers to increase state revenues in the future. What the unions suggest will actually decrease revenue in the long run.

These guys are wallowing in the same kind of thinking that ruined the domestic auto business by making unrealistic demands.

I had a brief experience with this kind of union thinking when I worded as a reporter in Washington, DC for the Washington Daily News. The unions were already featherbedding by making the company pay typesetters to rekey wire copy that came in already punched for the linotype machines. But the union was also demanding that the paper pay the same scale as the Washington Post, despite the fact that the business had been losing money since the riots after Martin Luther King was killed destroyed many of the advertisers and made the paper unprofitable. Rather than work with the paper, the unions said that if the owners, which owned profitable papers in other cities, wanted a paper in Washington it would have to operate at a loss. Guess what? They decided to shut down. Fortunately I had already left for law school. It was another case where the unions were so greedy they lost all the jobs rather than a few.


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