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Jewish World Review
March 10, 2011
/4 Adar II, 5771
Six-figure bus drivers and other working-class heroes
Can we stop acting as if people who work for the government are the heroes of working people?
Fine, we understand that Wisconsin public sector employees like the system that pays them an average of $76,500 per year, with splendiferous benefits, and are fighting like wildcats against any proposed reforms to that system. But it's madness to keep treating people who are promoting their own self-interest as if they are James Meredith walking into the University of Mississippi.
This isn't how we usually view people fighting for their own economic interests.
When Wall Street opposes financial reforms or a tobacco company opposes new cigarette taxes, no one hails them as "working men and women" who "deserve a decent pay and decent retirement." We're not told Wall Street has a "fundamental right" not to be regulated, or tobacco companies promoting their own interests are just trying to "help working people and middle-class people retain a good job in America." People on the other side of the issue aren't said to be "just trying to kick the other guy in the shin and exterminate him."
And yet all that was said by the Democratic governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn, on MSNBC's "Hardball" last week, about government workers fighting to preserve their own Alex Rodriguez-like employment contracts.
Yes, we understand that public sector employees got themselves terrific overtime, holiday, pension and health care deals through buying politicians with their votes and campaign money. But now, responsible elected officials in Wisconsin are trying to balance the budget.
MSNBC is covering the fight in Wisconsin as if it's the 9/11 attack -- and the Republicans are al-Qaida. Its entire prime-time schedule is dedicated to portraying self- interested government employees as if they're Marines taking on the Taliban. The network's Ed Schultz bellows that it is "morally wrong" to oppose the demands of government employees.
Yes, and I guess pornographers are noble when they launch a full-scale offensive against obscenity laws.
Public sector workers are pursuing their own narrow financial interests to the detriment of everyone else in their states. That's fine, but can we stop pretending it's virtuous?
Because of the insane union contracts in Wisconsin, one Madison bus driver, John E. Nelson, was able to make $159,000 in 2009 -- about $100,000 of which in overtime pay. Jackie Gleason didn't make that much playing bus driver Ralph Kramden on "The Honeymooners." Seven bus drivers took home more than $100,000 that year.
When asked about the outrageous overtime pay for bus drivers -- totaling $1.94 million in 2009 alone -- Transit and Parking Commission Chairman Gary Poulson said: "That's the contract."
It's ludicrous to suggest that these union contracts were fairly bargained. Only one side was at the negotiating table. Ordinary people with jobs were not at the meetings where public sector compensation was discussed.
Union hacks play on our heartstrings, weeping about the valuable work government employees do: These are the people who educate our children, run into burning buildings and take dangerous criminals off our streets!
Politicians who do not immediately acquiesce to insane union demands are invariably accused of hating teachers, nurses or cops. In California, this has been standard operating procedure for decades. The voters never seem to catch on.
In 1972, E. Richard Barnes lost his re-election campaign to the California state Assembly after being accused by cops and firefighters of coddling criminals.
In fact, Barnes, a conservative Republican, had one of the toughest records on crime. But he had voted against fringe benefits and better pension benefits for public employees.
Years later, in 2005, Don Perata, Democratic state senator from Oakland, suggested that the legislature reconsider the requirement that 40 percent of the entire state budget be spent on public schools. The teachers' unions instantly plastered his district with fliers calling him anti-education. Perata is a far-left Democrat, who had himself been a teacher for 15 years before entering politics.
Fine, we like teachers, firemen and police officers. We appreciate them. (And for the record, it is statistically more dangerous to be a farmer, fisherman, steelworker or pilot than a cop or fireman. Soldiers also have pretty dangerous jobs, and they don't get to strike.)
Does that mean we should pay them $1 million dollars a year? How about $10 million? After all, these are the people who educate our kids, run into burning buildings and take dangerous criminals off our streets!
Assuming the answer is no, then apparently we're allowed to discuss government workers' compensation -- even though they do important work. As George Bernard Shaw concluded his famous quip (often attributed to Winston Churchill), "Now, we're just negotiating over the price."
Why do public sector employees have absurd overtime rules? Why don't they pay for their own health insurance? Why do they get to retire at age 45 with a guaranteed pension of 65 percent of their last year's pay -- as state police in New Jersey do?
This is asymmetrical warfare. Seven percent of the population cares intensely about public sector union contracts -- and nothing else. The remaining 93 percent of voters can't be bothered to care.
Meanwhile, state after state spirals into bankruptcy.
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