( Wednesday, September 4) -- Talk about freeloading. The nine of 10 Americans who aren’t part of organized labor still took full advantage of Labor Day, that hallowed holiday honoring unions, aka “the working class.”
And since those 90 percent aren’t considered “working people” (meaning they must not work) every day is clearly a holiday for them. So relaxing on Labor Day just seems like sticking it to the unions.
What else is new? Public-sector unions are seeing their salaries, benefits and pensions under constant threat of reform from dastardly Republicans trying to stave off bankruptcy. The nerve!
For some unions, that might mean paying more than, God forbid, 5 percent of their health care costs, even though most in the private sector pay far more.
Far “worse,” some Republicans want to allow public union members to negotiate with their prospective employer individually, with free market-type incentives allowing for a fair offer for both employee and “employer” (the taxpayer).
An offer is made and the individual accepts or declines, same as in the private sector. Accountability and efficiency would increase, and unmotivated, bureaucratic sloths would be eliminated.
Sound fair? It is, and it’s called the elimination of collective bargaining. But union leaders demonize its supporters while fighting to continue a system that is completely broke, even opposing attempts to replace antiquated pension plans with 401(k)s. The result? Only 11 percent of the workforce is now unionized, and the decline continues.
Despite a complete inability to articulate its message, the GOP is not anti-labor. It just happens to be the one cleaning up the mess, especially in states like Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin. Noticeably absent is soon-to-implode Pennsylvania, where Gov. Tom Corbett has pursued a business-as-usual policy.
For decades, unions have reaped the rewards of Ponzi-style pay-me-later deals made between union bosses and gutless politicians interested only in self-preservation. But the piper has finally come calling.
Math doesn’t lie. There simply isn’t enough money to continue paying high wages and lavish benefits. It’s either reform or bankruptcy. There’s no third option.
Originally, joining a public-sector union was a trade-off: You wouldn’t make as much, but received a healthy pension and job security. But all that changed after millions in union dues were used to defeat politicians who dared cross labor.
Now, salaries of many public workers are higher than those in the private sector, with pensions so extravagant that Wall Streeters blush with envy.
But with an economy still in shambles, tax revenue down, and baby boomer retirements skyrocketing, the pension system has become permanently unsustainable.
Is it right to reform pensions and benefits? Don’t public-sector union members deserve what they were promised?
At the risk of seeming callous, that’s irrelevant. There isn’t enough money. Period. Unlike the feds, states and municipalities can’t print cash so cutbacks are inevitable, especially on big-ticket items like labor and pension costs.
The alternative is far worse: Bankruptcy. And municipalities can and are declaring. In towns nationwide, including Detroit, the message is simple: Agree to reforms, or risk losing everything. Yet unfathomably, that message is lost on the teachers union in America’s eighth-largest school district (Philadelphia), which is refusing any pay concessions despite a massive deficit, making the district one of the nation’s foremost candidates for bankruptcy. Obviously, it’s not fair. Rank-and-file union members were promised an unfulfillable bill of goods by long-gone hacks. But to paraphrase JFK, anyone who believes in fairness is seriously misinformed.
Unions are not being singled out, as the private sector has fared far worse, with considerably higher job losses and some pensions returning pennies on the dollar. That’s not fair either, but it’s reality. So what now?
Union leaders should tone down the hype, stop the personal attacks, and enter the real world. Reforms are imminent, not because of political principle, but because the money is gone. Failure to be reasonable will result in a protracted battle the unions cannot win, guaranteeing unnecessary pain.
Union bosses are supposed to represent their members’ interests, so it would behoove the rank-and-file to hold their leaders accountable, which they haven’t done. On the two issues that mattered most — defeating NAFTA and Most-Favored-Nation trading status for China — union leaders batted zero. Ironically, both passed under Bill Clinton. Yet labor still blindly supports the Democrats, who take their votes for granted.
Want to stop the union bleeding? Repair the roof now, while there’s still a little sunshine, and don’t wait until the monsoon strikes.
There will never be a perfect “union,” but if reforms aren’t made quickly, there could soon be a Labor Day with no labor. And we’ll all be the poorer for that.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His print column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at CF@FFZMedia.com.
He is a regular contributor to CNBNews.net
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