Collapse of public-sector bargaining
AUG. 22, 2011
By LANNY EBENSTEIN
There can be little question that great change is in the offing in our society in many areas, including the provision of public services. Public-sector employees are overpaid. They are overpaid across the board, in salary, overtime, benefits, health insurance, days off, holidays, vacations, working conditions and, most of all, pensions.
Public-sector employees receive compensation that private-sector workers do not. If public-sector employees in California were paid a fair wage, not an inflated one, it would be possible to lower taxes and increase public services in the state, not raise taxes and slash services.
The answer is to end collective bargaining for public employees. President Franklin Roosevelt said that there was a great distinction between private and public sector unions: “Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relations and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the government. … The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public sector.” George Meany, the first and longtime president of the AFL-CIO, was of the same opinion.
Ending public-sector collective bargaining would enable each local government agency in the state, and the state itself, to establish the pay cutbacks and benefit reductions that will make sense for it. The status quo is unsustainable. In a democracy, it will not be the case that programs for seniors, children, the environment, the ill, the unemployed, the infirm and the homeless will be eviscerated to enable the remaining public servants and public-sector retirees to live in luxury.
Local and state governments were not created to be vehicles of wealth transfer from society as a whole to public-sector employees and retirees through regressive taxation. Current government tax and spending policies take from the poor and give to the relatively rich.
Public-sector employees work fewer hours than other employees because they have more days off. The typical public employee in California works a four-day week or less. After working fewer hours during their careers, public-sector employees can retire at a younger age — often age 50 to 55 — with pensions, indexed for inflation, of 75 to 90 percent of their final salary.
It is time to end public-sector collective bargaining in California. Public-sector employees work less while they are working and they retire at an earlier age by a decade or more than private-sector workers, and retire with much better pension benefits.
This system has to change, and it has to change now. The question is the direction that change will take. Ending public-sector collective bargaining is the right answer to the problems that face California.
Lanny Ebenstein is president of the California Center for Public Policy
June 19, 2013