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A new website that will keep members up to date on the battleground states has been created by the aflcio.
Anti-labor forces are working overtime to diminish public employee bargaining rights and negotiated gains under the guise of fixing government budget problems not of their making. Sound familiar? It should.
It’s the same divide-and-conquer strategy anti-union operatives used against UAW members during the 2008 auto crisis, when lawmakers blamed negotiated autoworker compensation for General Motors Corp.’s and Chrysler Group LLC’s financial instability – not uninspired management and unprecedented volatility in the U.S. and global financial markets – and orchestrated a political moment to try and weaken organized labor.
In the aftermath of the 2010 midterm elections, anti-labor legislators and the conservative interests that handsomely fund them are ramping up the rhetoric to create political conditions that will allow passage of an assortment of anti-worker laws.
In the 14 battleground states – including Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – lawmakers are introducing bills to revoke state OSHA laws, nullify teacher tenure rights, prohibit project labor agreements, diminish pensions, create right-to-work zones, and rescind bargaining on health care and other mandatory bargaining subjects.
In Ohio, new Republican Gov. John Kasich is using his state’s financial problems to “break the back of organized labor in the schools” and rescind over 25 years of bargaining rights for Ohio state workers. In Wisconsin, new Gov. Scott Walker wants to abolish state employee bargaining and calls public employees the “haves” and Wisconsin taxpayers the “have nots.” In Michigan, more than 30 anti-labor bills were introduced since January.
But Republicans aren’t the only ones trying to weaken unionized workers by blaming public employees for state budget woes. Newly elected Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York is also claiming that state employee compensation has created a significant share of New York’s financial deficit. His recently released 2011-2012 state budget proposal doesn’t renew a “millionaire’s tax” on high-earning individuals and protects corporations from tax increases.
But Cuomo laid off 900 state workers and is demanding that those who remain accept a one-year pay freeze. Economic experts agree that the savings generated by the layoffs and pay freeze are a drop in the bucket considering New York’s $9 billion structural budget deficit.
As the country’s economy begins to recover slowly from an unprecedented deep recession, high unemployment, and turmoil in the housing and financial markets due in large part to unregulated corporate greed, public services are in greater demand than ever. Pundits acknowledge that “slashing and burning” public employee pay and bargaining rights won’t solve fundamental government structural problems not the making of public employees and their unions. They add that an honest approach would focus on closing tax loopholes and exemptions favoring the wealthy and big business.
Experts also point to the solid middle-class jobs that government employment still offers in a sector where union density was 36.2 percent in 2010, compared to 6.9 percent in the private sector. Indeed, government often offers the best jobs in areas hit hard by economic downturns or distant from urban and suburban centers. The link between high union density and good-paying middle-class jobs is one that private sector union members can appreciate and harkens to the middle of the 20th century when one-third of private sector workers were union members who could achieve the American Dream of a home, car, affordable higher education for the kids and a dignified retirement.
“The targeted misinformation campaign against public employees is meant to inflame political attacks,” said UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, director of the union’s Public Sector and Health Care Servicing Department. “This is exactly what the conservatives did during the auto crisis. They purposely blamed the UAW for GM and Chrysler’s financial problems and pitted workers suffering in the economic downturn against our members just so they could damage organized labor. Anti-UAW members of Congress were so determined to destroy our union that they were willing to let GM and Chrysler go bankrupt and put the entire country into a depression.
“The conservatives are using the same tactic today to pit private employees against public employees so that they can use taxpayer discontent with government budget problems to take away negotiated benefits and bargaining rights from our public sector brothers and sisters,” Estrada added.
Public employees appreciate their secure jobs, but they are actually underpaid compared to their private sector counterparts when controlling for education and experience. This is largely because government employment normally requires employees to have higher education degrees than private employment and public employees stay in their jobs longer. That’s why multiple apples-to-apples compensation comparisons between public and private sector workers show that public employees are actually underpaid by 3 percent to 10 percent and that their pensions average about $19,000.
The UAW is working with other unions and progressive organizations to counter the anti-union misinformation campaign and defeat the dangerous legislative push against labor. The Public Sector, Health Care and Higher Education Departments are particularly engaged in the fight to protect the hard-won rights secured by public sector members through targeted outreach, education and member mobilization to respond to legislative and media attacks. The departments are also providing bargaining assistance to preserve and enhance the union’s strong voice on behalf of its members, while working with government employers to address valid financial pressures.
“For many years, our public sector members have sacrificed to help government address budget shortfalls by taking furlough days and double-digit pay cuts,” Estrada said. “We should look to solutions that help put government budgets in check without further fueling an unsupported attack against these dedicated workers who give everything they’ve got to make our states and communities better places to live and work.”
UAW President Bob King has been outspoken in his support for public sector workers, calling on broad UAW and public support for public sector workers.
King recently said: ”We are asking all UAW members, active and retired, and all citizens who appreciate the importance of a strong middle class to maintaining a strong democracy to support public sector workers in their struggle to maintain a decent middle class standard of living. We all know that the attacks on public sector workers are really attacks meant to weaken the rights and standards of living of all workers. The Republicans leading these attacks are not satisfied with the extreme wealth of the richest in this country. They want to shift even more money from workers and their families to the wealthiest in this country. They have no shame.”
Source: UAW Public Sector, Health Care and Higher Education Departments, directed by Vice President Cindy Estrada.