Current wages are only part of the problem. Federal workers earn, on average, $20,000 more per year than their private industry counterparts. State workers, in Louisiana for example, earn about $2,000 more than similar jobs in our private sector. But the 800-pound gorilla in the room is public worker benefits, specifically retirement pensions and retiree health benefits.
Unlike social security benefits, which are calculated on the average of 38 years of your highest pay, public workers can retire on averages as small as three years and in California it’s your last year alone. Needless to say, you can’t contribute X for 20 years and sustain a retirement based on Y computed from a much smaller aggregate. And therein lies the problem.
Public workers still enjoy a defined benefit plan for their retirement, a concept that all but disappeared from the private sector decades ago due to its unsustainability. The necessary switch from defined benefit to defined contribution plans is what has public workers up in arms.
The public is unsympathetic. After all, why should people who sustain themselves from our taxes live better than we do? The cold, hard answer is they should not. Even a government worker should be smart enough to realize that when a parasite gets bigger than the host, the host dies. That’s about where we are today.
Wisconsin’s problem is exacerbated by unionization, a curious oddity. Unions were formed to protect workers from being taken advantage of. The fact that most public workers enjoy civil service protection renders union representation wasteful at best and utterly foolish for a dues-paying worker.
To paraphrase political guru Michael Barone, “Public unions are a mechanism whereby every taxpayer is forced to make a contribution to the Democratic party.” In the public sector, union workers pay $700 yearly to the unions that turn around and bundle that money into campaign contributions to Democrats, who turn around and pad union workers’ pay, allowing them to contribute more to the unions and around and around it goes. It is almost criminal.
The fix is right-to-work legislation that allows unions to continue their existence but also prohibits “closed shops” where joining the union and paying dues is mandatory if you want the job. Union thugs don’t like that solution because it gives workers freedom and choice, two concepts foreign to union thinking.
Of course unions and the federal labor board wouldn’t be around today at all if it weren’t for a Supreme Court about-face in 1935. Federal labor laws were often passed by Congress in the early part of the 20th century and were summarily struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.
There are no enumerated powers in the constitution allowing federal control over labor. That’s strictly a state issue. But, when Franklin Roosevelt threatened to expand the Supreme Court bench to 15 members and pack the court, one justice jumped ship and began siding with the administration’s errant philosophy. It was known as “The switch in time that saved nine.” And so the federal labor law known as the Wagner Act became settled law, as did Wicken and other horrible legal decisions of the day.
The Wagner Act’s chains were loosened by the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which gave legitimacy to the right-to-work concept. More than 20 states are now right-to-work states and they are the most economically stable states in the country today.
Right to work is the answer for out-of-control public worker union benefits (prison guards in California today are retiring young at more than $100,000 a year in pension). It’s going to be a nasty battle but a necessary one.
Oddly, it’s in the public workers’ best long-term interests to lose this fight.
Allan Von Werder is the Publisher of the Morgan City Daily Review.