Labor luminaries such as George Meany and FDR agreed on the dangers of a unionized government. More recently, prominent Democrats such as California’s former assembly speaker Willie Brown, or current San Francisco supervisor Jeff Adachi, have found themselves criticizing or confronting public sector unions. The reason is clear – private sector unions must be reasonable in their demands or they will bankrupt the companies they negotiate with, whereas public sector unions use member dues to elect the politicians they are supposedly going to “negotiate” with, and raise taxes to finance their demands. Now another democrat is stepping forward.
Joe Nation, who served three terms as a democrat in California’s state assembly, representing one of the most liberal areas in California, Marin County, has just published a commentary in the San Francisco Guardian entitled “Who will demand reductions in public employee benefits?” You will not find too many public sector union spokespersons agreeing with his statistics, or his sentiments. For example:
“A decade or two ago, total compensation for public employees, i.e., wages, salaries and benefits, including retirement, was comparable to that in the private sector. That is no longer the case. According to the Census Bureau, state and local government workers now earn nearly $40 an hour in total compensation, compared with $27 for workers in the private sector.”
“In the private sector, the average employer contributes just over 3 percent to a 401(k) plan. In California, state and local governments contribute as much as 33 percent to their employees’ retirements.”
Nation not only shares these figures – the article has too many to mention here, and they are well chosen – but he also debunks some of the misinformation being spread by the public sector unions and the public sector pension funds:
“Even with Social Security benefits, that private-sector worker will earn about $3,500 monthly in retirement, about one-half of similar public-sector workers. Note: CalPERS will argue that its average benefit is only $2,000 per month, but it fails to disclose that the figure reflects an average salary of $60,000 for about only 15 years of work.”
In Nation’s conclusion, he makes some comments that, along with statements others have made, start to demolish the familiar theme employed by defenders of public sector unions – that their detractors are just a bunch of country-club republicans. As he puts it, “How did we get to such an inequitable place? Quite simply, public employee unions have owned Sacramento (and many local governments) for at least a decade or two. And finances have never been a focus for Sacramento (or for Democrats or Republicans, who are equally to blame for this disaster).”
These are the statements of a nonpartisan, informed individual who has put the future of his state and his nation above peer pressure, or partisan politics.
Joe Nation’s commentary is not unique. Liberals are realizing alongside conservatives that public sector unions do not act in the public interest. Before resuming the debate as to what the appropriate role of government may be, the corrupting and financially unsustainable impact of public sector unions must be brought under control.