February 2011, Week 3


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Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>
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Tue, 15 Feb 2011 20:47:17 -0500
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Public employees: Low-wage workers would be the hardest
By William P. Jones
Journel Sentinel (Milwaukee-Wisconsin)
Feb. 14, 2011

Gov. Scott Walker has proposed to solve Wisconsin's
budget crisis not just by reducing pay and benefits for
state employees but also by repealing collective
bargaining rights for nearly all public employees at
the state and local levels. That is a radical departure
from the state's history of peaceful labor relations
and rests on the misconception that collective
bargaining has enriched public employees at the expense
of workers in the private sector.

When states started allowing their employees to bargain
collectively in the 1960s, led by Wisconsin in 1959,
their intention was to give public employees the same
rights and protections that private-sector workers had
enjoyed since the 1930s; for the most part that

After lagging behind the private sector in the 1940s
and '50s, public employees used unions to increase
their wages and benefits in the following two decades.
Wage increases slowed during the fiscal crises of the
late 1970s and 1980s, but unions offset those losses by
winning improvements to health care and retirement

Several recent studies show that total compensation
(wages and benefits) for public employees is still
slightly below that of workers in the private sector,
but the gap has narrowed significantly in the past 50
years. In addition to economic benefits, unions won
health, safety and workplace fairness protections that
cost nothing to taxpayers but increased the efficiency
and reliability of public services.

Contrary to the widespread perception that unions
transformed government workers into what Indiana Gov.
Mitch Daniels has called "a new privileged class," the
economic benefits of unionization have gone almost
entirely to the lowest-paid employees. Roughly 60% of
Wisconsin's public employees have a college degree,
compared to 30% in the private sector. A recent study
by the Economic Policy Institute found that college
graduates earn 25% less in government jobs than they do
in the private sector.

(For the complete text, go to http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/116194464.html)


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