The “re-election” of Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin raises difficult questions about the health of democracy in the United States. It also offers new challenges to the members of what is left of the U.S. labor movement. The failed recall effort spotlights what will continue to be a problem in U.S. political life in the post-Citizens United era: finding a balance between legitimate political expression and the heavy thumb of money in local and national politics.
The Wisconsin vote suggests many reasons to be concerned about the fallout from Citizens United. At what point does the unfettered, anonymous flow of cash into unregulated “super PACs” present a terminal threat to the credibility of the democratic process? For all the talk of union muscle in Governor Walker’s unscheduled rematch with Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, by the time voters headed to the polls on June 5, recall forces had been outspent by a jaw-dropping $27 million. And much of the $31 million raised to keep Mr. Walker in office came from silent partners outside the state in an election many national plutocrats considered a must-win showdown with the remnants of organized labor.
Because the recall effort failed, Governor Walker will continue to put pressure on public sector unions in Wisconsin, and around the country other anti-union office holders will be emboldened to follow his lead. Barely 10 years after what may prove to have been the height of their public esteem, after hundreds of them gave their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, public sector union workers have become this political era’s “welfare queens”: a largely mythological creature invented to agitate party stalwarts or turn the heads of capricious independents. Despite repeated allegations about compensation packages that grossly exceed those found in the private sector, analysis of comparable public and private sector positions shows negligible differences in pay and benefits. But those comparisons may ultimately miss the point. The problem is not that public employees are compensated too generously, but rather that private sector workers are buckling under decades of income and benefits stagnation.
What makes the union death watch especially galling, in fact, is how quickly fellow workers, overcome by pension envy, have been persuaded to turn on their union brethren. Their outrage might better have been directed at the relentless assault on the middle class within America’s private sector, accelerated by the 2008 economic crisis and the breakdown in family wealth it caused.
Also disheartening has been the muted response of the church as this coordinated attack on public service unions, the last redoubt of organized labor, rolls on. The Catholic Church and the union movement stood together throughout much of the 20th century, propelled by landmark Catholic social teaching and accompanied by church leaders, from Cardinal James Gibbons to Msgr. George Higgins. Unions, often led by lay Catholics, have been vibrant expressions of both the spiritual and civic dimensions of Catholic social teaching. It is not an exaggeration to say this partnership effected profound improvements in the daily life of all Americans, raising standards of living and educational attainment and bringing decency and dignity to the workplace. Those advances have been gradually turned back, and they may fall away even further in this new century.
Middle-class and working-class people throughout the United States owe much to the 20th century union movement. It deserves better than to be served up as a scapegoat for a national economic crisis that has been cleverly exploited by forces eager to accelerate the demise of organized labor. President Obama sensed defeat and stayed out of Wisconsin, another example of his sometimes too-calculating leadership. The president should be mindful that a symbolic stand in a lost cause or two could prove beneficial over the long term, even when it risks political embarrassment. Mr. Obama played it safe, and now union members in Wisconsin properly feel betrayed.
But these public sector workers and others in unions around the country need to shake off the sting of this loss quickly. Organized labor must do a better job telling its story. It is losing in the newspapers; it is losing on cable; and it is losing in private conversations around the country. Union leadership might want to use this setback as an opportunity to reconsider its strategy. Perhaps less huckstering for the Democratic Party and more actual organizing might be worth considering before it is too late. Restoring historical ties to Catholic social activists and finding creative ways to connect with nonunion working people through new media also seem avenues worth exploring. A shroud is being carefully fitted for unionism in the United States; an uninspired union movement and feckless political leadership are helping thread its seams shut.
That said, many of the unions have failed to adjust when it was clear they needed to back off their benefits a bit. "Pension envy" is not what we moderates are worried about-public workers deserve a fair retirement fund. The laborer IS worthy of his/her wages. But bankrupt companies, school districts, cities and states *are* a problem and the unions can't keep piling on the benefits while they bankrupt the companies and governments they serve.
And THAT said, there are still unions that deserve to be supported-farm workers, service unions, etc. Those that are doing their best to represent hard-working people who have not yet received their fair share of the pie.
Why is America failing to see that in many cases unions have overreached at the expense of the poor?
Mr. Tantillo's rant ignores that the church has supported the right of people to join and form organizations for centuries. ??M?r?.? ??K?i?e?f?e??r?l?e? ?w??a?n?t?s? ?u?s? ?t?o? ?b?e??l?i?e?v?e? ?t?h?a?t? ?f?i?r?e?-?f?i??g?h?t?e?r?s? ?a?n?d? ?t?e?a?c?h?e?r?s? ?d?o? ?n?o?t? ?r?e?a?l?l?y? ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????W??O?R?K? ?????????????(?s?i?c??)? ?f?o?r? ?a? ?l?i?v?i?n?g?.? ?
The r????ecall election? demonstrated how money can be used to mislead and misinform people about the issues in an election. The only way for faithful Catholics to fight this injustice is through person to person organizing. ?
Good heavens. The changes advocated and passed by Walker werre relatively mild. In fact, very similar to some of the changes being considered by Gov. Cuomo in NY (But he's a Democrat, so it's OK).
The Governor was recalled and in the recall election actually won by more then his original margin. The election and recall were done, fair and square. So how can this be threat to Democracy?
Unless ... it is the position of America Magazine that any loss by a Democrat is a defeat for truth, justice and the American way of life.
We do live in some kind of postmodern world in which the "haves" are not the super rich but the middle class school teacher and fire fighter. As the Editors point out, the most distressing result of the recall election was the significant number of voters from union households who voted against CB, workplace democracy, living wages, and improved safety. I know that much of the result can be chalked up to the power of Walkers' allies money and the voters' sense that a recall wasn't the right strategy (in Ohio the referendum overturning the conservative attack on CB was successful). Still, this is time to rethink and regroup. With growing inequality we must.
The terrible sin was to challenge the power of the union to control who gets elected and what those politicians beholden to the Union must do to ensure their continued stay in office.
Recalls are bad ideas - They are expensive, divisive and actually anti-democratic in that they seek to undo the vote of the people who elected the person to office for a specified term in the first place. Let him run for election on his or her record when the term expires - as our President must do in a few months. If the governor or president has done well and wishes to continue in office, he will most likely be re-elected. If not, he will not be given a second term. That's democracy - Wisconsin's vote in large measure was a vote against recall elections.
American workers, whom the church once strongly supported, are being challenged by a greed-fed materialism, which the church now appears to support. The US Conference of Bishops - in a barely audible stage whisper – criticized Paul Ryan’s budget proposal as being inconsistent with the Church’s social teachings. Not a word about that from the pulpit. Yet, the Bishop’s support the conservative agenda by throwing an illogical temper-tantrum over the Affordable Health Act. In other words, the Church speaks in muted tones when it comes to supporting a progressive social agenda that promotes the rights of workers and organized labor, but loudly urges Catholics to support the conservative (anti-union, anti-worker) Republican agenda. Shame on the Bishops.
One example of the size of the problem can be seen in San Jose's recent financial difficulties. A policeman or fireman with 23 or so years of experience, making $109,000 a year, can retire at a salary of $95,000. Now what 45 year old officer at the height of his career is going to work for effectively $14,000 a year? Like so many, he will retire and perhaps work for the city at a far larger salary, his pension intact. The result is that San Jose was paying 27% of its income to retirees and lacked funds for new policemen and other city workers.
It took decades of such self-aggrandizement, with public workers receiving 3 and 4 times the benefit packages of the private sector, for this unsustainability to become known by the general public and mayors and governors from both parties such as Emmanuel and Cuomo along with Daniels and Walker to begin to put an end to this financial self-aggrandisement by unions interested in self-enrichment.
What a far distance unions have travelled in the public's eye, from providing help to the downtrodden to feasting greedily at the trough at the taxpayers' expense. Trying to deflect their responsibility for their current unpopularity by emphasizing Walker's actions and ignoring, for example, Obama unilaterally freezing federal wages for two years abd similar actions by Rahm Emanuel simply points out the hypocrisy involved in this dishonest strategy. Nothing underlines the degree of disconnect with their position and the American public more clearly than the fact that in the recent Walker recall, 38% of union households voted against the recall of Governor Walker.
The jig is up, the cow out the barn. Union leaders voting themselves raises through officials such as Corzine who they have put in office will no longer fly. The best alternative is a return to their roots, to their original noble goals, which they have left far behind.
We must, at the local, state, and national levels, adopt policies that actually encourage innovation-new technologies, products and methods. That is the source of new jobs, better pay and benefits, and growing tax revenues. It would be the sound basis for higher living standards for private and public sector workers, whether they are union-represented or not. Innovation and economic growth would also replenish the coffers of non-profits, which have suffered in the past four years.
Exit polls of the Wisconsin voters might shed light on their real motivations. Jumping to conclusions that they are either mean-spirited or misguided might cause us to miss the real message.
Multiple decades ago as a kid, I remember my “rich” aunt had butter on the table, that sometimes due to the hot climate would turn rancid, which we still ate none the worse for it. Whereas, the rest of us “poor” family members used margarine that looked like lard, until a packet of something yellow was whipped into it making it look like butter. We kids loved that stuff globed onto white bread and sprinkled with white sugar, everything considered nutritionally bad today. But it didn’t kill me so far, as I’ve made it through over eight decades of life!Connected to the above musing, the purpose of this post is to suggest that Unionism is like “rancid butter” gone sour in the heat of political intrigue, generating an endless “what’s in it for me” mentality from leadership through the ranks. Mostly, Unionism seems to say, “To hell with what’s right! Just ‘gimme’ ‘gimme,’ ‘gimme entitlement, upon entitlement, screw an honest day’s work, for an honest day’s pay!” It wasn’t always this way, as once upon a time Unionism was righteous, truly concerned with the moral integrity of its demands, the valid needs of its membership, of the family. I believe Unionism was originally motivated towards the common good ,based on unchangeable Judeo/Christian morality. But the reality is the “butter” has gone rancid! Thankfully however, despite its disappointing behaviors, Unionism still manages to do much good for the working man/woman and so, despite its ugly warts it’s worthy of support, which I personally do with some reservation.
The tarnished face of Unionism didn’t just happen recently. More than four and one half decades ago its promise exploded in my face, which forever has “enlightened” me as to how a “good” Union member must behave. At the time I worked in massive food production, preparing product, which was then package for shipment to NYC restaurants and to Caribbean resorts. I loved the job and worked very productively. One day, unexpectedly, the Shop Steward came to me with an ominous directive and said, “Snowden! Do you want your job?” I responded cheerily “Yes, I love it!” The Shop Steward replied, “Then SLOW DOWN! The other members are complaining that you are too productive and if Management sees what can be done, they’ll want EVERONE to do the same!” I needed the job so guess what, I Slowed Down and became less productive. From that experience I learned that Unionism was all about providing management with LEAST AMOUNT OF WORK, FOR THE MOST AMOUNT OF MONEY! There is something immoral about that,That experience as mentioned, was formative and although most of my employment moved on to the management level I do understand the need for Unionism, appreciate the good it does, but good heavens it can be smelly! That’s my gripe. Get rid of the “rancid butter!” In Sunset? I doubt it.
Most private companies such as IBM have gone to individualcontribution 401K retirement plans ibution decades ago. The exception to this trend toward 401K retirement plans is governemment employers. Most state and local government employers are still giving out fixed benefits pensions. This pension benefit are often very generous and are paid to a growing number of retired government employees who will live decades longer than their working life. The truth is that financing even modest fixed benfits pensions is no longer feasible for any employers due tot the fact nowadays by federal law most people do become vested for retirement. The numbers of enployees and their benefits that must be paid out is no longer feasible for even the most profitable companies. Only public sector employees continue to get and expect fixed benefit penisons which is becoming a larger and larger percentage of government budgets.
The following reasoning of the editors is false: "The problem is not that public employees are compensated too generously, but rather that private sector workers are buckling under decades of income and benefits stagnation." The more and more public employees continues to get fixed beenfit pensions and these fixed pesnion benefits continue to be increased by union pressure creating larger and larger share of goverenment budgets that are severeand excessive tax burden on all governement budgets. Goveerment need to reform their pension plan to 401K plans like most other employers have.
As a result, public employees retire at age 55 or less, as in the MBTA employee in Boston, who can retire after 20 years, with 80% of their salary, plus free health insurance for themselves and their spouses. Some who were hired right out of high-school at age 18, retire at age 38. They then go and get another union job, to add to this.
As it is, I worked with an engineer who's wife retired at age 58 as a school teacher. Her health insurance was so much better than what our employer provided, that he opted out of the company insurance and was under his wife's retirement package.
It use to be that public employees earned less than those in the private sector, in exchange for earlier retirement and good benefits.
Today, this is not the case. Public employees earn more than their counter parts in the private sector, and have retirement benefits that those in the private sector don't come close to, and can't collect until age 65.
But there is a profound difference between public sector unions who seem to think there is an unlimited public purse to fund their lucrative pensions, and private sector unions, who are far more responsible in working with management to negotiating benefits and wages that do not jeopardize the companies they work for. When union workers are able to retire as early as age 52 with the same compensation as when they are working, there is something wrong. Especially where life expectancy is now almost 80 or older for many middle class people, retirement at such an early age is unsustainable. There needs to be restrictions and limitations about the age of retirement and who funds pensions. Asking public workers to contribute to their pension fund or medical insurance is not unreasonable.
The editorial focuses on Wisconsin, but did not mention the votes in San Jose and San Diego to restructure pension agreements. This is not a conservative/liberal issue. It is a matter of the proper allocation of priorities and resources - where public money goes to fund services.
Public employees in Wisconsin are given a salary of $X, a portion of which is put into the privately managed, lauded, liquid, Wisconsin Retirement System. They are not paid a salary commensurate and comparable to the private sector, they are paid that less what is invested on their behalf. A previous Republican governor attempted to take money from this fund and use it to patch a hole in a poorly crafted budget. State Supreme Court said "nope, can't do that", that's their (the employees' money).
Walker scapegoated public employees in his undeniable "divide and conquer" approach to governance. The deficit was on paper. It was exacerbated by his corporate giveaways. He then shined a light on the "extravagant" benefits that public employees enjoy. Scapegoating, pure and simple. This was the source of the animus that sought his recall.
Further, the public employees union was already on the path to agreement of higher health care premium contributions. This was ignored; it would not suit Walker's political need to vilify public employees.
They are not paid a comparable salary with retirement benefit in addition. They are paid the comparable salary, and their retirement investement is removed or deducted from their immediate pay, and invested in said Wisconsin Retirement System funds.
Also, being in a union is not just about getting better pay and benefits. It's about affirming your dignity as a person, asserting your right to have some control over your life. It's ironic that so many liberty loving, founding father adoring, government hating tea partiers are anti-union. They feel so strongly that government shouldnt be controlling their lives probably because it is an area where they think they actually have some agency, it's the one area where they can feel like they still have some power. Meanwhile, workers spend a third of their life in an environment where their entire livelihood, and in many cases their sense of self-worth, hang on the edge of a cliff just waiting to be nudged off by unscrupulous bankers or indifferent bosses. That's no way to live. It's a way of life that cuts against everything the Church teaches.
I am well over the SSA full retirement age but still working and not collecting any money from IRAs/401K or SSA. When I turn 70, there just might be enough cash flow to retire, provided I don't last too long.
In my life I worked several jobs that had defined benefit pensions (DBP). None of them lasted very long. I am a white collar worker in IT and have been for 5 decades. I am a specialist is a certain computer area. I think the comments above about pensions are quite true.
Being able to retire young on a reasonable fraction of your terminal salary is a luxury few workers can afford today. Persons who cashed out their homes several years ago or won the lottery (same concept) might have a decent nest egg to do so, if they invested in just the right investments.
My maternal grandfather was a union organizer and a shomaker in Cincinnati a bit less that a century ago. His children were all white collar workers, including a banker and a manager for a grocery chain. My generation on both sides of the family have college and in some cases advanced degrees.
Times have changed. Dramatically. The promises made long ago have turned out to be empty.
If I were a union man today, I would ask: "where is there a need?" The answer might be in raising available workers to the level they need to be to fill the 10s of thousands of jobs that today cannot be filled. Not just educating, but mentoring. Perhaps forming cooperatives. I neither know how to do it nor do I have the skill set to it, or I would retire and set myself to it. But reading the signs of the times I see too many aspects of current civilization in the USA and the broader world that are just not sustainable. It will take imagination, not rhetoric, to remedy the situation.
The editors column, “Union Sunset?”, totally missed what happened in Wisconsin. Union negotiations that occur in the private sector are between a group of employees organized of their own free will and the employing company, who has to maintain a profit over time or it eventually goes out of business. The process encourages compromise on both sides in order to reach an equitable agreement. In the public sector however, you have the public employees who are paid by government agencies, negotiating with government officials with limited stakes in the negotiations, as a third group, the taxpayers, bear the actual burden of the final decisions. The government officials, voting for the increasing benefits over time for the public union members, also reap the rewards in financial support for their campaigns from the same groups that they are in theoretical opposition with during negotiations. The result on the budgets in Wisconsin, and continue to occur in states across the country, have brought each closer to bankruptcy due to the lack of accountability in the process.
The editors highlight that the unions in Wisconsin were outspent by some $27 million, and that much of the totals raised in support for the Governor came from out of state. What they fail to note is that the amount paid in compensation to union employees working full time to support the recall election to have Walker ousted, is not calculated as “contributions”, although certainly adding up to millions of dollars. On top of that, out of state unions bussed in hundreds of paid volunteers to work on the campaign. In continuing the column about the overall compensation between public and private sector employees, the only specifics about the differences was the use of the word “negligible”. A few facts in support of that word would have lent credibility to the argument. True statistics exist showing the disparity, and in this writer’s opinion, aren’t negligible at all.
Finally, the editors attack the church for a “muted” response to the “attack on public unions”. I think the church has for too long avoided criticism of the corruption, theft, and thuggish behavior of union leadership over the years, wasting taxpayer money in the process. I find that the editors of America are either naïve to the reality of the situation, or blinded by the misapplication of some sense of “social justice” poisoning their view.
Whether by force of their ideas, partisan politics or some other factor, the unions not only stopped the blitzkrieg destruction of their collective bargaining rights but then went on to generate the unprecedented recall election, garnering almost one million signatures from voters supporting them.
Given that organized labor is the collective bargaining representative of so very few employees in this country, their health hardly seems to be waning. The USCCB and Editors of America should have such clout!
You speak of "the heavy thumb of money" - unions have been spending extravagantly year after year - 100% for liberal Democrat candidates.
You should realize the difference between private and public sector unions. In the private sector, union and management engage in a zero-sum game: whatever benefits the union makes comes out of management's budget, and vice versa. The taxpayers (i.e., we) are unaffected. In the public sector, management effectively has no dog in the fight. Whatever the union gets comes out of the taxpayer's (i.e. our) pockets.
More than that, the unions confiscate a part of their member's paychecks - without their consent - and use that money not to improve "working conditions" (as if public sector working conditions need improvement) but to finance poitical campaigns.
That was a crass reference to the 9/11 attacks. People from all walks of life, and even from many countries, died in that despicable attack.
"Unions ... have been vibrant expressions of ... Catholic social teaching." Does that include the many and well-documented attacks by SEIU thugs on peaceful demonstrators?
"... Mr Obama played it safe..." Of course he did. He always plays it safe.
"Organized labor ... is losing in private conversations around the country". And rightly so.
"Perhaps less huckstering for the Democratic Party ...". But don't you see - that is their primary focus. Democrats will always vote to give more to unions - in both money and power.
The era when unions were necessary have long since passed. We know about the time when Henry Ford (who, by the way, paid his workers more than any other industry) and other industrialists held almost absolute power over their workers. Then along came the unions, who fought the good fight.
And now, the positions are reversed. The Longshoremen (in San Francisco), for example, could effectively shut the country down (and have come close). New York suffered under mountains of garbage when their trash-collector unions went on strike. Just look to France, or even England, to see what power unions can bring to bear.
These days, it is management that is held in thrall to union bosses.
Mr Russell: "Public Sector employees: teachers, fire fighters, police, social workers, are not bankrupting our government. "
I suggest that they are. In schools, the largest budget items are teachers' pensions and retirement benefits (which are much more generous than either yours or mine). Policemen and firefighters retire with equally generous benefits. I won't argue that they haven't earned it, only that they should contribute during their working years, like everybody else.
Kudos to Mr Mattingly for providing specific examples. And Mr Snowden for his elegant summary of the problem. (I remember the margarine with the little yellow dot. Sometimes I got to mix it up. (PS: Remember why the little dot? Because the dairy lobby (a sort of union) prohibited the sale of colored margarine - they thought the poor, ignorant buyers would think it was butter.)
Most of the commentors "get it". Those who don't seem to fall back to "right-wing code words".