Around the US, rallies lend moral support to Wisconsin public workers
Public employees protesting Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to weaken collective bargaining in Wisconsin have been joined by steelworkers, teamsters, nurses, airline pilots, and other private sector workers. In state capitals around the country, supporters rallied as well.
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“My belief is, as long as people know what they’re doing, collective bargaining is fine,” recently-elected Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) told a local radio station. So far, just five of the 29 Republican governors have added blurbs to the “Stand with Scott” web site set up by the Republican Governors Association.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Wisconsin protest signs
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As the drama drags on, Gov. Walker has to fend off criticisms that his main goal is not “budget repair,” as he claims, but union busting. His recorded conversation with a prankster claiming to be billionaire industrialist David Koch, a major Republican donor and tea party supporter, did not help him.
The true cost of unionized public employees is the subject of debate.
Supporters of Walker’s position say government-paid workers in unions have an especially good deal when compared to nonunion employees or private-sector unions. In tough economic times when many states have no choice but to tighten their belts, they say, unions make it much harder to balance budgets (which many states – unlike the federal government – are constitutionally required to do).
But there are important differences between private and public workers, points out Jeffrey Keefe, professor of labor and employment relations at Rutgers University – especially when education, experience, hours of work, organizational size, and other factors are taken into account.
Education level a key factor
For example, he points out in an analysis for the Economic Policy Institute, in Wisconsin, 59 percent of full-time public sector workers hold at least a four-year college degree, compared with 30 percent of full-time private sector workers. Nationally, the figures are similar: 54 percent of full-time state and local public sector workers hold at least a four-year college degree, compared with 35 percent of full-time private sector workers.
“These stark educational differences arise for two reasons,” writes Dr. Keefe. “First, many public employees are professionals and teachers in positions that require higher levels of education. Second, the movement to privatize public sector work has been accomplished in great part by moving low-skilled work from the public to private sector, where benefits are often more modest.”
At the same time, the Pew Center on the States recently rated Wisconsin as one of the “top performers” regarding its pension system – one of only four states whose pension system was fully-funded.
Important points, perhaps, but unlikely to sway the political battle over public employee unions.