Friday, July 20, 2012

What is a contract if it's not a contract, Part 2


NOTE:  I was doing a little housekeeping and found this piece written a while ago (as a companion piece to this one) that, for whatever reason, I never published.  The election to recall Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin took place on June 5, 2012, so it's old news now that Walker survived, but the effort to kill public unions goes on.  I hate to waste a rant against the pols and the pundits trying to destroy unions of any kind, so here it is:
 
Cartoon - Stuart Carlson, UPS

 After Scott Walker survived a massive recall attempt in Wisconsin--an effort based largely on his threats against public employees--Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan rejoiced at the union-backed failure.
The vote was a blow to the power and prestige not only of the unions but of the blue-state budgetary model, which for two generations has been: Public-employee unions with their manpower, money and clout, get what they want. If you move against them, you will be crushed.
Mr. Walker was not crushed. He was buoyed, winning by a solid seven points in a high-turnout race.
Governors and local leaders will now have help in controlling budgets. Down the road there will be fewer contracts in which you work for, say, 23 years for a city, then retire with full salary and free health care for the rest of your life—paid for by taxpayers who cannot afford such plans for themselves, and who sometimes have no pension at all. The big meaning of Wisconsin is that a public injustice is in the process of being righted because a public mood is changing. 
(H/T to Cracker Squire for WSJ article.)

Wild-eyed notion as this may be, I'll throw it out there, anyway:  Peggy Noonan doesn't get it.  She talks about someone working for the city for nearly a quarter of a century and then expecting a full pension with medical benefits as if that's a bad thing.  What she doesn't get is that 23 years earlier that employee and that employer entered into a contract specifying the particulars--the starting wages, the bump-ups along the way, and future compensation to any loyal employee who stays on the job for a couple of decades or more.  The promise of a decent pension with benefits is more than just implied, it is discussed, with both parties understanding that that kind of loyalty pays off for everybody.

If as Noonan says, those benefits are being paid for by taxpayers who cannot afford such plans for themselves and sometimes have no pension at all, then shame on the system that allows those inequities to happen.  Anybody who works for 23 years of their lives at the same job deserves, at the very least, a decent benefit and retirement package.

Notice, too, that the Noonans and the Krauthammers (see below) never talk about the taxpayer-paid packages public officials receive.  Only the lowly employees--the union folks. Those who do the actual work and expect to be well compensated for it, just as anyone with a lick of sense would expect.  (I've written about taxpayer-paid packages for public officials before.  See the whole revolting compensation story here.)

Washington Post columnist and Fox contributor Charles Krauthammer on the Wisconsin recall:
Tuesday, June 5, 2012, will be remembered as the beginning of the long decline of the public-sector union. It will follow, and parallel, the shrinking of private-sector unions, now down to less than 7 percent of American workers. The abject failure of the unions to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) — the first such failure in U.S. history — marks the Icarus moment of government-union power. Wax wings melted, there’s nowhere to go but down.
 There is much glee in those circles, and why not?  It's how these opinionators make their living.  We know for a fact that famous opinion-makers like Noonan and Krauthammer are well-compensated for their views.  And if they should work for the same company for, okay, 23 years, one would only hope they were smart enough to negotiate a contract that would provide them some damn fine recompense down the road.

Because that's how it should work in a fair world--for everybody. That it doesn't isn't the fault of the worker, it's the fault of the people in power who see value in devaluing the laborers and try their damnedest to convince those laborers that cutting off their noses to spite their faces is way better than any old benefit package.


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