The Right’s Latest Pastime: Bashing Public Workers

It’s both amusing and disturbing how the right-wing keeps moving from group to group seeking out bogey-men to blame for what they claim are the country’s ills.

Not long ago, it was a foreign-born Barack Obama who mostly likely was a secret Muslim. Then it was Spanish-speaking, dark-skinned Latino immigrants who may or not be properly documented or some of their children who (not exactly their decision) were born on U.S. soil making them U.S. citizens, shocking many in the hard-right. And, of course, the deficit scare-mongers (some of them familiar to this blog) who miraculously got the right-the-federal budget religion on exactly the same day that Obama took office.

Now, we have new targets, namely, your everyday public school teachers, firemen, sanitation workers and police. These are middle class people whose lives are based on community service rather than making big bucks. Some belong to labor unions, which is actually their constitutional right to do. But to hear the conservative drum-beaters tell it, starting with Fox News, they are strangling our economy and nation with their obscene demands.

These sniveling free-loaders and their puffed out unions are responsible for making hash of the budgets and economies of places like Wisconsin. In Rhode Island, teachers have all received possible layoff notices. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christi has pushed the Garden State to the brink in his face-off with public unions. These tough measures, they all claim, are essential because of the financial “crisis” they face.

Here in Virginia, we luckily don’t have the same confrontations. For one reason, our budget situation isn’t as bad as some other states. Plus, we don’t have that many union members. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Virginia had all of 161,000 union members last year, down 5,000 from 2009. Many of them are federal workers or work at some large manufacturing outfits such as Newport News Shipbuilding.

Virginia’s GOP leadership, nonetheless, is more than happy to jump in the fray. Gov. Bob McDonnell, no friend to the working man, was on a cable news network the other day, praising Virginia’s 64-year-old right-to-work lay for keeping evil unions from befouling the lives of everyday Virginians. Curiously, he also gave possible Senatorial candidate George Allen a big push while faintly noting a “Tea Party” person (Jamie Radtke) without stating her name.

You have the Richmond Times-Disgrace wondering where former Gov. and head of the Democratic National Committee chief Tim Kaine really comes down on the union-bashing going on in Wisconsin.

So, the Republican network is milking the issue for all it can. They are trying to establish a rift between the “middle class” whom they want to court and the people who teach their children and protect their lives and property. Like bashing Latinos, this class-based smear campaign is entirely cynical.

A few other points:

Places like Wisconsin and New Jersey are culturally different than a quasi-Southern/government job state like Virginia. In other words, people in places that these don’t put up with as much crap from the bosses the way people do here. In the Midwest and Northeast, being a union member is considered an honorable thing and generations of workers owe their liveliehoods, pensions and work-rules to organizers from long-ago.

Virginia, by contrast, has to live down its history where business executives treated workers as slaves or chattel. In the textile belt from Southside to George, southern mill bosses kept out unions and pitted black against white workers to keep wages down so they could steal business from up north. Don’t believe me? Check out W.J. Cash’s 1941 masterwork, “The Mind of the South.”

“Right to work” is always misunderstood. It means that a worker can’t be forced to join a union as a condition of employment is a state says so. That’s all it means. Meanwhile, many Virginia companies get away with neo-yellow dog employment contracts, hatched by lawyers and human resources flunkies, stating that a prospective hire as to agree that he or she understands the firm prefers a “union free” environment. In corporatese, that’s not coercion, of course.

These attitudes automatically assume that Southern corporate management is always right, makes the best strategic decisions and that its workers are lucky to have jobs, period. That however, isn’t always the case. After working for 18 years for a global media company, I accepted a job at a Richmond-based one, where management by fear ruled the cubicles. The bosses, it turned out, were not rocket scientists after all, as the firm’s stock slide in about 10 years from $65 or so a share to about $5, after bobbing in the delisting territory of $1. I bailed on my holdings at about $60– probably the smartest thing I have every done.

The McDonnells and the George Allens and the RTD editorial writers all are part of this same anti-worker and anti-labor alliance. It is rather disgusting to see them cheer on the sidelines as average folk get bashed once again for problems not of their making.

Peter Galuszka


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24 responses to “The Right’s Latest Pastime: Bashing Public Workers”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Nice post Mr. Gooze:

    Just the sort of ideas that need to be in the minds of those running for office in the Commonwealth …

    The Jan – Feb Utne Reader has a nice 11 page spread (“We Can Do It – Getting America Back to Work”) with some very thought provoking items including an excerpt from Tom Geoghegan’s book “Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?” that Mr. Bacon will love.

    CJC

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Some very good reading on the topic of AntiPartisanship in today’s WaPo:

    Steven Pearlstein’s “The new deal: We win. You’re Finished.”

  3. Here's the deal. Ronald Reagan found a way to peel off the blue collar workers from the white collar workers.

    Even though he effectively undermined the interests of the blue collar folks, he succeeded by having them focus on the demographic and workforce disparities between white collar and blue collar workers.

    It worked spectacularly well.

    Now – the Republicans have very adroitly figured out how to separate the blue and white collar folks from each other based on union membership.

    The blue and white collar workers who do not get gold-standard pension and health care benefits are now in open rebellion to the status-quo political process and willing to support non-Democratic leaders who are ready, willing and able to whack the unions in a classic political "misery loves company" game.

    and if this is not bad enough, the same folks are well on their way to convincing a majority of people that Social Security and Medicare FICA taxes should be repealed and each person self-insure themselves and if you get old and you did not set aside enough money – die quickly because we're not going to give you a "free" nursing home nor "free" medical care.

    If you are lucky enough to be part of a nuclear family and your sons/daughters an their sons/daughters can afford it they'll pay for your care and medical needs and if not – toug cookies!

  4. So, since I am a public employee and a Republican does that mean I hate myself?

    I agree with FDR's feeling that public unions were incompatible with democracy. Who exactly are the public unions supposed to be protecting the employees from? The greed of the taxpayers?

  5. @John – are you a public employee in a right-to-work state like Virginia?

  6. “The new deal: We win. You’re Finished.”

    Great.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    "Who exactly are the public unions supposed to be protecting the employees from? The greed of the taxpayers?"

    Exactly, and the politicans that pander to those who think they deserve the good life without paying for it.

    Check out the quality of life in the less well to do parts of Fort Collins CO.

    When citizens let the public realm deteriorate it cost twice as much to recover as to maintain.

    With the end of enough resources for everyone to get a fair share, those at the bottom are left out.

    You may have noticed how that is working out for those at the top in North Africa.

  8. I'm pretty sure if you asked the school teachers in right-to-work Va their sympathies would be with the school teachers in Wisconsin.

    And to keep perspective here on costs to educate:

    cost per student in Wi = 10,267
    cost per student in Va = 10,210

    and achievement:

    NAEP 2009 Assessment percent:

    Basic Proficient Adv
    Va Reading grade 4
    74 38 9
    Va Reading grade 8
    78 32 2

    Wi Reading grade 4
    67 33 7
    Wi Reading grade 8
    78 34 2

    http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/states/

    so Virginia, a right-to-work state and Wisconsin a union state are within a few dollars on cost per student and a few points on reading achievement levels which are not that great anyhow but comparable for many schools in the US.

    Massachusetts is near the top – and they are unionized and spend $12,738 per student but their achievement levels are way better:

    Mass Basic Proficient Advanced

    Reading 4 80 47 13
    8 83 43 5

  9. James A. Bacon Avatar
    James A. Bacon

    Peter, I have to laugh at this post. You sound like a union organizer for the Wobblies. Right out of the 1930s. I guess that's more honorable than regurgitating 2012 Democratic Party talking points (although you are perilously close to doing so). I tell you what: Let's see what happens to the states that allow public employee union power to go unchecked and compare them to states that curtail the rights of PEUs to collective bargaining. Who goes bankrupt first? And what happens to the pay scales of government employees when they do?

  10. Child labor and a 70 hour work week, anyone?

  11. I think a case can be made that in some places the pubic sector unions have gone amok but not in Wisconsin – at least not the schools:

    cost per student in Wi = 10,267
    cost per student in Va = 10,210

    starting and average teaching
    salary:

    Virginia $33,200 $43,823
    Wisconsin $25,222 $46,390

    but the most ironic thing in Va is that the State and the Feds only fund core academic programs and services whereas the local funding not only adds to the core but funds all manner of things that are not core academic and is in fact the biggest single driver on local real estate and property taxes.

    I don't know how Wisconsin works but in much of Va, which we know is a right-to-work state, parents not only willingly pay higher taxes for schools (and in turn for public sector employees) but many parents actually show up at budget time to lobby for increased funding and higher taxes.

    And why not?

    If a parent can lobby for other taxpayers to pay for more of te things he wants for his kid instead of him then thats good (for him and his kid).

    So in Va – it's not the public sector employees that drive up the costs o schools – it's often the parents themselves who want extracurricular, amenity and college-prep courses often at the expense of core academics especially for te at risk kids.

    We've entered an era of the politics of blame and refusing to acknowledge our own role in the things we are assigning blame for.

    which basically defaults to the fact that we don't like what is happening right now and we have to blame someone because it can't possibly be us.

  12. Gooze Views Avatar
    Gooze Views

    Jim,
    Wobblies?
    I have to laugh at your analogy. Do have have any idea how much a school teacher makes — anywhere? I do. I am married to one.
    Jimbo — just as elitist as ever.

    Peter Galuszka

  13. Gooze Views Avatar
    Gooze Views

    Oh and Jim,
    Don't forget that you spent most of your adult life working at two tier two media companies that weren't exactly progresive when it came to employee relations. Their philosophies were to wear you down, work you down, get their margin and spit you out. Not putting you down because I have worked at the same two companies.
    I, however, ended up working with a Tier One firm and must say there was a remarkable difference. We were treated like big people — adults — sort of like the high tech firms you praise so much.
    Too bad you can't get out from your man cave and sniff the world enough to realize this.

    Peter Galuszka

  14. James A. Bacon Avatar
    James A. Bacon

    Peter, How much do school teachers make? That's not terribly relevant to the issue of collective bargaining in Wisconsin. As I understand it, the proposed legislation would allow public employee unions to continue to negotiate over salaries. The much bigger issue is work rules. I'll have more to say about that as soon as the Washington Times publishes my latest column.

    Regarding the previous company that you and I worked for… don't forget. Newspaper employees had collective bargaining rights. A lot of good it did them.

  15. "Now, we have new targets, namely, your everyday public school teachers, firemen, sanitation workers and police."

    I disagree. As a taxpayer, it's not the people on the front lines that are the cause of all the frustration in this debate.

    It really comes down to those at the top…people making 100k or more in small towns where the average income is 30K/person.

    I think my local high school has about 1000 kids and yet it needs four…yes FOUR principals to run the place each making about 100k/year. This is on top of all the other "specialists" running around the place making damn good money.

    The bureaucracy has become so immense at the local, state and federal level it's almost impossible to understand.

    It's a sad state of affairs when the most likely path to prosperity is to get a job with the government. But, that seems to be what is happening.

  16. RBV – you're missing the point.

    In Virginia – the State will only pay for ONE PRINCIPAL with your income and sales taxes.

    It's at the LOCAL LEVEL that they ADD more principals and tax you to pay for it with taxes on your home and cars.

    The question is where do you want to start to downsize?

    If you won't do it at the local level than you've given up your best chance to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy.

    In right-to-work Virginia – 1/2 the funding for schools comes from taxes on your home and car at the local level.

    If you REALLY want change – then why not start at the local level?

  17. The Tier Two media companies failed and everybody suffered. Our education system is a shambles and the teachers should be mollycoddled.

    Do you really struggle to understand why people are frustrated?

    Once, after a bad quarter, I was told – if your're going to suck at what you do you can at least suck at what you do cheaply.

    I am happy to pay more taxes to let the teachers keep their rich benefits. I'd be happy to pay more taxes to give the teachers higher salaries.

    But ONLY if they improve the results.

    Right now, our students are plunging in the world rankings.

    This is failure just like the failure you describe at the Tier Two media company. The investors at the media company (including you) "voted with their wallets".

    We are doing the same.

    Improve the results and get more pay. Continue the slide and get less.

  18. If you believe that education is in shambles then why do you agree to pay higher and higher local taxes with no requirement to improve?

    If you won't deal with it at the local level then your blame of the higher levels is hollow.

  19. LarryG:

    I don't agree to pay higher and higher local taxes.

    And I don't agree to pay any more taxes without an improvement plan.

    Any local taxes I pay will be siphoned off by our political masters in Richmond. They just added $75M in additional funding to the budgets of school districts which "lost money". In other words, we have an education funding formula. It takes from some areas and gives to others. When times are tough, there is less to take and (therefore) less to give. But not in Richmond. If they can't take enough with the education funding formula, they take it in other ways. There is always enough "other people's money" to buy votes.

    As for improvement, even Obama says that we need to reward good teachers and penalize bad teachers. Even Obama wants to take the caps off charter schools. Even Obama can't countenance the socialism of the NEA.

  20. I believe only a handful of States totally fund the schools and there is little or not local funding.

    The rest are "combination" systems where the State funds part and the locality funds part.

    The Fed fund about 10% which is strictly targeted for the most part to elementary kids who have fallen behind or in danger of doing so.

    Virginia's funding is strictly targeted to SOL/core academic and many local schools complain that it is not enough and they have to supplement.

    But what you will find with the richer school systems is that they not only add some core academic but the majority of it goes to pay for what the state will not fund because it is not core academic.

    In terms of what you can do with regard to taxation and prioritization of funds – you have far more ability to impact decisions at the local level which is where a majority of school funding is NOT for core academic programs – the programs that would be important in providing globally competitive education.

    Instead, local funding goes for all manner of things beyond core academic – even at the expense of core academic.

    Groveton – I submit that if you are not willing to confront your own school system for not effectively spending your tax dollars that you must not be serious about the issue at all because it's at the local level where you could have the most impact.

    It's simply an excuse to blame this on the State.

    The State gives the locality 1.5% of the sales tax for local schools – to spend as they please and it keeps 1% for it to equitably fund schools state-wide.

    That 1% NEVER belonged to NoVa to start with. It is, after all, a STATE sales tax and normally the State keeps the State sales tax and decides how to allocate it and it's done that way in many other states.

    In Va – the state gives the locality 1.5% – of the sales tax without strings.

  21. "If you won't do it at the local level than you've given up your best chance to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy."

    There's not much I can do – my school board is appointed, not elected.

    "In right-to-work Virginia – 1/2 the funding for schools comes from taxes on your home and car at the local level."

    That's irrelevant. All levels of government get their funding from the same source – taxpayers. 1/2 comes out of my local taxes which means the other 1/2 comes from my state and federal share.

    Ever heard of the "Rubber Rooms" in NYC? Check this out;

    http://tinyurl.com/y7f57a2

    "The question is where do you want to start to downsize?"

    Size isn't the issue. Maximizing the resources your given would be the route I would choose.

    Paying taxes isn't what irks me either…it's the WASTEFUL nature at ALL levels of government coupled with ZERO accountability.

  22. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry G:

    Get real. Groveton's municipal government serve over a million citizens. That is bigger that many states.

    Why do you and other continue to argue about the crumbs and details.

    Get with Fundamental Transformation or perish.

  23. @RBV

    re " There's not much I can do – my school board is appointed, not elected."

    Oh Contraire Mon Ami

    Your school board cannot tax one thin penny but your ELECTED BOS can and does and you have the ability to vote them out if you feel that your tax money is being squandered.

    I submit to you and Groveton that if you cannot apply your concern for govt, taxing and spending at the local level then you must not be serious about your complaints higher up at the State and Fed level.

    You have far, far more opportunity to send a message about taxes and spending at the local level than the State or Federal level and one must presume that if you are not truly serious about it at the local level then you must not be serious at all anyhow.

    We spend twice as much per kid as the 28 countries that beat us in reading and math and 1/2 of that amount is collected at the local level and quite often NOT spent on core academic purposes related to the areas where we are academically deficient.

  24. Anonymous Avatar

    “Here in Virginia, we luckily don't have the same confrontations. For one reason, our budget situation isn't as bad as some other states”

    Moved out of VA 6 months ago why? TAXES are outrageous and disgraceful. The electric bill averaged $450 per month and here it’s $200. Car taxes, property taxes, business taxes…

    “Some belong to labor unions, which is actually their constitutional right to do.”
    LOL!!!!
    According to a Marxist judge, no doubt, put in by some democrat politician. Thomas Jefferson is rolling over in his grave.

    “These tough measures, they all claim, are essential because of the financial "crisis" they face.”

    Has your elite status just sheltered you from the depression? I served 80 people in 3 hours at the food bank last week in a town of only 20,000. We can’t keep food on the shelves and there are three foreclosures on our block. Many families have doubled up in living quarters and THERE IS NO MONEY LEFT FOR TEACHERS RAISES.

    Non-citizens are enjoying a free public education paid for by the US taxpayers, thanks Clinton. Wow.. I am so wrong to not be perfectly happy to pay for illegals and all their hospital bills and food stamps I should be so glad …lets bring in the French children and Africans and all the citizens of the world and we an borrow from China or better yet let’s just print money ….hundreds for everyone! Freeee stuff….come and get it!

    “In the Midwest and Northeast, being a union member is considered an honorable thing and generations of workers owe their liveliehoods, pensions and work-rules to organizers from long-ago.”

    At least half or more of the mid-westerners do want communism/unions and they are the ones who voted in the TEA party/GOP in WI and all over the US to do the work of taking down the power structure of the public unions. But you do not live here and wouldn’t know and since you’re a lib you’re just a sore loser.

    Many textile plants have closed in the south leaving behind depressed communities and making the Chinese government very happy. I hope you can move to China as soon as possible.

    “That however, isn't always the case. After working for 18 years for a global media company, I accepted a job at a Richmond-based one, where management by fear ruled the cubicles. The bosses, it turned out, were not rocket scientists after all, as the firm's stock slide in about 10 years from $65 or so a share to about $5, after bobbing in the delisting territory of $1. I bailed on my holdings at about $60– probably the smartest thing I have every done.”

    Oh wow, nobody cares smarty pants and most folks can’t play around with stocks like you elites do let alone brag about it.

    “It is rather disgusting to see them cheer on the sidelines as average folk get bashed once again for problems not of their making.”

    The average folk are the tax payers whose homes have lost up to 50% of their value due to democrat’s projects like Fannie and Freddie but taxpayers who are still expected to pay property tax as if their homes still had big value, to the teachers who are having temper tantrums for more benefits and pay …..elitist liberal union snobs.. as usual.

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