Liberals, Big Labor Bring Athens to America Print
By Timothy H. Lee
Thursday, February 24 2011
Today’s labor leaders concern themselves more with membership enlargement, dues collection and political activities than with employee welfare.

Less than one year ago, riots in Athens provided a distant, amusing spectacle for Americans an ocean away. 

The Greek government, suffering a predictable debt crisis caused by years of budgetary recklessness and entitlement spending, requested a bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund, which conditioned relief on public spending reductions.  Fueled by their sense of entitlement to other European taxpayers’ money, Greeks subsequently took to the streets.  To the rioting Greek bureaucrats, bloated salaries and benefits subsidized by other people’s earnings were their human right, not greed or sloth. 

Less than one year later, big labor and the insatiable liberal grievance community have brought Athens to our shores. 

Federal and state governments suffer an equally predictable debt crisis caused by similar budgetary recklessness and entitlement spending.  And to unionized government employees, immunity from layoff and generous salaries and benefits paid by taxpayers are their right, not selfishness. 

This time, however, it’s not nearly as amusing.  There won’t be an EU or IMF bailout.  Instead, it’s a battle from which everyday Americans must not shrink. 

Wisconsin provided the first battleground, where newly elected Republican Governor Scott Walker actually made good on his campaign promise to reduce his state’s $3.6 billion deficit via spending restraint, rather than the job-killing and business-repelling tax hikes imposed by the Democratic governor in next-door Illinois.  As part of that plan, Governor Walker proposed that unionized public employees – not including firefighters and police – contribute just half of their pension benefit costs (from nearly zero currently) and 12% of their healthcare benefits (from their current 6%). 

By way of comparison, private sector employees contribute an average of 29% of their healthcare costs. 

We’re not talking about mass layoffs, which private sector employees have suffered for consecutive years.  And we’re not talking about elimination of healthcare or retirement benefits, or drastic salary reductions that private sector employees must face. 

But even those modest adjustments were considered non-negotiable, and the tawdry spectacle was on in Madison. 

Jesse Jackson showed up, megaphone and mock turtleneck in tow.  Teachers, who constantly profess to have their students’ best interests at heart, abandoned their classrooms to occupy the statehouse.  One month after President Obama lectured Americans about civility, and one year after liberal pundits falsely accused the Tea Party of hateful rhetoric, the protestors brandished placards superimposing crosshairs on the head of Governor Scott Walker and equating him with Hitler.  And childish Democratic lawmakers, unwilling to accept the democratic results of last November’s elections, simply fled across state lines like something out of “Smokey and the Bandit” in order to deny quorum.   

Obama, unwilling to provide much-needed leadership on the federal government’s own spending and deficit crisis, intervened by suggesting this is an “assault on unions.”  Further, as The Washington Post reported, “The President’s political machine worked in close coordination … with state and national union officials to mobilize thousands of protestors to gather in Madison and to plan similar demonstrations in other state capitals.” 

An “assault on unions”?  Wisconsin teachers earn $89,500 in salary and benefits, compared to the national private sector average of $61,000.  Not bad for nine months’ work.  Especially when one considers that Milwaukee public schools graduate only 46% of their students, and only 34% of African-American students. 

Following Wisconsin’s example, Democratic lawmakers in Indiana fled the state in order to prevent voting on right-to-work legislation, which simply allows employees the freedom to decline forcible union membership and confiscation of their earnings for dues and union political activities.  In Ohio, new Governor John Kasich is also under fire for proposing common-sense reform in order to avert fiscal ruin. 

Big Labor’s effort to increase power at the expense of taxpayers, however, extends beyond the states to the federal level.  After all, how does one explain Obama’s curious fixation on “high-speed rail,” nebulous “infrastructure” and massive “stimulus” subsidies for government employees?  It has nothing to do with the nation’s transportation needs, but rather the concentration of unionized workers in those industries.  Consider that 32% of government employees are unionized, versus just 7% in the private sector. 

Clearly, this battle is about political power across federal, state and local levels.  Labor unions played an important role during the industrialization of America in protecting employees against such abuses as outright discrimination, deadly working conditions and absence of bargaining power.  Today, an array of federal and state statutes, as well as workplace advances through the decades, have minimized unions’ relevance in those areas.  Accordingly, today’s labor leaders concern themselves more with membership enlargement, dues collection and political activities than with employee welfare. 

The question thus becomes whether Americans will support the leaders they elected to restore fiscal sanity, or allow self-interested union leaders and government workers to derail reform.  This is bigger than Wisconsin, Indiana or Ohio.  It’s our very future at stake.