Government Unions vs. Taxpayers


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When Americans think of organized labor, they might think of images like I saw growing up in a blue-collar meatpacking town: hard hats, work boots, tough conditions and gritty jobs. While I didn’t work in the slaughterhouses, I did become a union member when I worked at a grocery store to help put myself through school. I was grateful for the paycheck and proud of the work I did.

The rise of the labor movement in the early 20th century was a triumph for America’s working class. In an era of deep economic anxiety, unions stood up for hard-working but vulnerable families, protecting them from physical and economic exploitation.

Much has changed. The majority of union members today no longer work in construction, manufacturing or “strong back” jobs. They work for government, which, thanks to President Obama, has become the only booming “industry” left in our economy. Since January 2008 the private sector has lost nearly eight million jobs while local, state and federal governments added 590,000.

Federal employees receive an average of $123,049 annually in pay and benefits, twice the average of the private sector. And across the country, at every level of government, the pattern is the same: Unionized public employees are making more money, receiving more generous benefits, and enjoying greater job security than the working families forced to pay for it with ever-higher taxes, deficits and debt.

How did this happen? Very quietly. The rise of government unions has been like a silent coup, an inside job engineered by self-interested politicians and fueled by campaign contributions.

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  • Jim

    What is needed is an accounting of the extra cost that the overpayment of frderal workers over private workers costs. Such accounting should include any superior health care plans and lack of lay off costs.

  • ObamaYoMoma

    Federal employees receive an average of $123,049 annually in pay and benefits, twice the average of the private sector. And across the country, at every level of government, the pattern is the same: Unionized public employees are making more money, receiving more generous benefits, and enjoying greater job security than the working families forced to pay for it with ever-higher taxes, deficits and debt.

    This is an outrage. Corrupt public unions must be outlawed and banned altogether, compensation for government employees must be brought back in line with the private sector ASAP, and their benefits must be scaled back to match that of the private sector as well. This amounts to one segment of society, government employees, benefiting at the expense of the rest of society, and this discrepancy must end ASAP.

  • sflbib

    I was a manager in the government for 15 years. While there is much truth in this article, its premise, "Federal employees receive an average of $123,049 annually in pay and benefits, twice the average of the private sector", is incorrect. First, the employee does NOT receive the whole $123,049 "in pay and benefits"; only about half, or roughly $62,000, represents the average GROSS salary. The other half would to pay for other costs, such as the payroll tax, unemployment insurance, paid leave, health care, etc.; but its long pole is OVERHEAD, such as administrative costs, facilities [office space, utilities], travel expenses, etc. So the $123,049 is the TOTAL COST of employing the worker, and I suspect the figure for the private sector is what its employee actually RECEIVES in his paycheck. This is an apples vs. oranges comparison.

    The author asks, “How did this happen?” By simple perception. There has been no sudden jump in government salaries. In fact, by law, cost of living increases are always less than the increase in the cost of living, so salaries are always decreasing in real terms. When economic times are good, government employees lag the private sector in pay, and it is not newsworthy. When economic times are bad, suddenly, government salaries look good by comparison because the resulting private sector salaries lag those of government; and since bad times are shorter and fewer than good, those salaries are unusual and thus newsworthy. So it “happened” in the heads of the media.

    One of my most difficult tasks as a manager was recruiting new employees because our salaries couldn’t compete. If working for the government is such a good deal, potential hirees would have been breaking down my door, and I wouldn’t have had to recruit; I could have simply weeded out.

    The author states that government should be using the same accounting methods as the private sector, and I agree. For one thing, productivity is not calculated by cost per unit output, but cost of direct work divided by total cost.

    But the biggest problem the government faces as an employer is not the cost of employing workers but its inability to get rid of dead-weight.

    • Raymond in DC

      There's no question that government labor, whether union affiliated or not, is today a privileged class that, like tenured college professors, is immune to the workings of the labor market. I know; I retired recently after 30 years of federal service. And yes, we're paid too much.

      • sflbib

        As I indicated, the current status of government labor is due mainly to perceptions caused economic forces beyond labor's control. Did the distance between the water and the bridge increase because the bridge rose or the water level dropped? It is not generally recognized as a privileged class when times are good. During periods of low unemployment, government workers are typically derided as unable to find a job in the private sector.

        If you felt your pay was too high, did you give any of it back to the treasury?

  • USMCSniper

    Fire 25% of all Federal employees and satrt with Blacks. Dept. of Education over hired blacks by 333% over their proportion in the available labor pool; Dept. of Housing and Urban Development over hired blacks by 334% over their proportion in the available labor pool; Veterans Administration over hired blacks by 148%. This dwarfed by the 427% by which blacks were over hired by EEOC,