It seems to be fashionable these days to spew venom upon teachers and public employees and the unions that represent them. I hear talk about “Cadillac health plans” and “higher wages than the private sector.” I ask that the readers be wary of repeating the opinions until they have verified the “facts” as well. I wonder how many of the people criticizing our teachers and their unions have ever spent time running a classroom. I would bet that few, if any, of them have. Or would want to for very long.
Studies have been done that show public sector union employees have a higher degree of education than the average private sector employee, accounting for higher wages. Those same studies show that when comparing public sector and private sector employees with the same education, the public sector employees average less pay.
And the health plans? The larger the group you are purchasing for, the easier it is to negotiate a good policy for the money. Some are better than others among the various public sector groups. With the increasing cost of insurance, even the public sector plans are not what they used to be. My husband is a state employee and he has a plan that includes higher co-pays and a deductible, and like most everyone else is finding each time the insurance contract is renewed, the costs go up and/or the coverages go down.
In the meantime, while those of us in the middle class are fighting amongst each other over who’s got it the worst, the tax breaks enjoyed by the wealthiest Americans are serving to help the rich get richer while the numbers in poverty are increasing and the middle class is shrinking. The “job creators” are sitting back and waiting until someone else improves the economy before they will rehire the laid-off workers. While this is perfectly understandable for the small businesses barely hanging on, it’s a little harder to understand when the employers are large multinational corporations with huge cash reserves and highly compensated CEOs.
The Bush-era tax cuts to the wealthy have been in place for several years. What have the “job creators” been doing all this time? Laying people off because sales are down. And the more people get laid off, the less money they have to spend and the more sales are down. The economy improves when more people have the money to spend and circulate through the rest of the economy. It is interesting to note that during many of the periods of the highest growth and expansion in our country’s history, the top tax rates for the highest earners were much higher than they are now. The argument that says when the wealthiest are asked to pay their fair share of taxes it will kill jobs just doesn’t hold water.
Who is really against unions? People like the Walton family, owners of Walmart. These billionaires individually are among the wealthiest people in the world, according to the Forbes lists. They hire people at wages too low to support their families and fail to offer meaningful health coverage, so that those employees have no choice but to apply for publicly subsidized medical assistance. Those same low wages mean that in order to have a roof over their heads, these families must live in subsidized housing. Subsidized by whom, you ask? You see where this is going?
A cadre of the super wealthy are funding the propaganda that is filtering into the public sphere through the media, speeches, blogs and other avenues, all meant to demonize the unions and neutralize their negotiating power on behalf of low- and middle-income workers. If they got everything on their wish list there would be no unions in place fighting for living wages, and wages would go down. The wealthy would pay as little as possible in taxes and the government would stop providing any sort of help to address poverty, health care, mental health, housing, food support and other safety nets. Only wealthy children would have access to a quality education, and the future for the poor would be bleak. We would then be able to compete with third-world nations in ways many of us could not even imagine.
I am grateful to unions who fought for the 40-hour work week, child labor laws, vacation and sick leave. I appreciate the efforts unions have put forth to create safety standards so that fewer workers are in danger of never coming home at the end of the day. Should all employees, public and private, union and non-union, negotiate in good faith with their employers, recognizing that lean times call for shared sacrifice? Absolutely. And when things improve, should all employees be rewarded for their efforts and a share in the gains? Again, absolutely. — Christina Brazelton, Delano