...before we go making the SEIU the UUA's seventh source? I just got an email from Susan Leslie, UUA Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director, asking me to "Please join UUA President Rev. Peter Morales and sign on to IWJ's Open Letter from Faith Leaders: Stop Attacks on Public Sector Workers and Unions." Coming as it did after such UU blog posts as One possible litmus test for UU Culture, Collective bargaining is a human right, An open letter to religious leaders in support of collective bargaining, Drops of water turn a mill, singly none..., and a number of others I've lost my notes on, I'm afraid it's already become one of those creeds we deny having, but I'm going to speak anyway.
Public employee unions are a different kettle of fish than ordinary unions. This is a truth that not a single one of the writers mentioned above seems to grasp. I'm going to quote a letter from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Luther C. Steward, President of the National Federation of Federal Employees: "...Organization on their part to present their views on such matters is both natural and logical, but meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government.
All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.
Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable." (full text available from The American Presidency Project)
To put it into my own words, there are two very big differences between private industry unions and public employee unions. The first is that the private union is trying to get a piece of the profits for the workers who had a big part in creating them. That's only fair- go for it. But governments do not generate profits! Public employee unions are not negotiating for a piece of the profits, they are negotiating for a tax increase.
Another difference is that while the ordinary union is speaking for people who have no other way of making their corporate bosses listen to them, public employees do have a voice: it's called democracy. The public employees' boss isn't C. Montgomery Burns, it's we the people. But it's just too much work to go to town hall meetings, write letters to Congressmen and the editors, or actually vote I guess.
Let's not forget that we're not talking about minimum wage flunkies here, either. Much has been said about the middle class in these posts, but from where I sit a lot of those public employees look like millionaires. How can I say such a silly thing? Benefits- particularly healthcare and most particularly retirement. Read The Millionaire Cop Next Door from Forbes. The short version is this: "City officials have said that in Carlsbad, the average firefighter or police officer typically retires at age 55 and has 28 years of service. Using the 3 percent salary calculation, that person would receive an annual city pension of $76,440.
That does not include health benefits, which might push real retirement compensation close to $100,000 a year." Let's ignore the health benefits for the moment, and just take the pension- round it to $80K. How much would you have to have in a private retirement fund to get $80K a year? "Investment pros like my friend Barry Glassman say 4% is a reasonable return today. That’s a pitiful yield, isn’t it? It is sure to disappoint the scores of millions of baby boomers who will soon enter retirement with nothing more than their desiccated 401(k)s, down 30% on average from 30 months ago, and a bit of Social Security.
Based on this small but unfortunately realistic 4% return, an $80,000 annual pension payout implies a rather large pot of money behind it–$2 million, to be precise.
That’s a lot. One might guess that a $2 million stash would be in the 95th percentile for the 77 million baby boomers who will soon face retirement."
Do you have two million dollars in your retirement account? Knowing many of my readers, I'm guessing not. Now ask yourself how much you'd have to earn to save, over and above living expenses, two million dollars in only 28 years? And this completely ignores the security factor in government jobs- four of the last five jobs I lost were because the company went out of business; relatively few American government bodies go out of business. Now tell me again about how the public employee unions are representing the downtrodden middle class...
One last beef I have with Susan's email: she repeats an untruth: "This is not about balanced budgets; it is about power... If there is not enough money for them, it is because the contracted funds have been taken by conservative officials and given to wealthy people and corporations instead of to the people who have earned them." It was understandable a week ago when Rachel Maddow said this; she was fulminating off her own misreading of the budget numbers. But since then several nonpartisan organizations have refuted this; PolitiFact's refutation has been repeated and referenced widely. To be repeating that canard now is highly irresponsible, and makes it look like our UUA spokespeople get their facts from the Daily KOS.
UPDATE: Knowing that not everyone reads comments, I wanted to add this from comments:
But my primary point, the raison d'etre for this post, is that there is plenty of room for disagreement and need for debate on this issue- I don't want it declared a basic tenent of our religion until such debate has taken place. I don't want Boston taking a position on my behalf without such a debate. I don't want clergy out there declaring that support for the unions in Wisconsin is an extension of our faith, an inseperable part of our principles, until we have had that debate. That would be irony indeed- basing a political position upon our democratic principle without a democratic debate and vote!