The Board of Editors of The New York Times is demanding significant cut backs in public sector union contracts, but refuses to recognize the cause of the problem, which is the entire structure of public employee unions:
At a time when public school students are being forced into ever more crowded classrooms, and poor families will lose state medical benefits, New York State is paying 10 times more for state employees’ pensions than it did just a decade ago….
In all, the salaries and benefits of state employees add up to $18.5 billion, or a fifth of New York’s operating budget. Unless those costs are reined in, New York will find itself unable to provide even essential services.
To point out these alarming facts is not to be anti- union, or anti-worker. In recent weeks, Republican politicians in the Midwest have distorted what should be a serious discussion about state employees’ benefits, cynically using it as a pretext to crush unions.
Yet The Times Editors, in the subsequent paragraphs, acknowledge that the public sector unions are not willing to make the necessary changes:
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pursued a reasonable course, making it clear that he expects public unions to make sacrifices, starting with a salary freeze. He wants to require greater employee contributions to pensions and health benefits, with a goal of saving $450 million.
Negotiations begin this month, but so far union leaders have publicly resisted Mr. Cuomo’s proposals. If they don’t budge, Mr. Cuomo says he will have to lay off up to 9,800 workers. That would damage the state’s struggling economy. Some compromise must be found.
Having secured very sweet contracts for their members through political influence, the public sector unions have no incentive to change. They know from history that politicians eventually back down or move on, and the consumer of public sector services ends up paying through higher taxes and diminished services.
The current system also pits older union membership, which has vested in all these benefits, against younger members, who will bear the cost of cutbacks and likely never will see such sweet deals for themselves because there simply is not enough money.
The cause of the problem is not just the terms of a particular public sector union contract, it is the system which allows public sector unions to pass costs onto future generations of taxpayers and union members.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is correct to recognize that collective bargaining for benefits is the cause of the problem, and that it is not enough to treat just the symptoms.