WaPo: Battle on between gov’t workers and taxpayers
posted at 10:55 am on February 28, 2011 by Ed Morrissey
Give the Washington Post credit for putting the fight over state budgets in the proper perspective. Union protesters attempted to cast the debate as one of the rich against the middle class, but that presumes that the entire middle class works in the public sector and that everyone else is “the rich.” Elected officials — even some Democrats — see it more as a battle over control of public policy between public-sector unions and the taxpayers, and have begun to understand that the taxpayers and voters should prevail:
At least some elected officials normally sympathetic to industrial unions were questioning whether they should side with government workers.
“I believe in what unions do, but as an elected official I represent the taxpayers,” said Jeff Berding, a registered Democrat on the Cincinnati City Council who ran as an independent after he opposed the party on a union issue. “I’m trying to get the best deal for them.”
The divide between government worker unions and their opponents, playing out now in several state capitals, highlights a critical aspect of the evolving labor movement.
The teachers union attempted to explain why union representation should matter to taxpayers:
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, was in Columbus this week for protests. She said in an interview that the argument that public unions are fighting the taxpayer is misguided.
“You have long-standing history in Ohio of using collective bargaining to do transformative things in education,” she said.
Transformative? Let’s take a look at the results in Ohio for students. Ohio barely outscores the national average in science and writing, and the gap narrowed in mathematics and reading over the last several years. What percentage of students have demonstrated grade-level proficiency by the 8th grade in Ohio? The results are hardly transformative:
- Mathematics: 36%
- Reading: 37%
- Science: 41%
- Writing: 32%
How about Wisconsin, the scene of this month’s protests?
- Mathematics: 39%
- Reading: 34%
- Science: 41%
- Writing: 36%
But what is transformative in Wisconsin is the amount of money that the teachers union can squeeze out of the state through collective bargaining on benefits, which the Walker budget-repair bill would disallow. The WEA Trust, explains a report from reform group Public School Spending, makes a fortune for the Wisconsin Education Association by imposing a Cadillac health-care plan (which would be immune from the ObamaCare tax) at Lamborghini pricing:
WEA Trust, an insurance company established and closely associated with the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), siphons millions of crucial dollars from K-12 schools and their students every year.
WEA Trust has grown very fat on public school dollars, with a net worth of $316 million and a team of 12 administrators all receiving compensation packages worth six figures per year. …
The problem is state law, which makes the identity of a school district’s employee health insurance carrier a topic of collective bargaining. That means school boards and local school employee unions must agree on the insurance company that will provide health coverage.
So most unions have traditionally come to the negotiating table demanding expensive WEA Trust insurance coverage, and the strategy has been effective. About 64 percent of Wisconsin’s 426 districts carry WEA Trust insurance, despite its prohibitive costs.
What “transformative” result do taxpayers get from this added expense? None at all, except for a wealth transfer from taxpayers to the WEA and its dozen administrators making six-figure salaries. In fact, the WEA Trust looks like a racket to fund union activities rather than provide responsible health-care coverage to public employees.
It’s the clearest example of the need to end collective bargaining. If states and localities don’t have the ability to find cost-efficient coverage for their employees, then it will be impossible for government to maintain any kind of cost control while unions control public policy.