It's time for labor to make tough, statesmanlike concessions

Wisconsin’s new Republican governor, Scott Walker, has caught the attention of GOP deficit hawks across the country with legislation that proposes to strip most of his state’s public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights, opening the way to unilateral reductions in their pensions and benefits. The generally unremarked-on curiosity here is that Wisconsin’s shortfall was created by Walker’s aggressive tax cutting rather than the local economy. That hasn’t dimmed other Republicans’ admiration for Walker’s union-bashing agenda. Similar bills already are pending in Tennessee and Ohio, with others moving toward introduction in Missouri, Iowa, Michigan, Indiana and New Hampshire.

Other findings from the Pew poll reveal why this brutal assault on the rights of public employees is so quickly gaining traction. The survey, conducted this month, found that Americans’ view of unions was almost equally divided between favorable and unfavorable. In fact, more people — 40% — have an unfavorable opinion of public sector unions than they do of private sector unions — 37%. Overall, the public’s regard for organized labor is approaching its pre-Depression low point…

Public employee unions can’t be faulted for negotiating the best deals possible for their members. Union officers, however, need to recognize that their members’ defined pensions stand out in an era when most private workers have been pushed into the equities markets to fund their retirements, as one employer after another has replaced traditional pension plans with risky individual 401(k) plans.