I learned about this story last night while watching The Colbert Report. The Koch Brothers fund the Americans for Prosperity PAC that was responsible for sending absentee ballots to Democrats in districts that are voting to recall Republican state senators. The instructions to recipients of the packets say to mail the ballots by August 11th which is two days later than the August 9th deadline. Americans for Prosperity claimed it was a “typo.” Right… and then instructions also include incorrect address for mailing the ballots.
State and local public employees seem to have a target on their backs these days. GOP-controlled legislatures and governors are forcing cuts to their pay and benefits without the niceties of negotiation, whilst they seek to break the back of their unions by cancelling collective bargaining rights. While it’s understandable if totalitarians and tyrants around the world are applauding, it’s much harder to see why many ordinary Americans are doing likewise.
Admittedly, these are hard times for some Americans and it may be tough to swallow the well-publicized fact that public sector employees generally enjoy relatively generous benefits such as pensions and health care coverage. But let’s keep things in perspective.
On average, public employees are better educated than their private sector peers; they are also less well paid than their private industry contemporaries with similar qualifications. If their benefits are more generous, that’s attributable in part to the reluctance of governors and legislatures to grant wage increases. Public sector unions have, therefore, often settled for improved benefits over increased pay. These more generous benefits have been hard won through the give and take of negotiation. To decry them now as though there was something illegitimate about the process, and deprive public employees of their collective bargaining right is simply a travesty of truth and justice.
And it does no credit to those Americans who are currently railing against public employees by making invidious comparisons to their own working conditions in private industry. We would do better, perhaps, to raise the standard of employment in the private sector in America so that pay and benefits, including health care and vacations, not only match the public sector in America, but also workers elsewhere in the industrialized world, behind whom we lag badly. Or does misery love company that much in today’s America?
And who are these people whom Republicans love to disparage? They are the teachers who prepare our kids for a tough and competitive world; the police officers and fire fighters who keep us safe by risking their lives every day; the corrections officers who spend their time enclosed with the scum of our society; the street cleaners, the parks employees, the utility workers and the many, many, others who keep our communities clean and safe, and our homes light and warm.
- Do we want capable people to oversee and implement our vital public services?
- Assuming we do, doesn’t it make sense for government at all levels to attract the best people by providing them with attractive compensation packages?
- Even setting aside the practical issues, should government be in the business, morally, of providing relatively low wages and benefits to its employees?
Rather than make them the targets of our ire even in these uncertain times, we should be thanking our lucky stars that we are blessed with fine public servants who do what they do for us and do it so well.