7/9/2012 Apparently they are supposed
to prosper while the rest of us struggle. by Paul Kersey
It is a standard bit of Alinskyite strategy: couch your
demands in moral terms.It makes
your opponents seem small and puts them on the defensive.But while it sounds simple – replace
“we want” with “we deserve” – it’s not foolproof.As AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall demonstrated earlier this
week, sometimes the moralizing wears thin, and the sense of entitlement starts
to show through.
AFSCME is in the midst of negotiations for a new collective
bargaining agreement covering 40,000 state employees.At the same time AFSCME has sued the state over a four
percent pay raise that was scheduled for last year.Governor Quinn cancelled the raise, arguing that the money
was not available in the state budget.AFSCME is willing to settle for a two-percent boost, but they insist
that they are entitled to a pay hike one way or another.
With the increased scrutiny of government pay and benefits
AFSCME feels increasingly put-upon.In an interview with WUIS last Monday, Lindall opined that “It used to
be that in this country public service used to be a higher calling.It seems more often today, at least
from politicians and pundits, that public servants are the whipping boy”.
Amidst the moralizing boilerplate it is the bit about the “higher
calling” that is especially galling.It used to be that a “higher calling” meant something like the ministry
or charity work, and implied a willingness to sacrifice material wealth and
security for the sake of some greater good.But that clearly isn’t what Lindall and AFSCME have in mind.
Illinois Policy Institute research shows that state
government employees wages and benefits increased by 17.6 percent after
inflation between 1993 and 2008, while workers in the private sector (the
overwhelming majority of the workforce) saw their compensation go down by 2.3
percent.The average hourly pay of
state government employees is $8.69 an hour higher than that of the
And while we normally expect employers to honor their
contracts, these are not normal times.Unemployment in Illinois is stuck over eight percent.State government alone is confronting unfunded
pension and retiree health care obligations totaling more than $150
billion.New pension reporting
rules reveal that state-run pensions are severely underfunded: Springfield
holds only 20 to 40 percent of the assets it needs to meet its obligations.The state of Illinois is in a crisis,
and in a crisis contracts often get redone.
With that background AFSCME’s “concession” is shown to be
more tactical than generous; they still expect raises when so many of their
comrades outside of government are taking pay cuts or struggling to find work.These struggling private-sector workers
are ultimately the ones who pay for government.And the work they do is important in its own right.AFSCME is in no position to make moral
judgments on taxpayers.
Aside from being grasping, AFSCME is also acting in a very
short-sighted manner.At a minimum
the next contract will need to contain concessions from the union. Even if
AFSCME wins its raise today, that just means that the concessions will need to
be bigger tomorrow.
In an era when incomes are declining among the 86 percent of
Illinoisians who are not fortunate enough to work for government, AFSCME and
Lindall apparently consider it their “higher calling” to be sheltered from the
hardships that other families are facing.The desire to preserve high pay and generous benefits is hardly noble.Lindall’s protests to the contrary
notwithstanding, it is taxpayers who are in the most danger of becoming the
whipping boys.AFSCME is in no position to act aggrieved when the people of Illinois
call for government employees to accept concessions that are in line with those
that workers outside of government are making.