Editorial Comment: Anti-Union Policies are Attacks on the Middle Class
Most Americans grow up with a certain set of expectations: work hard, go to college and be rewarded with a job that pays a living wage — the story of the middle class.
The recent economic crisis has fundamentally changed this narrative.
Millions of Americans, who did everything right by working hard and attending college, can’t find work. Those that are employed full-time have seen their hours, paychecks and benefits reduced as employers react to the slowing economy.
Employers aren’t the only ones cutting back; facing massive budget shortfalls, state governments have followed suite.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, more than 31 states have enacted cuts that restrict the ability of vulnerable citizens to obtain health insurance or receive health care. At least 29 states have reduced funding for programs such as Homecare and disability insurance that service elderly and low-income individuals. And more than 43 states have cut or eliminated funding that subsidizes public universities and pays for K-12 education.
This week, however, the governors of Ohio and Wisconsin are attempting a more damaging approach.
Ohio Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Republican State Sen. Shannon Jones and supported by Republican Gov. John Kasich, will end collective bargaining between unions and public employers if enacted into law. In practice it will eliminate negotiations between unions and public employers that lead to agreements over wages, working hours and health and safety, giving employers unilateral power to set workplace policies and regulations.
A budget proposal from Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker goes even further.
In addition to eliminating collective bargaining, his proposal forces public employees to pay half the cost of their pensions while paying significantly more toward the cost of state-sponsored health insurance. The proposal would result in a dramatic take-home pay reduction for affected workers.
If either proposal becomes law, employees will also lose the ability to negotiate through their unions for higher wages and benefits as well as common-sense accommodations like maternity leave. And because Ohio and Wisconsin laws prohibit public employees from striking, they will effectively lose all rights as workers.
Kasich and Walker have said that the changes are necessary in order to address their respective budget crisis. However, both proposals attack the deficit at the expense of public employees.
Public employees are not just ‘government bureaucrats’ — they are fire fighters, police officers and sanitation workers. They’re street sweepers, teachers and college professors. They are the middle class.
And they’re struggling already.
Targeting them in order to reduce the deficit is more than a disservice to the valuable role that they play — it’s an attack on the middle class.