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Public Sector Unions: Republicans Told You So

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


“They are government organized as an interest group to lobby itself for ever-larger portions of wealth extracted by the taxing power from the private sector. Increasingly, government workers are the electoral base of the party of government.” – George Will, Newsweek (May 17, 2010)

In 1966, following the lead of President John F. Kennedy (Democrat!), Rhode Island Democrats also decided to grant the right to collectively bargain to the State’s public employees. This ignored the warnings delivered by even the liberal icon and champion of organized labor Franklin Roosevelt, who once said, “Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relations and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the government. The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.”

Just a few decades later, Rhode Island was up to its eyeballs in debt and chained down by the stifling tax structure needed to support its expensive government. In 2009 the Providence Journal editorialized, “The cost of government, notably in benefits for public employees…has risen much faster than the public’s ability to pay for it. Something has to give.”

Public unions. Another great idea, Democrats. Hey, let’s do another stimulus bill!

For the most part, Republicans have been the unions’ staunchest adversary for the past several decades, evidenced by the fact that over 90 percent of labor’s political contributions go to Democratic candidates each election cycle.

For anyone requiring more proof than the unions’ money trail, consider the fact that on April 28, 1966, Republican Governor John Chafee sent a letter to the RI Senate explaining his reasons for vetoing the Democrats’ bill that afforded public employees the right to collectively bargain. Chafee recognized the “organizational problems inherent where the machinery designed for private industry is imposed on State employees…Since wages, hours and practically all working conditions are now established by laws enacted by the General Assembly…or regulations,” collective bargaining for state employees will “inevitably” lead to “bad relationships between…employees and the State” resulting in “the public [being] the loser.”

And for anyone who still needs more verification of Republicans’ longstanding anti-public union stances should go mention the name “Ronald Reagan” within the halls of the AFL-CIO. See what kind of reaction you get.

For decades Republicans have lashed out at the oppressive tax rates needed to support a growing number of public employees, and the generous salaries, pensions, and benefits that union bosses have always negotiated for them. Not only did Republicans warn of the inevitable corruption and abuse that would ensue once public employees were allowed to organize, but they also objected to taxpayer dollars being transformed into union dues for the purposes of further lobbying against the taxpayers.

Democrats responded by calling Republicans “anti-worker.”

For the past eight years Democrats railed against Governor Carcieri whenever he attempted to curtail public union expenses, intentionally misinforming the voters that Carcieri just wanted to take care of his “Wall Street buddies” by “balancing the budget on the back of the working class.” Last week in Wisconsin, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told a brainwashed crowd of union supporters that Republican Governor Scott Walker’s budget proposal was a sinister attempt to “pay back his rich buddies and CEOs!” Currently posted on the left-wing blog RIFuture.org is a video that calls for people to attend a pro-labor rally today at the Statehouse in order “to support the fight against these anti-democratic, anti-worker attacks…We won’t allow the rich to wage class war against us.”

With millions of Americans consistently on the cusp of waking up to the horrors that public unions cause, Democrats have always had to retain their power not by legitimate debate, but rather by fueling class warfare and by posing as champions of the poor – and by hosting rallies that exhibit all of their phony outrage.

The Left’s strategy is wearing thin. Criticism of union politics is escalating, and a recent Clarus Group poll found that 64 percent of Americans now believe public sector workers should be denied the right to organize. Look for the Left’s desperate activism to reach extreme levels in the coming weeks.

Since the legalization of public unions, Rhode Island has certainly fared the worst. With hardly any Republican power to wield within Ocean State government, there has been no check on the Democrats’ plan to bloat the government with organized employees. Without a strong Republican presence, is it any wonder that the Providence Journal reported in 2008 that Rhode Island’s state and local governments were employing nearly 1 out of 6 people working in Rhode Island? Other high-profile studies have revealed that the Ocean State has “one of the highest rates of public sector unionization, (62 percent), compared to the national average of 37 percent.” And last year it was discovered that Rhode Island’s public employees ranked 4th in average pay, while the private sector ranked 23rd.

This steady growth of government has unavoidably required incremental increases to Ocean State tax rates, and has thereby caused the erosion of the business climate and the resettlement of wealth and capital to other states. As the influential General Electric CEO Jack Welch asserted, “[Rhode Island] is not a right-to-work state. It’s driven all big business out of the state…It’s actually a very nice state, nice coastline, nice everything. But they tax the hell out of you, and you don’t want to be there.” And, most recently, the Ocean State Policy Research Institute released a conclusive study showing how Rhode Island’s estate tax, among others, is causing wealth to migrate to other parts of the country.

It’s difficult to imagine anything more “anti-worker” than policies that decrease the job supply. Perhaps the worst betrayal of all, however, is the fact that labor leaders and Democratic politicians failed to fund the pensions they promised to the union membership. The money just isn’t there. The children of public employees will now be forced to pay for their parents’ retirement – but only if they can find a job in this economic wasteland called Rhode Island.

This one-party system has not served Rhode Islanders well.

“Unsustainable” is the word being thrown around to describe the aforementioned narrative. There couldn’t be a more perfect term to describe the kingdom Democrats have established for themselves here in Rhode Island. Democrats have had Rhode Islanders living way beyond their means. The fun lasted just one generation.

Travis Rowley (TravisRowley.com) is the chairman of the RI Young Republicans, and author of The RI Republican: An Indictment of the Rhode Island Left.


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