You know that times are tough when a Democratic governor is forced to deny pay raises to members of a public employee union. Illinois’ Pat Quinn stood up to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and now finds himself embroiled in a lawsuit over $75 million in raises for state workers. Like his neighbor to the north, Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker, Quinn learned what happens when government runs afoul of organized labor.
Washington Democrats have used the economy as an excuse to shore up their union support base, promoting partnerships with unions on everything from manufacturing to education. When the president announced Skills for America’s Future last October, unions, education, and manufacturing were all thrown into the mix:
Skills for America’s Future will build high-impact partnerships with industry, labor unions, community colleges and other training providers in all 50 states.1
Unions even bested parents when the Department of Education announced a green jobs “Sustainability Education Summit”:
This announcement is the latest example of our work to support reform across states, districts and neighborhoods across America. We call it the “Quiet Revolution”—where elected officials, administrators, teachers, unions and parents are demanding better schools and working hard every day to create them. 2
The Obama administration has actively engaged in pro-union spending despite growing unemployment and a failing recovery. Mr. Obama argues for fairness, issuing demands to raise taxes on businesses and the wealthy while union giveaways central to his agenda, like last year’s $26 billion Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act, help to further the cause of a unionized public sector workforce.
Favor upon favor has been bestowed on organized labor since January 2009, including the GM union pension bailout, and the $60 billion deferral of health care’s excise tax on high-cost plans. Some of the giveaways are not so well known. The $5 billion Early Retiree Reinsurance Program defrays health care costs for retirees who are too young for Medicare. The House Committee on Ways and Means reported that:
Nearly six-in-ten (58%) entities receiving the federal retiree reinsurance subsidies are unions and state and local governments.3
The program’s March 2011 report declared government the winner:
Through December 31, 2010, ERRP issued $535 million in reimbursements to 253 approved sponsor applications (i.e., plans). The largest share of these reimbursements went to State government-sponsored entities, followed by non-profit, commercial, union, and religious organizations.4
Private sector union membership was down to 6.9% in 2010, but stood at 36.2% for public sector workers.5 For local governments the number is even higher, 42.3%.6 The recession gave Democrats an easy excuse to smile on their union supporters by targeting money handed to state and local governments, as they did with the education jobs bill.
The president has repeatedly demanded that Republicans submit to tax hikes, blaming the plight of the middle class not on his failed stimulus policies, but on “spending in the tax code” for millionaires, billionaires, and corporations. He was never able to justify why he worked with Democrats and unions to try to finesse a deferral for big labor on their spendy “Cadillac” health care plans.
Democratic efforts to further their government-union partnership will continue to fuel spending on favors the country cannot afford. The political views of Governors Quinn and Walker may be miles apart, but their shared experience testifies to the danger of allowing organized labor to dominate a workforce that exists solely to serve the public interest. The president’s vision for combining big government, big labor, and the private sector calls for all taxpayers to pay for giveaways that less than half of us will benefit from.
Charlie Rangel made the news for bringing religion into the deficit debate, but when it comes to invoking the name of God, dethroned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi conveyed Democratic sentiment best when she spoke to the UAW:
May God bless the UAW. May God bless America.7
No big surprise, our country came in second.