Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

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Tag: public unions

Dec.
16th

Public unions have a choice: Save pay – or jobs

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

There’s no telling what kind of sacrifices Tacoma’s firefighters union may be offering as it privately negotiates with city administrators to preserve positions and public safety. The big thing is that they’re negotiating in the first place.

The Great Recession has not been kind to public unions. In the rising economic tide that preceded it, many of them had won very generous compensation from local and state officials they’d helped put in office.

Unions in the private sector should have it so good. Private-sector unions can’t vote for the people they face at the bargaining table, and the companies they work for can go bust if they can’t turn a profit. (See Hostess Brands Inc.)

Governments don’t face the discipline of the market, and they rarely go belly up: People can do without Twinkies, but they can’t do without police protection, sewers, water or streets.

The recession and its aftermath have slammed public unions from two directions: Governments have been hard-pressed to pay for those nice contracts without cannibalizing the services they provide their citizens. And taxpayers – many of whom have seen their incomes drop – have been annoyed to discover how much they are paying public employees in very hard times.

With revenue growth strangled, budget-writing has become a zero-sum game: Union compensation comes at the expense of city services, and vice versa. When the tradeoffs are made, no one walks away smiling.

In fact, the City of Tacoma would have been happy to settle for zero sum tradeoffs. After inheriting a fiscal disaster from his predecessor – and previous city councils – City Manager T.C. Broadnax had to close a $63 million shortfall when he developed Tacoma’s newly adopted biennial spending plan.
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June
6th

Public unions meet their ultimate employers: Voters

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

Public employees – including those who work for the City of Tacoma and Pierce Transit – should be contemplating the implications of Wednesday’s elections in Wisconsin and California.

One lesson seems obvious: Given a choice between funding vital public services and funding union benefits that often far surpass the average worker’s, voters will take the services.

Even Democratic voters. Wisconsinites – who on Wednesday effectively endorsed severe restrictions on their state’s public unions – haven’t turned into gangs of company goons. Many citizens cast ballots in defense of their “union-busting” governor, Scott Walker, then turned around and told pollsters they preferred Barack Obama to Mitt Romney.

Some of Walker’s opponents have attributed the failure of the recall campaign to the governor’s vast advantage in fund-raising.

Still, they’re the ones who staged the debacle in the first place; they wouldn’t have been outspent if they hadn’t tried to unseat Walker a year into his first term.

More to the point, there can’t have been many Wisconsin voters who couldn’t figure out where the battle lines were drawn, however much money got spent. A vote for Walker was a vote to rein in public unions; a vote for his opponent was a vote for the old status quo.

A key word here is PUBLIC. Public sector unions and private sector unions are very different animals in some ways.

In the private sector, collective bargaining pits labor against management. At the table, union negotiators face people who will lose their jobs if they give away the store. Union leaders also know that the market imposes limits: A company goes bust – and payrolls evaporate – if its profits get squeezed too hard.

That discipline doesn’t exist in the public sector. Government unions work ferociously to hire their own bosses – the elected officials who control the management side of collective bargaining.
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Feb.
19th

Public unions can spare themselves the backlash

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Political drama doesn’t get much richer than what’s unfolded in Wisconsin the last few days.

Democrats fleeing the state. Republicans dispatching state troopers to catch their leader. Tens of thousands of demonstrators mobbing the Capitol.

Behind it is a dead serious issue: the extraordinary power public unions have exercised over government budgets.

In Wisconsin, the backlash against government unions has taken the form of a GOP drive to repeal collective bargaining for most public-sector employees. Similar drives are happening in other states where Republicans recently won governorships and gained control over legislatures.

This would not be happening if the unions had the support of the public. Many of those unions have forfeited that support by clinging to lush compensation packages at a time when workers in the private sector – including union members – are enduring the toughest economy in generations. A time when public services are being scaled back ruthlessly while generous labor contracts have continued on autopilot.

Too many examples are found in Pierce County. Although the cost of living has been flat, some union leaders have adamantly rejected pleas to reopen their contracts to reduce “cost-of-living” raises that considerably exceed the actual rate of inflation.
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