Support to public sector unions on decline in U.S.

13:55, March 21, 2011      

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by George Bao

As protests by union workers in Wisconsin have renewed the debate in the United States over the rights of trade unions in the country, a recent survey shows support to public sector unions is on the decline.

Over 100,000 government employees protested in Wisconsin to fight for their rights to have collective bargaining rights of unions for them. But Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, supported by Republican state legislators, did not give in and signed into law a legislation to sharply limit collective bargaining for government employees. Last week, a judge in the state issued a temporary restraining order to halt the law, and Republicans vowed to appeal on Monday.

The battle over unions in Wisconsin has ripples in the U.S. The dilemma is, while the unions try to protect the benefits of government employees from being cut, the government, facing huge deficit, is unable to pay for the increasing benefits such as retirement pensions and pay raises. Therefore, the present battle over unions is actually triggered by the deteriorating economic situation in the country.

There are public sector unions and private sector unions in the U.S. A recent poll shows that support for public sector unions is declining and more Americans begin to realize the importance to curb the influence of public sector unions.

In California, where union-funded support led to a Democratic sweep of statewide offices in elections last year, voters support reforms in how public-employee pensions and health benefits are funded. This is a major shift from two years ago, a new survey by University of California-Berkeley and the Field Poll found.

The survey found that 42 percent of the respondents think pension benefits for public employees are "too generous" -- up from 32 percent in October 2009.

The poll of 898 registered voters was taken February 28-March 14 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

The results come in the wake of weeks of protests in Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker and a Republican-dominated Legislature stripped public employee unions of most collective bargaining powers and exacted greater employee contributions toward benefits. Lawmakers in Indiana, Ohio and several other states are working on similar measures.

California's anti-union sentiment has surprised analysts in a state where unions and union-backed independent expenditure organizations spent 30 million dollars to back Jerry Brown and Democrats to a sweep of statewide elected offices in November last year.

According to the survey, 69 percent of respondents want state and local government union members to pay more each month for health benefits. Respondents also overwhelmingly want to increase the minimum age when an employee can retire; reduce benefits for new employees; and replace the current pension system with reduced guaranteed payments.

The new survey contained an ominous sign for unions: Nearly all of the proposed reforms received strong support from independent and Republican voters in addition to Democratic voters who usually are more union friendly.

The new survey contained other potentially treacherous signs for unions. Among non-union households, there is a dead-even split over whether unions do more harm than good.

Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo said that this was really something that the unions should pay attention to. "This has gotten to a point where the mainstream, middle class is paying attention to this and wants something done."

What Jim Giermanski, president of Powers International LLC, wrote at is representative of many Americans who are not happy with public sector unions:

"The government takes my money through taxes. It uses my money to pay public sector union-member salaries. The public sector union member gives some of my money which he or she get in wages, to the political party that supports public sector unions. The union- favored politician in turn increases the salaries of the union members in order to receive even more of the union's money which is really my money."

"I don't have a choice in the use of my money taken by the government to give to its union workforce except by virtue of a vote for those politicians who do not support public sector unions. The chances of my vote being successful is diminished because the party I want to vote out of office, is using my money against me by essentially buying union member votes through promises of support and higher wages and benefits," he wrote.

Daniel DiSalvo, an assistant professor of political science at City College of New York, characterized in his essay for National Affairs magazine titled "The Trouble With Public Sector Unions" that national public-sector unions, flush with funds deducted from public-employee paychecks, turn those dues into campaign donations that help elect the very people who will be sitting across from the union reps at the bargaining table.

As defined, it is a well-financed closed circle of negotiations that leaves "Who is representing the taxpayer's best interest?" as a very open question, he wrote.

Source: Xinhua

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