Wisconsin’s government unions may be losing support with the public but they might have picked up at least one academic supporter. “When he was still President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, now mayor-elect of Chicago, famously quipped: ‘Never allow a crisis to go to waste,’” Nelson Lichtenstein notes in the March 11, 2011 Chronicle Review. “Republican governors in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Ohio, and other states have certainly taken that advice to heart.”
“By emphasizing, and in some cases manipulating, the red ink flowing through so many state budgets, they have leveraged the crisis to strike a body blow at the public-sector unions that represent so many teachers, professors, social workers, and municipal employees.” Lichtenstein is an historian at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Even one of Lichtenstein’s favorable reviewers on ratemyprofessors.com noted that the professor is “Left-leaning because he is chair of labor studies/unions at UCSB.” Lichtenstein is the director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at UCSB.
Columnist Noemie Emery neatly summed up the dilemma of scholars such as Lichtenstein in a column which appeared in The Washington Examiner on March 9, 2011. “In the battle going on now in Wisconsin and elsewhere, the liberals and the conservatives are operating not only on opposite principles, but in two different times,” she wrote. “The Democrats seem caught in 1911, in an age of sweat shops, exploitation, and of child labor, when endangered and underpaid workers valiantly struggled to wrest living wages out of ‘The Man.’”
“One would never know from their speech this is 2011, that these union workers are well-off clerks and teachers; that The Man has been replaced by a less-well-off public, and that their early and well-funded retirements are driving state governments into a ditch.”
“The most recently available census data on total salaries and wages paid are from 2008, when they totaled just over $800 billion,” Josh Barro noted in a recent issue brief published by the Manhattan Institute. “Add that to approximately $414 billion spent on benefits.”
“Together, wages and benefits combine to make up 43 percent of state and local spending.”
“Of course,” Dr. Lichtenstein stated in an e-mail to us, “surprised it is not higher.”
“That is what governments do, provide services. They don’t build cars or iPads.” He could have added the word “Yet.”
~“Looking at the controversy over pay for government workers, 35 percent say the pay is
‘about right,’ while 15 percent say it is too little and 42 percent say it is too much,” the Quinnipiac University Poll found;
~“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the U.S. Department of Labor, as of
2009 state and local government employees not only earned more in wages than their private sector counterparts, they received benefits that were 69 percent higher than those in the private sector,” Jonathan Williams of the American Legislative Exchange Council wrote in an editorial last month; and
~The Tax Foundation put Wisconsin in the Top 10 in its rankings of per capita state
and local tax burdens.
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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