Why are Public Sector Unions Fighting for Their Lives?

Posted on March 7, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

State lawmakers across the nation, particularly those lead by Republican governors, are going after the public sector unions with a vengeance all in the name of budget balancing.

Not only are state officials seeking financial concessions and asking public labor unions to contribute more toward the cost of health care coverage and pensions, but in Wisconsin and Ohio, lawmakers are seeking to take away public worker’s collective bargaining rights.

Wisconsin’s GOP Gov. Scott Walker, who says the unions are the “haves” and everyone else are the “have-nots,” claims that severe restrictions need to be placed on public unions in order to close the state’s $3.6 billion budget gap.

The Ohio senate, meanwhile, recently passed a bill dramatically limiting the collective bargaining rights of more than 350,000 teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public service employees.

Outraged union members have descended by the thousands on state capitols to defend worker rights and protest what they see as unabashed “union-busting” tactics.

Exactly how public sector unions came to be in this precarious position is open to debate. What is clear is that somewhere along the way public labor unions allowed their message to be hijacked. Firefighters, public university employees and teachers made the fatal mistake of letting someone else tell their stories.

What else explains the demonization of public school teachers, a group traditionally held in high-esteem?

It wasn’t that long ago those teachers were seen as unselfish and dedicated professionals. Teachers were once on the same pedestal as Mom and apple pie. No more.

According to a new Rasmussen Reports poll a plurality of Americans think it’s a bad thing that most teachers are unionized. Forty-six percent (46%) say it’s a bad thing that most teachers belong to public employee unions. While thirty-seven percent (37%) believe that it’s a good thing that teachers are union members. Seventeen percent (17%) aren’t sure.

Another nationwide poll indicates that 47 percent (47%) of voters side with Wisconsin GOP Gov. Walker in his battle with teachers and the state’s other public sector unions and want him to limit union rights. While forty-two percent (42%) of voters support the teachers and public employees.

Those opposed to teacher unions have done a good job of casting public school teachers in the role of obstructionists standing in the way of meaningful education reform. A Wall Street Journal editorial stated the “teacher unions have lost the media” and noted that even “liberal-leaning” newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post have written a number unflattering stories about teachers placing their union demands above the needs of students.

Teachers and public service unions have allowed themselves to be painted by their opponents as representatives of greedy, out of touch special interests.

At Turner GPA we make sure our clients are always positioned in the best possible light. We understand that when you fail to make your own case someone else will tell your story and that’s never a good thing.

Still, the story isn’t over in this showdown between unions and state lawmakers. As a matter of fact, there are some in the labor movement who believe the all out war on unionized government workers and teachers might very well be a blessing in disguise. The massive protests by union members in places like Ohio and Wisconsin are seen as evidence of a real resurgence of the nation’s unions.

“The challenge for us is to take this moment and turn it into a movement,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers in a recent New York Times story.



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