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Coordinated Attack on Public Employees

During the weeks that followed the 2010 midterm elections, there was lots of speculation about the sweeping shift in power from one political party to another, and what it would mean for educators and other public employees. We are no longer speculating. In what can only be described as a full-on, coordinated attack on public employees, governors and legislators in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and several other states have introduced job-killing legislation that targets public employees and an already struggling middle class.

While the exact wording varies from state to state, the intent of the bills is the same; they all seek to deny public employees, including many faculty, the right to have a say in their working conditions and to bargain over wages and benefits. This attack on workers’ rights is led by shadowy, well-funded groups that have emerged in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision, which removed the limits on the amount of money corporations can spend on attack ads and other “electioneering communications.”  Groups like Americans for Prosperity and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads have poured millions of dollars into campaigns to roll back the advances that working people have made in the past half century. According to a new report released by Public Citizen, spending by outside groups jumped to $294.2 million in the 2010 election cycle, almost four times the amount spent in 2006, and nearly half came from just ten groups. In 60 out of 75 congressional races the candidate benefitting most from outside spending won the race–an almost unheard of 80 percent win rate. Additionally, the source of the money that flowed into the 2010 election is still largely unknown.

However, here is what we do know:

  • In Ohio, 9  percent of the state budget is spent on public employees. Firing every state employee would result in a savings of $2 billion, and would still leave the citizens of Ohio with a $6 BILLION deficit and completely without the vital services that state employees provide.
  • In Wisconsin, Governor Walker’s attempt to ban collective bargaining has little to do with the budget. The budget deficit is estimated at roughly $3 billion, and the estimated savings from proposed cuts to public sector workers' benefits amounts to only $300 million. Many of his proposals reduce workers’ rights without producing any savings at all. 
  • In Michigan, public sector workers have already shouldered a serious burden in the wake of the state’s budget crises, accepting six furlough days and preparing for hundreds of millions of dollars in concessions. They are also already paid less than their private sector peers and many public employees will not be able to maintain a living wage and a decent standard of living if this legislation passes.

Governors Kasich in Ohio, Snyder in Michigan, Walker in Wisconsin, and many of their peers have tried to paint public employees as overpaid, unskilled, and unnecessary. The truth is that public employees provide a wide range of necessary services that states depend on, for an average salary that is 11 percent less than their private sector counterparts. They drive children to and from school safely. They patrol our streets, put out fires, provide transportation for disabled and elderly, safeguard our prisons, plow our streets, fix our busted waterlines in freezing weather, research life-saving developments, and teach our students. Allowing them to be scapegoated for state budget shortfalls does nothing to solve the real budget crisis and encourages those forces that are currently tearing at the fabric of our communities to continue.

The future of our communities and of quality public education in this country depends on our ability to unite and respond to these politically motivated attacks with facts. The time has come for us to rally to save our public institutions and the workers who maintain them.

Follow the struggle at http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/GR/state/Public/.

--Nseabi Ufot
AAUP Government Relations Officer