Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Poll: Americans Approve of Public Employee Unions

If there’s a silver lining to the confrontations going on in state capitals like Madison and Columbus (and coming soon to Tallahassee), it’s that it has raised the awareness of the plight of public employees at the hands of their management.

Americans oppose weakening the bargaining rights of public employee unions by a margin of nearly two to one: 60 percent to 33 percent. While a slim majority of Republicans favored taking away some bargaining rights, they were outnumbered by large majorities of Democrats and independents who said they opposed weakening them.

Those surveyed said they opposed, 56 percent to 37 percent, cutting the pay or benefits of public employees to reduce deficits, breaking down along similar party lines. A majority of respondents who have no union members living in their households opposed both cuts in pay or benefits and taking away the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

Governors in both parties have been making the case that public workers are either overpaid or have overly generous health and pension benefits. But 61 percent of those polled — including just over half of Republicans — said they thought the salaries and benefits of most public employees were either “about right” or “too low” for the work they do.

The argument has been made, mostly from the right, that public employees have overly generous benefits; pension plans that don’t cost them anything while they work, and good pay-outs when they retire. What they’re not saying is that in order to get those benefits, a lot of public employees — and I would say the vast majority of them — take lower salaries in order to get those benefits. And if your pension pay-out is based on the amount of money you earned while you were working, it’s not a lot of money. It’s easy to be generous when it doesn’t cost much, especially compared to the benefits a lot of people get in the private sector for doing the same job at twice the salary.

It’s also really easy for talking heads and radio hosts to demonize Washington bureaucrats and make them the face of the public employees, but there are also the public employees who live next door; the ones who work for the town keeping the water running or open the library on weekends (if they haven’t already cut back the hours) or fill the potholes, put out the wildfires, enforce the speed limit, or work with your kids after school to get into the next grade or the state college. And those people should have the same rights to negotiate their labor contracts as the people who drive trucks that use the streets, or the workers who built the truck in the first place.