When times are hard, you discover who your real friends are.
This morning the New York Times reported on a growing push by state governments to limit the power of labor unions, particularly those representing public employees. New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, who promised to get tough on public employee unions during his recent campaign, “is expected to call for a one-year salary freeze for state workers.”
Last year the Bloomberg administration began taking aim at the retired city worker pension system, essentially identifying it as a bridge too far, a debt too high for taxpayers to fully repay.
And you want someone to blame for why your street wasn’t plowed? The New York Post is out there with a torch in the night leading the mob against city sanitation workers.
Make no mistake about it, this mob leads back to this community.
Despite the image of Long Island dwelling cops and firefighters, many of the city and state government employees who are being demonized in this economic downturn live right here, in areas like Central Brooklyn. They’re Health and Hospital employees, public school teachers and public safety workers, case workers, administrative assistants and clerks at city and state agencies. And like my own parents – my father a former truant officer and my mother a secretary of the fire department – most of these employees live simple working class and modest middle class existences. This stands in stark contrast to the image of public employees that has become popular – fat cats raking in overtime pay and milking the system.
In an article that appeared in the Nation last year, the Drum Major Institute’s Amy Traub wrote “This decades-old assault on government employees has acquired new potency at a time of widespread economic suffering and populist rage. But the attacks have little basis in reality. A recent study by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence and the National Institute on Retirement Security finds that when such factors as education and work experience are accounted for, state and local employees earn 11 to 12 percent less than comparable private sector workers. Even when public employees’ relatively decent pensions and health coverage are included, their total compensation still lags behind workers in private industry.”
The problem with the economy is not that people in working class communities are making too much money and have bloated pensions, but in fact wages are stagnant while costs like housing, education and health care continue to rise. Meanwhile baby boomers will enter retirement age in increasing numbers. Organizations and leaders in areas like Central Brooklyn can’t afford to sit on the sidelines as this debate plays out in Albany, City Hall, and the court of public opinion.