Monday, May 12, 2003

OK. All Together Now: Let’s Trash Unions!

My good buddy Eric Alterman, upon whom I showered praise Friday morning (and whom I’ve never met, but he did nicely reference my Workers Memorial Day post in his WebLog, Altercation) took a rare wrong turn Friday afernoon trashing the NY city unions as "irresponsible" for not sacrificing more to ease the city’s fiscal crisis. He cites this article by Steven Greenhouse in the New York Times.

Greenhouse’s article starts out:
Shoppers will soon pay more in sales taxes, and smokers more in cigarette taxes. Property owners are already paying more in real estate taxes, and upper-income New Yorkers are staring at a surcharge on their income taxes. Subway and bus fares are up. So are rents.

The only ones who seem immune from the pain of the city's and state's budget deals are New York's powerful labor unions.
Immune? Hello? Who, exactly are “the city’s powerful labor unions?” The unions are institutions that represent their members. The members, who work for the city, are also citizens of the city; the same shoppers, smokers, property owners (or renters), subway and bus riders (more than upper-income New Yorkers) who are already making the sacrifices that Greenhouse – and Alterman – are accusing them of somehow being immune from. (This point is briefly made in Greenhouse’s article by teacher’s union president Randi Weingarten, but it’s buried at the end of the article.) Then, on top of that, they are expected to be "responsible" and sacrifice their health care benefits?

And then we get this from Alterman:
Yes, (the NYT-endorsed right-winger) Pataki’s the worst, and the commuters suck too, but the unions in New York City are just almost as irresponsible. I know I said this yesterday, but [the Greenhouse] piece makes the point in more detail. The leadership would rather lose jobs and services than offer up any sacrifice and this from people with totally free medical care. I mean, I’m all for totally free medical care. But why are NYC unions the only people entitled to it?
This is just one example of how public employees are seen as lesser human beings -- especially if they belong to unions. And it's a story being repeated right now in every city and in every county and in every state in this nation where public employees are organized. (Another example of how public employees are treated as second class citizens is the fact that most public employees in this country are not covered by OSHA – they do some of the most dangerous work in this country and have no right to a safe workplace. But that’s a story for a different time.)

Actually, public employees bleed like everyone else. So why are NYC unions -- workers -- the only people entitled to free medical care? To the extent they are paid decently (many still aren’t) and receive decent benefits (which are being cut nationwide), it’s not because NYC public employees are more selfish than everyyone else. It's because, unlike most of the rest of America, they are organized and politically active, which is the way the rest of progressive America – not just workers – should be. Then we wouldn’t have to deal with these destructive tax cuts and tragic wars. We wouldn't have a country that “is headed to hell in a handbasket from so many directions one can barely keep track,” to quote…Eric Alterman.