As the Associated Press explains, “The incoming mayor of Los Angeles was able to defeat a fellow Democrat by depicting her as a pawn of union bosses in a city long friendly to labor, an outcome expected to echo beyond California as unions nationwide face threats to their clout.”
We’ve already seen Midwestern states where public sector unions have long been highly organized, funded and influential – such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana – elect lawmakers that championed collective bargaining reform and right-to-work laws to make public sector unions pay more for their own benefits and give workers the rights and freedom to choose joining said unions or not. But now it’s even getting to a point where liberal Democrats in hardcore blue cities are finding themselves telling their traditional labor supporters, “No.”
Yes, it’s OK to say public sector unions have gone too far. While it’s perfectly acceptable in social circles and the online blogosphere to rant and rave about corporate greed all day, every day (and corporate greed does exist), it still seems uncomfortably taboo for some to equally acknowledge the existence of public sector union greed – and that, indeed, does exist too.
Corporations may have highly paid lobbyists who peddle influence with lawmakers for tax exemptions and other subsidies, but public sector unions are equally as politically active in peddling influence with lawmakers to kick back more collective bargaining power and infinite benefits at the expense of taxpayers (all while using taxpayer money to do it!).
Los Angeles Councilman Eric Garcetti defeated city Controller Wendy Greuel to succeed Antonio Villaraigosa as the city’s new mayor. Although Garcetti, too, has ties to big labor, he told reporters this week that voters recoiled at heavy public sector union spending on Greuel’s behalf and sent a message that “this election was never for sale.”
“The single biggest issue was who was beholden to the unions the most, and that is the single-biggest reason Wendy Greuel lost,” said Republican National Committee member Shawn Steel. “It becomes a signal that if you become the candidate identified as the government-union candidate, it’s going to be hard to get elected, even in heavily Democratic Los Angeles.”
But that’s not stopping the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) from trying to do the same thing to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. As I explained in a piece two weeks ago, after Emanuel completely drained Chicago Public School (CPS) cash reserves last year and raised property taxes to their highest legal limit to give CPS teachers a 17.6% raise to end the strike last fall (bringing the total average CPS teachers’ salary to $89,900), he was faced with a $1 billion deficit in this year’s CPS budget. To close it, he decided to shut down the 50 worst performing CPS schools and to relocate those students and teachers to neighboring schools.
Keep in mind that CPS is a system where their graduation rate is barely half (55%) and where only six out of every 100 children in a system responsible for over 400,000 children will go on to earn a college degree by their mid-20s.
This prompted CTU boss Karen Lewis to demagogue Emanuel as a “racist, classist liar” and as a “murderer.” She then announced a series of steps to intensify the CTU’s political activity, all named at backing unnamed candidates for “mayor, City Council and statewide offices.” Specifically, she said the CTU will seek to register 100,000 new voters and host candidate training. The union will also boost donations to its political action committee and step up its canvassing operations.
In other words, they’re going to run their own “Wendy Greuel.”
In the Illinois capitol of Springfield (where Democrats have monopolized control for the last decade), out of control public pension costs have long been drowning Illinois families in red ink. Years of inaction on pension reform has led to $100 billion in debt ($200 billion by some estimates), ranking Illinois as the worst funded pension system in the U.S.
Illinois also owes $44 billion more than the net value of all its assets combined, leaving us with the worst deficit in the nation, again due largely to public pension costs according to the state’s Auditor General. This has resulted in Illinois seeing its credit rating cut repeatedly by all major credit rating agencies, ranking us … you guessed it, dead last in the nation.
After trying everything else possible to solve the crisis without altering pension benefits and drawing the ire of big labor (including passing the largest tax hike in state history onto Illinois families), Illinois House Speaker and state Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan finally twisted enough arms to get a pension reform bill through the House that would reduce automatic annual raises for retirees, requires recipients to pay more for their own benefits and raises the retirement age to 67 for state workers under 45.
After staunch disapproval from public sector unions and a threat to challenge the potential law all the way to the state Supreme Court, Democratic Illinois Senate President and union shill John Cullerton passed a counter-pension reform bill which has the support of public sector unions. Illinois newspapers from all over the political spectrum (including the center left Sun-Times and center right Tribune editorial boards) publicly expressed their opposition to the Senate bill as an “empty piece of legislation that solves nothing,” and encouraged Springfield to drop that bill and focus on the Madigan proposal.
The reports from the number-crunchers are in: The Senate’s pension bill will cut only $5 billion from the state’s $100 billion in public pension debt. The House-approved bill will trim $27-$29 billion.
Obviously, both bills are pretty pathetic. But as usual, it’s a choice of which one sucks less. This is what happens under one party rule. Yet even Democrats now find themselves having to make the tough choices against their own supporters out of sheer financial necessity.
And majorities in these solidly Democratic cities don’t want their leadership bought and controlled by union greed either.