Paul R. Hollrah
September 17, 2013
The City of Detroit is all but a ghost town. To stand atop the Renaissance Center on the Detroit River is to look out over sheer desolation, the by-product of years of Democrat Party rule. It is a stark reminder that Democrat politicians are to urban development what Little Boy and Fat man were to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. The only difference is that Democrats take two generations or more to accomplish what an A-bomb can do in the bat of an eye.
But Detroit is not alone. Because its descent into oblivion was so rapid, and because it was one of the first major cities to succumb to the cancer of liberal political and economic policies, the name "Detroit" has come to be synonymous with urban decay and the long-predicted bankruptcy of urban America is upon us. With each passing day we hear of more and more cities, large and small, where a long succession of Democrat politicians have turned once-beautiful and one-prosperous cities into economic disaster areas.
On August 16, 1937, the 20th anniversary of the founding of the National Federation of Federal Employees, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management...
"Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant (union) tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of government employees. Upon employees in the federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare requires orderliness and continuity in the conduct of government activities... Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable..."
The sentiments expressed by FDR prevailed until 1958 when a senior aide to New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner, a liberal Democrat, suggested that city workers represented a large enough voting bloc to insure Wagner's reelection. Wagner signed an executive order allowing city employees to unionize and bargain collectively. The rest is history.
All across the country, Democrat politicians recognized the political potential of unionized public employees, and in 1962 the fate of self-governance in the United States was sealed when John F. Kennedy signed an order allowing federal government employees to unionize.
What Roosevelt saw as the ultimate danger of unionized public employees, Democrats of more recent vintage have seen as the ultimate political weapon. Roosevelt cared about "the obligation to serve the whole people." Democrat politicians of today care only about the need to elect more Democrats to public office, by any means possible. The decline in the quality of life in our major cities is a direct result of that treachery.
The final outcome of a system in which public employee unions are allowed to use the threat of a work stoppage to extract ever-more generous contracts with outlandish salaries and benefits... part of which ultimately find their way into the campaign coffers of Democrat politicians willing to negotiate even more generous salaries and benefits... was entirely predictable. It is a rigged poker game in which all of the players are gambling with someone else's money.
During the 2012 public employee battle in Wisconsin, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) appeared on NBC's Meet the Press. Host David Gregory asked his opinion of the possibility that most public employees in Wisconsin will lose a major portion of their collective bargaining "rights." Durbin, the Assistant Majority Leader in the US Senate, replied, "Let me tell you why what's happening in Wisconsin... goes way beyond the discussion of the Wisconsin budget. For over 80 years in America, we have recognized the rights of our workers to freely gather together, collectively bargain, so that they could have fairness in the workplace and fairness in compensation... "
Yes, the Assistant Majority Leader of the United States Senate actually said with a straight face, in a nationally televised interview, that what the public employee unions have been working toward for decades is "fairness in the workplace and fairness in compensation" and to "establish the rights of workers to speak for themselves." To understand what Durbin said would require, to paraphrase Hillary Clinton, a "willing suspension of reason."
The truth is, Wisconsin public employees have worked for decades to establish unfairness in the workplace and to establish the right of workers not to speak for themselves. Through collective bargaining they have worked tirelessly to establish a system in which the most unproductive workers are compensated at exactly the same rate as the very best workers, and where union leaders, who have no concern for the relative value of individual workers, do all of their speaking for them. It is a system in which the only "value" is the possession of a union card, and nothing more. It is a system that rewards sloth and incompetence, while unfairly penalizing hard work and dedication. It rewards the unworthy and punishes the worthy.
Being a liberal Democrat, a believer in the redistribution of wealth, it has apparently escaped Durbin's attention that, when numbers of people conspire to take the assets of the owners of business through coercion... i.e. collective bargaining... they are engaging in theft. If Durbin were asked to show where in the US Constitution workers have a right to hold hostage the property and the invested capital of the owners of business, or the taxpayers of a city or town, he would be unable to do so. That right simply does not exist.
Union leaders and Democrat politicians would have the American people believe that the public employees in Wisconsin were "fighting for the middle class." Again, nothing could be further from the truth. What they fail to acknowledge is that 86% of workers who do not belong to unions... who take responsibility for their own economic advancement in their jobs... are the same middle class people who pay the taxes that pay the inflated wages of public employees. They are the same middle class taxpayers who send their children to the Wisconsin public schools where only 34% of 8th grade students are able to read at an 8th grade level.
Employers, whether in the public sector or the private sector, are interested in hiring only the best, most capable and productive workers. It is the obligation of the individual worker to insure that he/she is one of those whose continued services the employer wishes to retain. That contract between the employer and the worker is what John L. Lewis spoke of as "the sale of the worker's only material possession – his labor." But it is an individual right, not a collective right. When it is consummated through collective bargaining (coercion), it is indistinguishable from extortion.
In the months and years ahead, public employees all across the country will be receiving some really bad news as their former employers face bankruptcy and state and local governments will be forced to abrogate their contracts with unionized employees. Pensions and other benefits, such as healthcare, will be slashed, if not eliminated.
San Bernardino, California is facing a budget shortfall of $45 million and annual deficits over the next five years. That's after the city slashed the workforce by 20 percent over the last four years and negotiated $10 million in annual concessions from employees in each of the last three years.
In San Jose, California, over the past decade, city administrators have seen the cost of providing employee retirement benefits triple, from $73 million in FY 2001-02 to $245 million in FY 2011-12. Expenditures for sick leave payouts, alone, cost the taxpayers $14.6 million in FY 2010-11. As a result, the mayor and city council have eliminated sick leave payouts for new employees, and have frozen the amount of sick leave that current employees can cash out upon retirement. Retiree benefits in San Jose now consume more than 20% of the General Fund.
In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a mid-sized city with a population of less than 50,000, the city has accrued public debt of some $1.5 billion, a sum that the city will never be able to repay.
It is a story that is repeated in city after city, large and small, all across the nation. In essentially every case the decline has come at the hands of Democrat elected officials who took more and more campaign cash from public employee unions, including teachers unions, and who, to show their appreciation, signed ever more lucrative wage and benefit packages for those who are paid out of the public treasury.
But now it appears that taxpayers are beginning to catch on to the Democrats' game. All that is necessary to identify America's dying cities is to study the red and blue electoral map of the United States. The urban areas colored in blue that twice elected Barack Obama, along with majorities in the United States Senate, are the principal source of our big city bankruptcies.
If we are to save our major cities from complete chaos, we cannot do it so long as the teachers unions and the public employee unions maintain a stranglehold over the Democrat Party and Democrat politicians yield to their every demand. The voters and the taxpayers are about to figure out who's been doing it to them. Let's hope their education has not come too late.
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