With all of the focus on the collective bargaining process as it pertains to public employee unions, it is important to note that Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is echoing the sentiments of noted Tea Partier and all-around “wingnut” Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
“The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service,” Roosevelt wrote in 1937 to the National Federation of Federal Employees. Yes, public workers may demand fair treatment, wrote Roosevelt. But, he wrote, “I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place” in the public sector. “A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government.”
Who would have thought that this kind of anti-union sentiment could have come from a true liberal icon? Surely the Democratic party has moved far, far away from such extreme views, right?
Enter Democrat Andrew Cuomo.
For Andrew M. Cuomo, it is not Day 1 that may define his tenure as chief executive, but Day 90. That is when two labor contracts will expire for thousands of government workers and Mr. Cuomo’s most important, distinctive and unexpected campaign pledge will face a test: Can he confront and outmaneuver the public-sector unions that have dominated politics and budgeting in Albany for decades?
Onstage Tuesday night at the Sheraton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, as Mr. Cuomo basked in his decisive victory over the Republican Carl P. Paladino, he effusively thanked longtime allies from the labor movement, whose money and muscle have been instrumental in his political resurrection.
But at the same time, Mr. Cuomo has telegraphed a message to those union officials that is both grim and urgent: The state is broke, and the era of gold-plated labor contracts is over.
“There is a crisis,” he told union leaders throughout the campaign, according to people involved in the discussions. “You need to rise to the crisis.”
Oh, I remember the howls from the left at those remarks, don’t you?
By 2015, state pension costs — which are, by law, set in Albany and underwritten by Democratic and Republican administrations — will exceed $8 billion a year, compared with $2.6 billion last year, according to a state projection. At the same time, New York has promised more than $200 billion worth of health benefits to its retirees but has set aside almost nothing to pay for them.
Seems like a very real budget problem to me. With easy to understand math and everything. But lets not let that get in the way of the truly important issues. There’s a “guaranteed stream of retirement income” up for grabs. And the unions want the governor to know which special interest group put him in office.
Public-sector labor leaders are especially inflamed by Mr. Cuomo’s willingness to consider replacing the state’s pension system with a defined contribution plan similar to a 401(k), potentially stripping public workers of a guaranteed stream of retirement income.
They grumble that Mr. Cuomo is biting the hand that fed him. Organized labor was crucial to his victory as attorney general in 2006, and it helped him again this year by nudging the incumbent, David A. Paterson, to drop out of the governor’s race.
New York may be the next biggest shoe to drop with respect to public employee unions. Now that the official message of the left is that any attempt to reign in union benefits that states can not afford is to be attacked it will be interesting to see if Cuomo has the political strength and fortitude to follow through with his campaign pledges. Doubtless he is watching the proceedings in Wisconsin with great interest. What he will have seen is that opposing lawmakers have been provided with a precedent (run away), a number of union employees have been provided with marching orders (de facto strikes) and that the White House and Congressional Democrats will provide cover.
We shall see if he lives up to his promises. After all, he would only be living up to the standards of a very famous former governor of New York.