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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is a senior member of the editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review.


We’re All “Working People” Now
When Public Sector Unions Take Over, Who Looks Out for Taxpayers?  
[Carol Platt Liebau] 9/1/03   

As we celebrate Labor Day 2003, it’s worth asking: Who, exactly, are the “working people”? The term probably has its genesis in the old sociological term “working class,” encompassing those who labor manually or work for hourly wages. But as used today primarily by Democratic politicians like Gray Davis, it denotes solidarity with lower income workers, especially when Democrats are trying to exploit a sense of class grievance – against tax cuts, for example.

Used this way, the expression is, and should be, deeply insulting to those at higher income levels who certainly have not gotten there by sitting on the veranda, eating bonbons. By the Democrats’ criteria, professionals – and countless small business owners throughout the United States – are certainly not “working people;” they’re the “rich.” And that’s even though typical Americans with $1 million in assets are self-employed and work between 45 and 55 hours a week; earn their wealth, rather than inheriting it; drive used or mid-priced domestic, not foreign, cars; and live in homes worth far less than they could afford, according to the New York Times best-selling book, The Millionaire Next Door.

No, “working people” has become an honorific reserved almost exclusively for one of the Democrats’ staunchest constituencies, organized labor. And among organized labor’s many constituents, perhaps its most loyal is Governor Gray Davis.

It’s well recognized that Davis’ tenure as governor has been very, very good for unions, especially those in the public sector. After all, since Davis came to power, he has added a net 44,500 employees to state payrolls – a 15.7% increase, even though total non-farm employment has risen only by 7% statewide.

The unions have rewarded him accordingly, with chests full of campaign funds and strong support. But in an ironic twist, it may just be Davis’ fealty to the public sector union bosses that has created the conditions igniting the voter anger behind the recall.

One of the primary issues driving voter discontent is the existence of a $38 billion state budget deficit. Over Davis’ tenure, state spending soared 40% (that’s with a combined population growth and inflation growth of 21% and increased state revenues of 25%). But rather than using the spending to improve state services, Davis allowed the money to be almost completely absorbed by his political allies, the public employees who have produced little for the taxpayers paying their salaries.

Take education. The salaries of California’s teachers (union members, of course) are the highest in the entire country – and skyrocketed a healthy 14% between 2000 and 2002, even as the rest of the state struggled. Now, public school teachers earn an average salary of $54,348 for nine to ten months of work. That’s 22.5% more than the average American teacher is paid, and if the amount is adjusted to reflect the three-month summer break, it is equivalent to an annual salary in the low 70-thousands.

Such pay might be justified if it were pegged to corresponding increases in pupils’ academic proficiency. But it isn’t. In fact, the Contra Costa Times reported on July 25 that a full 70% of California schools have failed to meet state accountability measures created to meet “No Child Left Behind” guidelines. So Davis has the support of the teachers’ unions, and the teachers have higher salaries, but the families of California are left with . . . nothing.

Another example? The California Professional Firefighter’s union. It has donated at least $168,000 to the anti-recall effort, offered its Sacramento office as headquarters for the anti-recall movement, and its president, Dan Terry, has served as co-chairman of Taxpayers Against the Recall. And why not? Just last Tuesday night, the Davis-appointed Building Standards Commission voted to replace the state’s existing building code with the one favored by the union.

A wide range of government officials, developers, fire officials and three of the four state agencies that reviewed both versions had favored a clearer, more efficient code adopted by more than 40 other states. Instead, the new code will add costly delays, higher construction costs and no real benefits for ordinary Californians – but the union is happy. No wonder the Associated Builders and Contractors of California, a group of non-union contractors, supports the recall.

Finally, let’s not forget the California Correctional Peace Officers’ Association, or the “prison guards,” as they’re known in common parlance. Last year, with the state in fiscal crisis, the prison guards received a 34% pay increase over five years – with other perks like reduced work hours, increased roll-over vacation time, and a $130 per pay period bonus just for staying physically fit. And those who received turned around and gave: Davis collected a whopping $251,000 from the union last year – along with die-hard support in the recall battle today.

Many public-sector union workers are hard-working, honest Californians who care not only about their pocketbooks but about their state, as well. But unfortunately for them – and for all of us – their leadership has been too busy buying political favors (from a governor all too willing to sell them) to balance what’s best for the union with what’s best for the public it purports to serve.

When public sector employers are negotiating with public sector employees, there are just one group’s interests that aren’t being represented – the taxpayers’. It’s the governor’s job to look out for all of us, and to make sure the unions do, too. But blinded by his greed and his ambition, Gray Davis has utterly abdicated this responsibility.

And that’s why, this Labor Day, we’re all working for the unions – busy producing more of the tax money that’s been long squandered on perks and payoffs. And, in turn, that’s why, this Labor Day, the unions have considerably more to celebrate than the governor does – not to mention the citizens of California.

CRO columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA.


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