February 25, 2011

Are the Unions Protecting Working Families?

With public-sector unions in Wisconsin and elsewhere telling us they’re standing up for the middle class, we had to ponder just who they’re really protecting.

For years, government workers have prospered, as their agencies have grown, and their union-negotiated contracts have lined their pockets, bought their homes with their two-car garages, and paid for their vacations to Hawaii. And, all along, efficiency (what in the corporate world they call “profitability”) has never been their goal.

As long as money kept rolling in in the form of taxes, this was never a big problem. In fact, regular, private-sector folks didn’t even notice the double-dipping pay scales with steps AND annual increases, even as their companies were giving smaller and smaller raises and laying people off.

The problem is, these government payrolls grew and grew and grew. Take, for example, our county government, which is continuing to pay out the raises promised to unions by former County Manager Greg Lewis during his “negotiations” with the CSEA, AFSCME, and other unions representing county workers. This year, Niagara County will pay out $113 million in salary and benefits to its employees.

You read that right. $113 million. This figure includes $70.4 million in salary and overtime. And health insurance and pension benefits are expected to exceed $40 million this year.

To put that figure in perspective, consider that the entire property tax levy for Niagara County is $69.3 million.

We’re paying more for salary alone to our county workers than we’re taking in. And that’s before we even pay a dollar out for government benefits, or gas for sheriff’s deputies’ squad cars. That’s before we pay a cent toward any of the projects our county has bonded. And that’s before we get to the high cost of insurance for people that work for us—and those who stopped working for us years ago.

The government-employee unions are drowning the taxpayers in a sea of red ink. Those are the stakes in Wisconsin, and those are the stakes here in Niagara County as well.

With the working class struggling to pay for these exorbitant union benefits, the question must be asked: who are the unions trying to protect? Because it sure doesn’t look like it’s the middle class.

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