Sunday, May 17, 2009

Public Employee Unions: most powerful political force

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Today, public-sector unions sit atop lists of organizations that devote the most money to lobbying and campaign contributions.

In Pennsylvania, a local think tank, the Commonwealth Foundation, counted the resources of the state's teachers union a few years ago. It had 11 regional offices, 275 employees and $66 million in annual dues. In Connecticut, representatives of the teachers union camped outside the legislators' doors in 2005 to keep tabs on school reformers who were calling on these officials to expand school choice.

And in California, unions spent more than $50 million in 2005 to defeat a series of ballot proposals that would have capped growth in the state's budget. Now the state's teachers union is putting its clout behind a ballot initiative, to be voted on next week, that would restore more than $9 billion in educational spending cut from the state's budget.

The results of such efforts are evident in the rich rewards that public-sector employees now enjoy. A study in 2005 by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute estimated that the average public-sector worker earned 46% more in salary and benefits than comparable private-sector workers. The gap has only continued to grow. For example, state and local worker pay and benefits rose 3.1% in the last year, compared to 1.9% in the private sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).