Union Leaders Throw Union Workers Under the Bus

We are all aware that labor union leaders like to fashion themselves as guardians of the working class. And while at one time that may have been true, today’s union leadership is rapidly losing claim to that mantle as it leaves more and more working class families and retirees behind. It is undeniably the case that over the years, unions and their leadership have made impressive strides to improve wages, benefits and working conditions for their membership. But today’s union leaders have lost their focus on improving the lives of their membership in general and spend their time and effort instead protecting their own interests and the interests of select subsets of the union family.

Today’s union leaders, for example, wage a tireless and aggressive battle against every proposal suggested to reform public employee pensions. It makes no difference how modest or logical the proposal, union leadership is quick to condemn. Union leaders in many cases even deny the very existence of a problem. But who benefits from this angst and ignorance? Certainly not current retirees. So long as union leaders remain adamant in their opposition to reasonable pension reform, current retirees are called upon to bear the real risk of that strategy. Betting that their former employers will not be the next to file for bankruptcy, retirees risk loss or reduction of their monthly pension benefits should they lose that bet. Detroit’s bankruptcy is illustrative of what can and will happen to the pensions of current retirees so long as union leadership continues its opposition to reasonable reforms.

In February, Detroit’s emergency manager filed the city’s “plan of adjustment” with the bankruptcy court overseeing the city’s Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings. The adjustment plan calls for an immediate 34% reduction in monthly benefits for currently retired non-public safety employees and a 10% monthly reduction for police and fire retirees. Many of these current retirees have been retired for years if not decades and are not the recipients of the overly generous pensions that have caused the problem. Still, they are the ones that bear the risk and pay for their union leaders’ failed take no prisoners strategy of refusing to accept even the most modest of reform proposals.

And while the interests of current retirees has been cast aside by union leadership, a more insidious alignment of union leadership with public safety employees threatens further still the livelihood and future of non-public safety employees. Non-public safety employees, sometimes and almost dismissively referred to by the unions as “miscellaneous” employees, are those who maintain our streets, parks and buildings, staff our libraries, courts, and other public offices, keep the water flowing, repair our vehicles, tend to the injured and teach our children. Rather than championing the cause of the often invisible non-public safety worker, union leaders it would appear have thrown their hat in with the much wealthier and politically influential public safety unions. And who can blame them? Union leaders, like everyone else, want to know where their next paycheck will be coming from. Police and fire, with their generally high albeit eroding public support, simply offer greater job security.

Detroit is again illustrative. Note who bears the brunt of the adjustment plan. While non-public safety retirees are expected to give up 34% of their monthly retirement checks, their public safety counterparts are only called upon to take a more modest 10% reduction. When one considers further that non-public safety employees receive substantially smaller pensions than public safety, the real disparity and sacrifice becomes evident. But where is the angst from today’s union leaders over the disproportionate burden being placed on non-public safety retirees? Why is there no voice of protest calling for an equitable sharing of the burden?

Curious as it is that today’s union leaders rant against every suggestion to reform a pension system run amok while remaining silent as non-public safety retirees are steadily pushed into poverty, it is more than that. Much more. It is tragic. We are watching our non-public safety retirees being thrown under the bus filled with public safety retirees and driven by union leadership. After spending a career in service to their communities, non-public safety retirees deserve better. We all do.

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