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Friends With Benefits: Why Private Sector Workers Should Care About Public Sector Unions

March 10, 2011, 7:54 PM

The Republicans are trying to pit private sector workers against public sector workers. It's easy for a struggling private sector worker with low wages and no benefits to resent of private sector workers with job security, pensions, health care, and more—especially if that worker's state taxes are going up, and her public services are dwindling.

But why do public sector workers get better benefits than private sector workers? Because the public sector is much more heavily unionized than the private sector. Why is that? Because the law makes it virtually impossible to form a union in a private sector workplace these days. So, benefits in the private sector get worse and worse while corporate profits soar. Benefits in the public sector stay relatively good, even in tough economic times because they are organized and they can fight for themselves.

Here's what needs to happen: 1) The Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it a lot easier for workers in the private sector to organize, so that private sector workers can demand their piece of the American Dream; 2) Corporations and rich people need to pay their fair share of taxes so that the public employers can continue to provide decent benefits and wages to their workers—i.e., the people who teach our children, pick up our garbage, purify our water, pave our roads, etc.. Everybody wins.

Here's what's going to happen if we don't do something: 1) The states will crush public sector unions, and wages and benefits will go into a tailspin, for everyone, not just public sector workers. 2) If nobody has any money, nobody buys anything, and private sector companies suffer, so they have to cut wages and benefits and lay people off. 3) If nobody's making any money, nobody's paying any taxes, so the public sector has to cut wages and benefits and lay more people off, and cut public services. Everybody loses.

If you're a robber baron who wants dirt cheap labor, low taxes, and no public services for the undeserving masses, you win big...at least in the short term. In the long term, you're screwed, too because when everyone's living on catfood, nobody will have any money to buy your products. Even Henry Ford understood that he had to pay his workers good wages so they could buy Fords.

[Photo credit: Luminis Kanto, Creative Commons.]

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