Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney made public a press release on Friday, February 18th. Governor Christie has expressed support for Wisconsin Governor Walker’s attempts to rein in health care and pension benefits currently enjoyed by that state’s public sector workers. Although Walker would like to end collective bargaining for these benefits, salaries would remain a collective bargaining tool for government employees. Walker’s motivations are sourced in the fiscal mess his state finds itself in.
The recession and an approaching decline in federal subsidies are severely impacting Wisconsin’s state budget. Walker and his many supporters believe public sector employees should contribute more toward their pension and health care benefits so that the more hard pressed private sector does not get soaked any more than it already is with more revenue raising programs. New Jersey’s Governor Christie is fully supportive of this objective. Senator Sweeney said this:
‘But collective bargaining is an essential right of labor, and I will not let New Jersey follow the dangerous trail being blazed in Wisconsin, where workers rights can be tossed aside in the name of right-wing, tea party politics.’
When progressives wish to cut off discussions they insert the word “right” as descriptive of a concept they support. In this case Sweeney is asserting a right to collective bargaining. As Americans we are familiar with the term right. Thomas Jefferson famously included that term in the Declaration of Independence to refer to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Note the very broad conceptual meaning attached to the term rights. Jefferson knew better than to attach that word to a very specific policy like collective bargaining. Jefferson knew that the more specific one is with reference to a right, as opposed to a position statement, the more unclear it becomes that that the “right” enhances life and liberty and one’s pursuit of happiness. Let’s look at some specifics. According to The Heartland Institute:
‘Walker unveiled his budget repair proposal on February 11. Under the plan to close an immediate budget deficit of $137 million for the fiscal year ending July 1, state workers would contribute 5.8 percent of their paycheck to their pensions and another 12.6 percent to their health insurance.
Currently, state workers contribute about 5 percent to their health care and most contribute nothing to their retirement plans. Walker’s office notes in a fact sheet that the 12.6 percent contribution to health care is about half the national average.’
So whose life, liberty and happiness is enhanced by the status quo? Not the non-government workers forced to pay for their own pensions plus the pensions of Wisconsin government workers. Rights are conferred to protect people. Public sector unions have become powerful institutions which contribute millions to political candidates willing to dip into the public treasury to fund their generous benefit packages. The people of Wisconsin and other financially strapped states like New Jersey have rights too. Our forefathers fought for their right to be protected from unreasonably high taxes imposed without just representation. Circumstances indicate that just representation is not elected officials owing their allegiance to unions which fund their campaigns.