08/17/2010 05:08 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

GOP Vilifies Workers Who Serve the Public

Government workers are the latest victims of a GOP smear campaign. Right-wing strategists have revived the tactic of false accusation in a vain attempt to keep voters from noticing that the policies of the current batch of Republican candidates mirror those of the batch who laid waste to our economy.

From Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass, to Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, Republicans are lying about government workers' wages and work habits in an attempt to convince voters that the source of the country's economic woes is public sectors workers -- the very people who investigate child abuse, monitor nursing homes, enforce workplace health and safety, repair roads, protect our water and air, teach our kids, maintain our parks, clean our schools, and mail Grandma's social security check.

The United Steelworkers union represents 26,000 public sector workers, ranging from lawyers who serve as public defenders to workers who ensure sewerage treatment plants don't pollute. The union will not tolerate the GOP's baseless attacks on our members. USW members who work in service to the public will discuss additional responses during the USW Public Sector Conference Oct. 21 through 23 at the Pittsburgh Hilton Hotel.

Republican policies of deregulation left our jobs, our pensions and the economy at the mercy of avaricious and incompetent Wall Street CEOs and put our environment and worker safety in the hands of cowboy capitalists like BP. Theirs were the policies that enriched corporations while gutting worker safety rules and enforcement, increasing the likelihood of worker deaths on oil platforms, in refineries and in coal mines.

For Republicans, public sector workers are doubly repulsive. A significant percentage are unionized, and Republicans hate unions. And all of public sector workers are the face of government, which, of course, Republicans want to drown in a bathtub.

For the past several months, the GOP has declared open season on the public service workers they so despise, portraying them as over paid and underworked.

Amy Traub, Research Director for the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, wrote about the Republican assertions. "It would be an alarming story," she said, "if it were true."

Research has shown it is not.

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late senator from New York and Harvard professor, observed, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."

The National Institute for Retirement Security (NIRS) and the Council on State and Local Government Excellence (COS & LGE) released a jointly-funded study on this topic just as the Republican sound machine revved up this spring. On the facts, they found that every one of the Republican assertions is false.

Analyzing data from the U.S. Government's National Compensation Survey, their economists found that when factors such as education and work experience are taken into account, state and local employees earn less than their counterparts in the private sector. To be exact, state employees earn 11 percent less than comparable private sector workers. Employees of city and county governments earn 12 percent less than their private sector counterparts.

Pensions and health insurance coverage make up a slightly greater share of public employees' overall compensation than those benefits do for private sector employees, but when those costs are included, state and local employees still wind up with less total compensation -- 6.8 and 7.4 per cent less, respectively.

In addition, while Republicans are blasting public sector workers, they voted against reforming Wall Street, where compensation and bonuses remain immorally high even after taxpayers footed a bailout. Far too many of Wall Street's investment bankers take home tens of millions annually. The last CEO of Merrill Lynch, John Thain, spent more than $1 million redecorating his office while Merrill's value plummeted. Like investment bankers, too many CEOs at health insurance, pharmaceutical and other corporations are paid millions in annual compensation.

Meanwhile, many public employees can't afford to buy homes in most major U.S. housing markets. A study by the Center for Housing Policy found that police officers and elementary school teachers don't earn enough to buy a typical house in two out of five metro areas. Firefighters and librarians can't afford the median home in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago metropolitan areas. A school-bus driver can't afford the rent on a standard two-bedroom apartment anywhere.

Voter anger is more appropriately directed at Republicans and their corporate cronies -- the real privileged class that has managed to make the rest of us pay for the economically-devastating consequences of their greedy risk-taking. Republicans' American dream consists of slashing the family-supporting wages of workers in manufacturing, public service and health care to minimum wage. Their intent is to drag down the workers' earnings and the American economy, as they did while Bush held office.

Ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu wrote that the surest way to defeat an opposing army is to cause them to fight amongst themselves. The greatest danger for labor is Republicans succeeding in their quest to pit private sector workers against their public sector brothers and sisters.

If they can divide us; if they can sow suspicion and jealousy among us, misery will be our lot. If, on the other hand, we can see the greed and gross irresponsibility at the very top of our economy and among those who carry their cause in Congress, then we have a chance to re-write the rules and bring back middle-class prosperity for ourselves and this nation.