Dorner cites examples: in Arizona, Republican Governor Jan Brewer proposes kicking some 280,000 off the state Medicaid rolls but two weeks ago signed into law $538 million in corporate tax cuts. Florida Governor Rick Scott's new budget calls for billions of dollars in cuts to essential programs and services to pay for corporate and property tax cuts of at least $4 billion. Rick Snyder, newly elected governor of Michigan, has asked for $180 million in concessions from public employees and more than a billion to be taken from schools, universities, local governments and others, most of which could be avoided if he wasn't so deeply dedicated to giving business $1.8 billion in tax breaks. Writing in the February 23 Boston Globe, Mark Erlich, executive secretary-treasurer of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters asks:
"Instead of making the tough choices necessary to help their states weather the current crisis with some semblance of the social safety net and basic government services intact, Republican governors are instead using it as an opportunity to advance several longtime GOP projects: union busting, draconian cuts to social programs, and massive corporate tax breaks. These misplaced priorities mean that the poor and middle class will shoulder the burden of fiscal austerity, even as the rich and corporations are asked to contribute even less."
So instead of screaming about the advances public employee and other unions have made to preserve health care, job security and economic justice, angry voters should be asking what or who have been keeping them from obtaining the same. Nor does Wall Street's pillaging of private 401 (k) retirement plans justify tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye acts of covetous revenge against union pensions. As Erlich writes:
"While there are legitimate and critical public policy issues about education reform, spiraling health costs, and pension liabilities at a time of state and municipal budget deficits, why is the fault laid at the feet of teachers, police, and firefighters? Today's pension obligations are the product of massive investment losses, not excessively generous public pensions that, in fact, average about $19,000 a year. For that matter, a 2010 Economic Policy Institute study showed that, controlled for educational achievement, public sector workers actually earn less than their private sector counterparts."
"A generation ago, non-union workers often welcomed news of improved wages and benefits for unionized employees, recognizing that a rising tide lifts all boats. But... at a time of sacrifice and insecurity, many would prefer to sink their neighbor's slightly bigger boat while wistfully hoping for a glance at a yacht in a gated marina."
The American middle class largely exists because of unions; it would be a tragedy of Greek proportions if, in frustration, resentment and fear, members of that class were to turn on labor and bring about their mutual destruction. Conservative Republican governors and their associates are barking up the wrong money tree. Don't reward corporate greed and malfeasance with yet more tax breaks and a blind eye to windfall bonuses. And don't punish unions for whatever success they've had protecting members and holding on to an ever-dwindling power base of American workers. That's just plain cheesy and sleazy.
Michael Winship is the former senior writer of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS and current president of the Writers Guild of America, East.