Pension envy, in Wisconsin and California

Bet you know what Wisconsin looks like now.

Bet you know what Wisconsin looks like now.

Here’s the deal in Wisconsin. It’s not that labor unions have outrageously good wages and benefits; they don’t. It’s that most American workers, with their unions busted, have such crappy wages and benefits.

So what do the cheap-labor forces do? They leverage the fear of workers who aren’t doing well and foster pension envy among those who work hard, deserve a pension, and don’t have one. Then they blame the unions for causing the problem.

Union members already contribute to their pensions and health care. In the case of California, lower contributions were agreed to instead of raises—in good-faith negotiations after the Internet boom went bust and California had a mini-financial crisis (well, mini compared to this one). The governor and Legislature, at that time, thought it would be cheaper in the long run. They were wrong, but gosh, it wasn’t the workers’ fault.

Here’s a little secret: Unions raise everybody’s wages and benefits. It’s called the union threat effect: In order to stay competitive, cheap-labor corporatists have to pay the going rate for workers.

Unless, of course, they luck into a jobless recovery like the one we’ve got now. That’s where everyone who has a job works harder for the same money—or sometimes less—because they’re so terrified of joining the unemployed. See, the wealthiest people are doing just fine. They’re making money. But they don’t have to pay good wages or offer much in the way of benefits because so many working people are, uh, out of work.

That’s what’s going on in Wisconsin—and here, too.

Organized labor has engaged in some excesses, to be sure. Unions can sometimes make it harder fire an employee who’s not doing a good job. But it’s easier than getting rid of the wealthy, who generally inherit their jobs.

But without the unions, the only “interest groups” with any money are on the right, and funded by corporations. Those are the people who layoff half the state to improve their stock price, who outsource every job they can to drive labor costs down, who gamble on bundled mortgages to drive up their quarterly profits while making it impossible for working people to hang on to their homes, who buy politicians like jelly beans.

Do you really want to trust that they have your best interests at heart?