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The Effort Against Public Service Workers: The Lies Stop Here

In the midst of the economic downturn, right-wing conservatives are pushing an anti-government agenda and blaming the nation's woes on public service workers. AFSCME is determined to stop their lies.

By Gonzalo Baeza

In the midst of the economic downturn, right-wing conservatives are pushing an anti-government agenda and blaming the nation's woes on public service workers. AFSCME is determined to stop their lies.

To learn more about AFSCME's Stop the Lies campaign, visit afscme.org/StopTheLies

By Gonzalo Baeza

There is no escaping the truth: Times are tough for public service workers. But it's not just public services and the hard-working men and women who provide them who are having a difficult time, it's all of America's beleaguered middle class. With national unemployment hovering at nearly 10 percent and state and local governments unable to cope with increased demand for services such as unemployment insurance and food stamps, the hard right keeps pushing to curtail all aid to those in need. Encouraged by the results of the mid-term elections, they are going after the middle class like never before.

Even though the November losses - particularly the loss of the U.S. House of Representatives - are a setback for working families, voters rejected many of the more virulent tea party candidates - people like Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware - and their out-of-touch ideas. The electorate made it clear that they do not agree with their agenda of government inaction in the face of the economic crisis.

But let's be frank: We need to do much more to put America back to work. In this economic climate, it's easy to come up with scapegoats and that is what the well-funded, far right is doing. Wall Street corporate greed and a lack of regulatory oversight led our country to financial collapse two years ago - with effects that ripple through our economy today - yet the right wing persists in placing the blame on public service workers. According to bombastic media personality Rush Limbaugh, who earns millions by sitting in a studio attacking his enemies, government workers "don't produce anything." The way he sees it, "their pay could be cut and we wouldn't have to lose a single job." Fox News commentator John Stossel even claims that "the financial crisis is the fault of the public employee unions."

Of course that's wrong. Pundits who go on this way are riding a wave of discontent and seizing the opportunity to push their anti-government, anti-worker agenda. Contrary to the distortions spread by Limbaugh, Stossel and their ilk, state and local workers make on average 11 to 12 percent less than those with comparable skills in the private sector.

Stop the Lies

It's time to put an end to the distortions. That's why AFSCME has launched Stop the Lies, an aggressive, multimedia campaign that is exposing right-wing lies and spreading the truth.

"Public service workers have become the scapegoats for the far right," President McEntee said during the campaign launch in December. "We're not going to let corporate CEOs define the debate. It was their greed and incompetence that drove this country's economy into the ditch."

According to the U.S. Commerce Department, corporations posted profits of $1.6 trillion in the third quarter of 2010 - the highest figure recorded since the government began keeping track more than 60 years ago. And, the Federal Reserve reports that corporate America is quietly sitting on $1.8 trillion in cash reserves. These are the same people who, with considerable aid and comfort from their allies in the media and Congress, oppose "Big Government" - and ship jobs overseas.

Their formula for economic recovery is very simple: Destroy good public jobs under the false pretense of "reducing the size of government" and repackage them as privatized, non-union jobs with low salaries and few benefits. (For more on why privatization doesn't work, see Page 16.)Everybody wins, right? Everyone, except the middle class and working families who keep being victimized as Wall Street and the extreme right wing continue to erode the American dream - one good job at a time.

In these times of lean state and local budgets, one of the right wing's favorite lies is ranting about the "out of control" cost of public employee pensions. What they never mention is that the average AFSCME member earns approximately $45,000 per year and receives a pension of approximately $19,000 per year after a career of public service. Contrary to what they would like you to believe, states are not shouldering this cost. Employee contributions and investment returns fund the overwhelming majority of the cost of pensions. Taxpayers contributed only 14.3 percent of all pension funding in the 11-year period ending in 2007.

And yet it is these lies that have prompted people like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) to demand that public employees "share in sacrifice." To make such a claim while ignoring the hundreds of thousands of public employee layoffs that have taken place in these last two years is simply ludicrous.

Equally absurd are the claims that our budget problems are due to overspending. State tax revenue data demonstrates the decline in revenue between late 2008 and 2009 is unprecedented. State tax collections are now 12 percent below pre-recession levels. That's why vital services are being cut and public employees are used as scapegoats.

AFSCME's Plan for Victory

Since the beginning of the recession, state governments have cut almost a trillion dollars in spending. Now, as a result of the elections, public service workers face additional and substantial new attacks.

In addition to budget fights, the right wing is coming after AFSCME members' pay and benefits and the right of unions to organize and bargain. More than at any time in recent history, battles shift to the state capitols, where the joint work of the national union, councils and local unions will be crucial.

This is why AFSCME's Executive Board has set several priority goals for 2011. First, we must vigorously engage in the public debate on the key role public services play in our society by promoting their value, blocking privatization and helping state and local governments increase revenues. Likewise, we must protect the retirement security of hard-working public service workers. When it comes to Social Security, the lies are even more relentless. Privatization advocates blatantly mischaracterize Social Security as an "unfunded mandate" that hampers the system, but the vast majority of Americans don't believe workers should have to gamble their future amid the uncertainty of the stock market.

AFSCME will also work to protect hard-won collective bargaining rights for public service workers and independent home and child care providers. This dedication will help us remain at the helm of the labor movement when it comes to organizing, clearing the way for tens of thousands of new workers to gain a voice and form a union with AFSCME.

We know our enemies' "divide and rule" tactics well: Foster resentment against government workers in order to strip them of their rights - just as they've done to private sector workers in the last few decades.

It's up to us to prevent this. It's up to us to make America happen - once again.

AFSCME'S BATTLE PLAN

  • Protect AFSCME members' hard-earned retirement security.
  • Defend and expand collective bargaining rights for public service workers and workers across the nation.
  • Win the public debate on why vital public services must be protected. 

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