Op-Ed: Union Bashing Is A Mistake

Howard Kleinhendler interview tlsBy Howard Kelinhendler For TLS. Bashing unions is definitely the flavor of the day.  From Wisconsin to New Jersey, newly elected governors place the blame of their state’s financial woes on the backs of teachers, police and firemen. These new villains, the guys and gals that educate our kids or put their lives on the line to make sure we can walk the streets safely or pull people out of burning homes, should not get paid what they bargained for.  So what that these workers have contracts, negotiated at arm’s-length with armies of lawyers on each side of the deal. The sanctity of contract, a cornerstone of capitalist enterprise, only matters when private parties are involved. Government contracts, apparently, aren’t held to the same rules.

Blaming union workers for negotiating and obtaining decent work conditions and livable pensions is pathetic scapegoating that won’t solve the severe budgetary problems swamping many state governments. States like New Jersey are in the red because of decades of over-spending and poor financial planning by governors of both parties and the failure to set aside money in the good times for economic downturns. Texas has a $9.4 billion rainy day fund. New Jersey has zero. New Jersey’s pension shortfall is $56 billion. If it were half of that, the state would still have no way of funding it.

Unions are not the problem. Recall what life was like before unions. Men and woman were forced to work in sweatshops under appalling conditions, under bigoted and racist employers (i.e., fired for keeping Sabbath), for low hourly wages set by the whims of greedy employers. Even those who cringe at the notion of economic policy that promotes social welfare need to understand that docking a woman’s pay because she has to stay home to take care of a sick child or because she just had a baby hurts the economy. That neglected child will grow up with far greater emotional problems and is statistically more likely to commit crimes or resort to life on welfare. Those burdens are shared by all taxpayers, even free-marketeers whose sworn religion and sole goal in life is the accumulation of wealth.

All the showmanship and bullying by the country’s new Capo di tutti capi, Chris Christie, whose recent budget is so full of smoke and mirrors it would make even Madoff’s accountants cringe, will not solve our budgetary problems. Sixty percent of the federal budget is spent on healthcare and social security entitlements whose steady increases are no longer sustainable. Medicaid now swallows 21% of state budgets and health care costs continue increasing. The new Republican House is so dominated by special interest lobbyists and consumed by thwarting anything Obama does, the likelihood of doing something positive, like real entitlement reform, is a pipe dream.

So, states have to take matters into their own hands. The answer to the present state budgetary problems is not trampling our public workforce. We need skilled and dedicated workers entering the public sector. We also need revenue creation. New Jersey in particular must invest today to bring business and opportunity to the state. Better rail transportation, opening up acreage in the Pinelands to development, promoting the development of alternative sources of energy, luring big business office space to the state through generous tax abatements and low-interest building loans, and exploiting opportunities in offshore exploration of oil and gas, are all positive steps that will generate revenues, jobs and sorely needed tax revenue. Forcing malpractice claims into binding arbitration with state-imposed caps will promote growth in our pharmaceutical industry and encourage more healthcare providers to practice here. Instead of spending 90 minutes to get to Manhattan or Philadelphia, the premiere specialty hospitals will open shop here.

You can’t run government finances like a home budget no matter how morally appealing that seems. True leaders look five to ten years down the road when making policy decisions. It’s not about balancing the budget today under any cost. For tomorrow, the badly neglected infrastructure will crush us, and the missed business opportunities will be gone. The negative profiling of union workers and leaders does nothing to promote the state or its citizenry. It makes us look petty and introverted. It’s time to get past the name-calling and start focusing on building a better future.

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  1. No one is saying that unions are inherently a bad thing, but its got to a point that public workers are gettiing payed more then the average taxpayer who is paying their salary. And in the long run, it benefits the public workers too. Because if the state will need to declare bancrutcy, they will not only lose those benefits that they are being asked to contribute to, but maybe even their jobs

  2. This article conveniently ignores the fact that public unions are totally different than private unions because if the politician does not give in when negating with the public union, the union votes him out. If the politician gives in, he gets the union backing in elections and when the bills for these pensions come due and the Politian has already moved in, we the taxpayers get stuck with the bill! There’s another word for such tactics, it’s called “bribery”. The unions are saying give us the money and we’ll vote for you!!

  3. With all due respect, this is sided bias for liberal agenda. Your distorting everything. On one on is talking about dismantling union all together, I’m not gonna even bother to argue with you. You are pro Obama the most radical incompetent immature, weak leftist liberal president so to me you have zero credibility. I’m sorry but I disregard everything you have wrote, I simply don’t believe you. I wish you a good shabbos.

  4. Mr. Kleinhendler,

    People know the truth. As much as you try to twist it, people know it. Because people know what’s in their wallets and pocketbooks. And people don’t want to pay for the overbloated public employees unions anymore.

  5. It’s cute reading this article while I’m sitting in my chair at work which overlooks the state house in Trenton.As I write I’m also watching a massive union demonstration going on below.(It’s a slow work day today…)

    Anyhow the value private unions had many years has nothing to do with the current situation.Nor do issues like Medicaid or other wastefull government spending.

    The issue is that government workers are payed outrageuosly more then private sector workers for the same work.And that is something
    the public would like to see rectified, but the union and government workers they represent don’t let.Hence the dislike for unions.

    Anothe note about government workers:Most of my business is dealing with them . I’ve yet to meet a government worker other then a police or fireman who got their job by merit.They ALL had someone pull strings for them.(Which is what you would expect for such a great job)

  6. The usefulness of unions is outdated. There are other laws to protect workers from horrendous and unsafe conditions, that’s how those of us in the private sector are also paid overtime, etc. The issue is really not what the union workers deserve, the real problem is the unions themselves. They are pricing themselves right out of work.

    The UFT in NY recently spent 1.4 million on a party! If teachers, firemen and others simply worked and kept all their salary, rather than being forced to turn over a big chunk to the union, the whole system would be better off. You have no idea how many teachers and other union members would prefer to not be part of the union, but they have no choice.

    The thuggery on display by the unions currently in action in Wisconsin, and also here in NJ shows the bully tactics the unions must use in order to try to keep things as they want them. Again, it’s not the individual teachers, etc, it’s the union. Did you know that the CWA is currently renting protestors to demonstrate at the capital in NJ? LOL, even the union can’t afford to pay union rates.

  7. No one is saying all unions are bad , but they do place a lot of financial strain on the rest of us. To abolish unions without returning to aweatshops is not a big deal. The government can pass standard federal laws against such type of conditions and for minimum wage each state will have a committee do decide on that states medium standard of living and every 2 years adjust it. so most problems can be taken care of with a few good federal laws and a couple by each state. and you wont have sweatshops again but you wont have the power of the unions to get whatever they demand

  8. Don’t forget who this Author is, he ran for congress on the Democratic/ liberal ticket. That speaks value for it self. Sorry don’t thing this guy is objective at the least bit.

  9. Kleinhendler – you have no clue. The unions are so corrupt. Shaking down honest politicians. The union bosses enrich themselves wildly on the backs of their members.
    Typical liberal.

  10. Where is it written that Gov. Christie wants teachers laid off? I don’t recall reading that anyplace. What I do remember is that Christie cut school funding. He did not say what should be cut. He did not say to cut teacher’s salaries, etc. He left it up to the individual BOEs to decide where to make the cuts. If the BOEs want to lay off teachers that’s up to them. The BOEs could lay off the high paid asst administrators, asst principals, some secretaries, etc. instead of the teachers.

    Likewise Christie cut funding to the towns. He did not say to cut police and firemen salaries or to lay them off. He just cut the funding to the towns and left it up to the town to decide what expenses to cut. The towns could have just as easily cut out some of the useless personal they have on their payroll.

  11. Just curious Howard Kelinhendler- did you read any of the responses? cause your silence is deafening. Can you answer even one of the many valid points that have been brought against your seemingly faulty opinion?

  12. It’s ironic that he mentions Texas as having a surplus. That’s because they pay very little in taxes so people want to live there and spend money. Is Mr. Klienhandler ( a tax and spend liberal) ready to embrace lower taxes?!

  13. Christie is not saying “lay off teachers”, you’re right on that. But he is saying the don’t deserve the things that they and other public workers bargained for and the gov’t agreed to. He is very clearly trying to remove and change their retirement and healthcare benefits- not just for new hires, but for those who are months from retirement. How is that right?

    These benefits were paid for -and then some- until the politicians starting funneling money out of those funds. THAT is not the fault of the “greedy unions”

  14. I’m so sick and tired of the obama bashing and the christie praising. is he a man or who you pray to every night. This man is full of it just like the rest of them. If he wants to save money so bad why doesn’t he come to lkwd. You wanna save money let’s start with fixing this town

  15. Shabbos was respected in the work place way before the union organized. Do you homework!
    More crime cuz the mother can’t take of work… Emotional problems… Left wing weaklings who need government to hold their wimpy hands.

  16. I’m still stuck in my office with this pro union demonstration going on
    I would like ot note that:

    (1)From all these endless speechs and screaming I’m not really hearing any coherent pro union points.It’s just “Stand up for what is right”&”don’t let them bully us” type rhetoric.

    (2)I went out to watch a little.Due to the pouring rain I was standing under the awning of a business developement building.The union workers were reffering to it as “enemy territory”

    (3)The demonstration is not aimed at Christie.It’s meant to show solidarity with Wisconsin union workers.

  17. :”The sanctity of contract, a cornerstone of capitalist enterprise, only matters when private parties are involved. Government contracts, apparently, aren’t held to the same rules.”

    perhaps MR. Kleinhandler, when private businesses are involved they need to make sure that their expenditures are not going to mitigate their profits.
    however, government contracts are different because:
    a- WE the public are paying for it.
    b-they dont need to worry about a bottom line or even a budget. If they dont have enough money all they need to do is raise our taxes to pay for their shortfalls.

    the point you try to make about dangerous conditions in the workforce is patently ridiculous, especially coming from a lawyer. Every move a company makes is subject to their own scrutiny, because of the fear of lawsuits. as you well know.

    there is no fear of repeat of the triangle shirtwaist fire. There are OSHA and other laws in place to protect workers.
    Unions have outgrown their usefulness. No denying that there was a time and place for them in the past, but that time is over.

    ” States like New Jersey are in the red because of decades of over-spending ”
    bingo! overspending on pensions, etc.

  18. I own a busniess that employees both Union and Non Union employees, and i have to disagree with you Mr. Kleinhandler on a few fronts. Firstly , for my union employees they have their health insurance through their funds which cost us 29% of their salary. Its a low level plan, they can only go to certain doctors ,and its capped at 50,000 per year, meaning if they G-d forbid have a catastrophic illness like cancer or need a major surgery they only cover the first 50,000. Plus when they always have other issues with their insurance which is often there is no one to speak with , they get passed around from one person to another . The non union employees get insurance thru the company which is a much better insurance and if they have a problem they go to our HR dept and it gets resolved ,and it cost’s me about 13% of their salary. The pensions are the same the money is lining the unions deep pockets which they use to put liberal democratics into office ie our president. Plus they take dues from their employees to “represent” them , from my building alone they pull over $200,000 a year in dues and the only time we see them is during election and negotation times. the employess can find much better things to do with that money. Oh yes we see them occasionally when we try to discipline an employee for something wrong they did and they tell us how to run our busniess. Finally what a breath of fresh air we have Govenors like Cristy and Walker that are standing up to these corrupt unions and mind you they are not taking away their collictive bargining power all they want to do is treat them like the public sector and have them contribute to their health care cost and pensions.

  19. “The new Republican House is so dominated by special interest lobbyists and consumed by thwarting anything Obama does, the likelihood of doing something positive, like real entitlement reform, is a pipe dream.”

    It is mashma from the quoted statement that prior to the Republican control of the House, special interests did not dominate the House. I am no fan of Chris Smith, but with statements like that, no wonder myself and many others did not vote for Kleinhandler.

    “We also need revenue creation etc.”

    Now you sound like a conservative. Ideas to promote more business.

  20. i really hope that all these so-called “bloated public workers” go on strike and let you all see what we really do.
    we have no problem paying into our health benefits- most of us do already.
    we have been paying into our pensions since we started here- it wasnt us that caused the deficiency.
    and we’re really, really tired of all the name calling. tell you what- come down to the municipal building and sit in with one office, any office, for the day and you’ll see the kind of harassment that gets us nothing but a puny paycheck and a government out to get us.
    voters worried about the middle-class? could have fooled me with all these posts.

  21. Yossie Greenberg says:
    FEBRUARY 25, 2011 AT 11:56 AM
    unions have gone overboard. they shot themselves in the foot

    I guess you would prefer non union workers to fight your house fires, protect your towns, and teach your children..remember you get what you pay for.

  22. “…I guess you would prefer non union workers to fight your house fires, …”

    Guess what – Most of Lakewood’s VOLUNTEER fire department is NON-UNION. I guess that you don’t live in Lakewood or you would know that.

  23. to 15 and 22. ill bet u he reads every comment on his articles TWICE! and to everyone who is a democrat, now u see how corzine destroyed our state. Christie for President!

  24. OVERPAID? i live paycheck to paycheck. i make 32k per year as an equipment operator. i cant afford to have anything taken out for a 401k. if my property taxes go up again or i have to pay any major bill that happens i dont have any extra cash to pay for it. but according to everybody, i get paid some outragious amount of money. i’m in the same boat as you all. start asking nj when they will start paying back all the money they took from the state pension fund and spent foolishly. ask christine whitman wwhere the money is she took. start looking at the politicians that spend, spend, spend.

  25. You guys (liberals) had your chance at running this state, and failed miserably. Now it’s Christie’s turn, and surprise, surprise, the majority of the people of New Jersey are behind him. You lost. Get over it.

  26. unions have ruined the country. Why do you think all jobs and manufacturing have been sent oversea’s. Open your eyes. Why do you think it took American auto manufacturers twenty years to wake up. More then half your cost goes into the unions retirement plans, health benefits etc. It’s a joke.
    Look at what Lakewood could save in taxes if the employees were paid by merit pay.

  27. Reply to #32 county worker:

    Nobody is saying that all government workers are making an outrageous amount of money. You are an equipment operator that makes 32k a year. I don’t think you would make more in the private sector, and in the private sector you wouldn’t get a pension. Why should you make more working for the government than the private sector?

    I wish you the best.

  28. To #24 “Yaga”, I would like to comment on your last comment in your post. “” States like New Jersey are in the red because of decades of over-spending ”
    bingo! overspending on pensions, etc.” Although you wish that to be true that the overspending is on pensions, the “Great” state of New Jersey has not paid anything to the pensions in many years while the (moderated) continued to pay for there pensions. Over spent, yes they did, on what who knows.

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