Pawlenty, in an article that has appeared in the Wall Street Journal and in the Star Tribune, claims that public employee unions have actually become the anti-unions of our times.
“The moral case for union — protecting working families from exploitation – does not apply to public employment. Government employees today are among the most protected, well-paid employees in the country. Ironically, public-sector unions have become the exploiters, and working families once again need someone to stand up for them.”
Pawlenty, of course.
In his opinion piece, the outgoing Minnesota governor goes after federal public workers, who he claims (using chamber stats) are receiving “an average of $123,049 in pay and benefits, twice the average of the private sector.”
Pawlenty, who among other things calls for the end of public employee pensions, says that he successfully fought off the demands of public unions in Minnesota. He says the problem of public sector compensation has grown nationally under President Obama.
“Since January 2008,” Pawlenty writes, “the private sector has lost nearly 8 million jobs, while local, state and federal governments have added 590,000.”
Not surprisingly, neither Jim Monroe, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, nor Eliot Seide, who heads Council 5 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, is buying into Pawlenty’s argument.
It should be noted that Seide isn’t very excited about President Obama, either.
The president’s “tax compromise” with Republicans in Washington, coupled with his symbolic gesture of freezing compensation for federal employees, has infuriated Seide. He has suggested that all pictures of the president be removed from AFSCME offices. He said he personally will not make contributions to President Obama’s future campaigns.
Seide says that the chamber and Pawlenty are painting a wildly distorted picture regarding compensation for public employees. For starters, he said the average AFSCME employee is being paid $38,000 a year and also claims that public workers in the state earn 4 percent less than private-sector employees “when matched by education and experience. That’s because public workers have sacrificed wages for better benefits.”
In a statement, Seide attacked the state’s Chamber of Commerce, which plans to use its study to lobby legislators to make changes in compensation policies for public employees.
“Tax breaks for the rich are what’s really threatening the sustainability of public services,” Seide wrote in a statement. “The chamber doesn’t want to pay its fair share of taxes, and that’s why it’s trying to blame the deficit on public employees. We’re not the problem.”
In an interview, Seide wondered if “members of the chamber understand that public employees spend their money with the same businesses that people who work in the private sector do. Do business owners believe that a dollar from a public sector worker isn’t as good as a private sector dollar?”
Seide had special attacks for David Olson, president of the state chamber. He called Olson “a hypocrite.”
“As trustee of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, he paid bonuses totaling $415,875 to 33 top administrators who earn six-figure salaries.”
With Pawlenty and the chamber, Seide says, “the real agenda is to strip the entire working class of wages, benefits and pensions.”
In a summary of the chamber study, Olson says, “[T]he cost of government services is growing faster than our economy and our ability to pay. We aren’t receiving the outcomes that Minnesotans expect and deserve. Government redesign promises to be at the forefront of the 2011 legislature.”
MAPE’s Monroe dismisses Pawlenty’s claims in a statement that essentially says the governor is a lapdog of the Chamber of Commerce. He even makes sarcastic references to the title of the governor’s forthcoming book, “Courage to Stand: An American Story.”
“You’ve got to give Tim Pawlenty credit,” Monroe wrote. “He had the courage to stand with the Chamber of Commerce for eight years. He had the raw courage to veto bill after bill that would have raised revenue needed to balance Minnesota’s budget.”
Monroe says that “cheap government” that Pawlenty espouses, led to the collapse of the I-35W bridge.
Pawlenty and the union leaders agree on one thing: Each side says the other essentially is bought off.
Monroe says Pawlenty is “happily sucking up to the Chamber’s check writers,” who have supported his political career.
Pawlenty writes that the “the rise of government unions has been like a silent coup, an inside job engineered by self-interested politicians and fueled by campaign contributions.”
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.