Minnesota public employee unions shoot back on criticisms from Pawlenty and Chamber of Commerce

Public employee unions are striking back at both the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has used chamber numbers to attack the public workforce.

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.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty

Gov. Tim Pawlenty

“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.”

Just who should stand up for working people?

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.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Bernie Hesse on 12/14/2010 - 12:21 pm.

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about Terrible Tim’s attempted assault on public workers. Two of Tim’s siblings I believe are still at the public “trough”(they work in the public sector) and I had the pleasure of serving with another Pawlenty sibling on the board of a union who understod the power of collective action. He has sold his soul to the devil and it is a sad day to see him attack workers who do the jobs that need to be done and who should be paid fairly without all of the attacks.

    Defined Benefit Pensions still exist and every worker should have one. Defined Contribution Plans should be seen as supplemental at best and not the primary souce of retirement.

    Good wages go back into the local economy and the chamber of commerce, T-Paw’s benefactor shouldn’t bite the hands of public workers who spend.

    Healthcare should be a right not a privelege and once Gov. Tim is a private citizen maybe he can purchase something affordable.

    The op/ed by Pawlenty was disturbing and insulting and I will be glad when his term is up.

  2. Submitted by Roy Everson on 12/14/2010 - 01:55 pm.

    If the guv wants private-industry workers to do better he might encourage them to unionize. No, instead he wants others to do worse. Finding working-class scapegoats is a hallmark of conservative politics.

  3. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 12/14/2010 - 02:38 pm.

    “protecting working families from exploitation”? Timmy, I know a lot of state workers who felt grateful that thier union was there to protect them from your exploitation.

  4. Submitted by Richard Mensing on 12/14/2010 - 03:25 pm.

    I’m not sure where Tim Pawlenty was this past weekend as he often ventures out-of state in his long-dreamt quest for the Repubulican holy grail. I trust he did note that almost twenty inches of snow, the fifth largest in history, fell on the state. (If at a sun-drenched GOP confab elsewhere, he may have seen the video of snow ripping a hole in the Metrodome, bringing Minnesota the same kind or attention it received when the 35 W bridge collapsed.) So there’s a good chance the governor didn’t see the men and women working around the clock to keep the roads open and to provide emergency services. Perhaps it escaped his memory that many of these people are public employees.

    His memory’s recall of the facts is this editorial are also suspect. His claim that an average public employee receives $123,039 rivals Emmer’s claim about an average waiter’s incomein it’s absurdity. Are these high paid federal employees all union workers or do they perhaps include the incomes of names like Bachman, Kline and the other revolving door lobbyists/regulators who did so well during the Bush administration?

    In any event, I’m sure the governor’s editorial played well to national Republican base because they, after all, don’ have to worry about Minnesota roads being plowed or
    emergency services being provided. But I couldn’t help but notice the contrast. between Pawlenty and Sen.Franken. In an interview Sunday AM, Franken called the snow plow operators heroes. Pawlenty instead chose to make them fodder and scapegoats for political gain.

  5. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 12/14/2010 - 04:06 pm.

    Shorter version of King Timmy’s latest op-ed:

    If you’re not one of “us” (namely the Chamber of Commerce’s wealthiest members), why aren’t you living in poverty yet?

  6. Submitted by Kevin Whalen on 12/15/2010 - 01:48 am.

    “Since January 2008,” Pawlenty writes, “the private sector has lost nearly 8 million jobs, while local, state and federal governments have added 590,000.”

    Hmm. Maybe that’s because Timmy’s friends at the big banks are sitting on top of the big piles of money they received from the big bad federal government instead of providing the credit that keeps private businesses running. Meanwhile, government agencies have *spent* stimulus money, providing important services and putting dollars into the hands of workers/consumers.

    Good riddance, Timmy. Keep angling for that assistant to the assistant under-secretery job in the next repub administration. If all else fails, you can join the ranks of the truly corrupt and wasteful– lobbyists and political consultants! Your inefficiency and corruption will put the big bad unions to shame!

  7. Submitted by Reggie McGurt on 12/15/2010 - 11:44 am.

    “Since January 2008,” Pawlenty writes, “the private sector has lost nearly 8 million jobs, while local, state and federal governments have added 590,000.”

    So just to be clear, Tim is saying that with massive unemployment across the country, we should be laying more people off right now. Maybe we can give all these people pink slips on Christmas Eve.

    Also, last I checked, Tim himself is a public sector employee, bringing up that average compensation figure quite a bit. When’s the last time he’s gotten a private sector paycheck? 18-20 years ago? Hypocrite.

  8. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 12/15/2010 - 03:15 pm.

    Actually, King Timmy got a “private sector paycheck” back during the last election campaign when he received checks totaling $60,000 for legal “consulting work” for a telephone company, but neither he, nor the company involved could ever come up with any actual work he did. Typical Republican leader of our current day.

    If you really want to find waste, inefficiency and people being paid a great deal for doing next to nothing, just check out the average corporate executive suite. If you don’t believe me, check the transcripts of trials where such executives have to answer in court for some malfeasance on the part of their company. They universally protest that they didn’t have a clue what was going on in the companies they supposedly managed.

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