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of the following and compose a detailed response (50% each). The questions focus on issues raised in the seminar since the midterm, but feel free to bring in any of the readings or topics raised since the start of the semester. Responses should be about 5 pages (double spaced) but you may opt to hand in a longer response as you feel necessary. Please include citations for material that you source.

The exam is open book, and should be handed in to me via an email attachment on or before Monday, December 20

1)In his 2011 article, “Convenient Scapegoats : Public Workers under Assault,” (Dissent, Spring 2021), Joseph McCartin argues that government workers are attacked in the media by a rhetoric that has created a “consensus versus the facts.” What does he mean by this? Does the range of material and scholarship encountered in this seminar support his claims?

2)How does gender impact employment in the public sector?

3)You are a city personnel officer that oversees employment operations for a New Jersey city or county. Compose a brief that identifies the three most significant challenges you expect to face in the coming decade. In your review, be sure to propose some possible solutions.

4)Write an editorial outlining the current crisis of public education. In your essay, explain the issues schoolteachers face, and offer policy solutions, being sure to reference at least one of the readings assigned in the class.

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ARTICLES
Convenient Scapegoats:
Public Workers under Assault
JOSEPH A. MCCARTIN
“We may, at long last, have a way to liberate
our nation from the domination of those who
should be our public servants but instead are
frequently our union masters.” Conservative
commentator and pollster Dick Morris wrote
those words after the 2010 congressional elections. A quick glance at recent headlines,
editorial pages, blog posts, and government
initiatives indicates why Morris was so
excited. A powerful wave of opposition
against public sector unions is now taking
shape, strengthened by Republican control of
the federal budget-setting process in the
House of Representatives, which is likely to
stifle further aid to hard-pressed states and
cities. These circumstances are setting up 2011
to be the worst year for government workers
since collective bargaining first came to
government a half-century ago.
If partisan conservatives such as Morris and
his friends were all that public sector unions
had to worry about, the situation would be
difficult enough. But a growing bipartisan
consensus, which stretches from New Jersey’s
Republican governor Chris Christie to New
York’s Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo
and includes mainstream publications such as
the Economist and the Atlantic, seems to have
concluded that states and municipalities have
been too generous with their employees, and
that union contracts are a prime cause of the
recent surge in government budget deficits.
There is increasing talk of trimming pensions,
benefits, and salaries for public sector workers
and enacting laws that curb union political
influence. “At some point,” argues Christie,
“there has to be parity between what is
happening in the real world and what is
happening in the public-sector world.” Such
arguments clearly resonate with voters. Recent
polls have found both a significant drop-off in
public support for government-employee
unions over the past year and a rising level of
passion among union opponents.
A Consensus Versus the Facts
Two widely shared misperceptions are
helping to drive this shift of opinion. The first
holds that public sector workers now earn
more on average than their private sector
counterparts, making them what Indiana’s
Republican governor, Mitch Daniels, calls “a
new privileged class in America.” The leading
candidates for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination have helped promote this
view. “Average government workers are now
making $30,000 a year more than the average
private-sector worker,” declares Mitt Romney.
“It used to be that public employees were
underpaid and over-benefited,” adds Tim
Pawlenty. “Now they are over-benefited and
overpaid compared to their private-sector
counterparts.” The second perception is that
collective bargaining contracts have been
major contributors to the growing budget
deficits of the states, a view promoted by
Chris Edwards, the director of tax policy
studies at the Cato Institute.
Although there are arguably instances in
which discrete groups of government workers
have won benefits that are difficult to justify
over the long run, the general perceptions that
public sector workers are overcompensated as
a group and that their contracts are the driving
force behind government deficits are simply
wrong. At first glance, aggregate data from the
Bureau of Labor Statistics make it appear that
public employees earn more on average than
S P R I N G 2 0 1 1 D I SS E N T
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PUBLIC WORKERS
private employees. But the gap disappears
completely when one compares similar
workers in each sector. Government workers
are slightly older and much better educated on
average than private sector workers. Indeed,
as John Schmitt of the Center for Economic
and Policy Research and Jeffrey Keefe of
Rutgers University point out, the supposed
public sector wage premium turns into a wage
penalty for government work if we control for
workers’ age and education. Government
workers are on average about four years older,
more likely to possess a college degree, and
nearly three times as likely to hold an
advanced degree as private sector workers.
Once one moves beyond aggregate figures and
begins to compare public and private sector
workers with similar degrees of education and
experience the allegation that government
workers are somehow privileged falls apart.
Indeed, a 2010 study published by John
Schmitt found that government workers
earned on average 4 percent less than private
sector workers who possessed similar characteristics.
The facts also challenge the perception that
public workers’ collective bargaining contracts
are driving state deficits and leading to
pension obligations that taxpayers are unable
to meet. There is no direct correlation between
states with unionized public workers and
those facing budget deficits. New York State,
which boasts the highest percentage of
unionized public employees of any state, is
running a projected budget deficit of 16.9
percent for fiscal year 2012, while North
Carolina, which prohibits public sector
collective bargaining, faces an even larger
budget deficit (20 percent) according to the
data of the Center on Budget and Policy
Priorities. Similarly, there is no direct correlation between collective bargaining and
pension obligations that have gone unfunded.
According to the conservative American
Legislative Exchange Council, New York has
done a better job at funding its pension obligations (currently at 100 percent funding)
than Virginia, which does not permit public
sector collective bargaining and is currently
funding only 80 percent of its obligations.
Although the data do not support the politically motivated attacks on public sector
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D I SS E N T S P R I N G 2 0 1 1
workers and their unions, a confluence of
powerful factors has created a perfect storm
that is overriding the facts, abetting efforts to
scapegoat public employees and their unions,
and making it easier for anti-union opinion
makers to use a few outlying cases to drive a
larger assault against the very concept of
public sector unionism itself. Four developments have helped lead to this moment.
The Making of an Anti-Union Moment
The most obvious is the nature of the current
“Great Recession.” This downturn, the worst
economic calamity since the Great Depression,
is the first crisis of this magnitude to occur at a
time when public sector workers were
organized in unions. Although some
government workers were union members in
the 1930s, they did not have the ability to
bargain collectively. The advent of widespread
public sector collective bargaining did not
come until 1958, when New York City passed
the “Little Wagner Act,” which permitted
municipal employees to organize. Shortly
thereafter, Wisconsin became the first state to
permit state and local workers to bargain
collectively, and President John F. Kennedy
introduced a limited form of federal sector
collective bargaining (which let unions negotiate over work rules, but not compensation or
benefits) through Executive Order 10988 in
1962. Public sector collective bargaining
spread during the prosperous years between
1960 and 1973. When stagflation and
recession struck in the 1970s, government
workers came under attack, and public
opinion polls traced a decline in support for
public sector unions. But neither the economic
nor public opinion downturns of the 1970s
were as severe as those witnessed recently,
and unlike the crisis of the 1970s, the current
recession occurs after decades of growing
income inequality during which wages stagnated and benefits eroded for most private
sector workers.
A second development making the current
moment dangerous for public sector workers
is the enfeeblement of the private sector union
movement. During the years of their rise,
public sector unions relied on a strong private
sector union movement: gains made by
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PUBLIC WORKERS
unionized private workers helped legitimize
public workers’ demands. When the economic
crisis of the mid-1970s struck, more than 20
percent of private sector workers were in
unions. To be sure, that crisis introduced some
tensions between public and private sector
organizations. In 1978, liberal journalist
Nicholas von Hoffman believed that public
opinion was turning “so ferociously against
striking civil servants that non-governmental
union members won’t even support them.”
But union levels were high enough and the
crisis of the 1970s was not severe enough to
provoke an outright schism between
government and private sector unions.
Today, with the private sector union
density figures roughly one-third of what
they were in the 1970s, and with government
workers constituting a majority of American
union members for the first time, there is a
different dynamic. With private sector unions
fighting for their lives, public sector workers
are finding it more difficult than ever to
defend wages and benefits. Some evidence—
such as the enlistment of some building
trades unions in Andrew Cuomo’s crusade to
confront public sector workers—points to the
re-emergence of the public-private labor
tensions of the 1970s. But it is not the erosion
of solidarity between public and private
sector unionists that makes government
workers’ unions more vulnerable than ever.
Rather, it is the fact that labor solidarity in
any form is becoming anachronistic. One
traditional emblem of solidarity, the strike, is
becoming quite rare. The Bureau of Labor
Statistics registered only five strikes
involving 1,000 workers during 2009, representing a 98 percent drop from the figures
collected in 1979.
The consensus that has taken shape over the
past generation regarding taxation constitutes
a third development shaping this moment.
Public sector unions arose in the 1960s and
1970s at a time when the tax system was
robustly progressive and the top marginal
federal income tax rate was 70 percent. The
tax revolt of the 1970s, the Reagan Revolution
of the 1980s, and the tax cuts secured by
George W. Bush in 2001 have since driven
down tax rates on upper-income earners to
half of what they were in the mid-1970s. The
recent extension of the Bush tax cuts in the
midst of a budget-busting, revenue-starving
recession makes it difficult to imagine any
circumstances under which significant tax
increases on the wealthy—who are now
wealthier in comparative terms than any
previous generation of America’s richest—will
become politically feasible in the years ahead.
It is not just that Republicans are determined to block all tax increases, even for those
most able to afford them. A significant proportion of Democrats appears to have given up on
progressive taxation too. The Democratic cochair of President Obama’s deficit commission, Erskine Bowles, refused to consider a
significant increase in taxes on the wealthy as
a strategy for reducing deficits. Revealingly,
the proposal he produced with co-chairman
Alan Simpson listed “lower rates” as the first
of seven goals for a reformed tax code; “reducing the deficit” was the last goal listed. Since
California voters enacted the tax-cutting
Proposition 13 in 1978, public sector unions
have unsuccessfully resisted the relentless
downward pressure on tax rates for the
wealthy. It is now clear that anti-tax forces
have won this long war. This means that the
taxpayers who can least afford it are assuming
a growing proportion of the share of the cost
of public sector workers’ salaries and benefits,
creating a situation ripe for the current backlash.
A final development in setting the stage for
the current assault on public sector workers
concerns the turnabout experienced by one
highly visible group of public workers:
teachers. When government workers began to
organize in large numbers in the 1960s, public
school teachers helped lead the way. During
the 1960s, the American Federation of
Teachers and the National Education
Association grew at a furious pace; in the
1970s, teachers were the most militant
government workers, willing to strike even
when it was illegal in order to press their
demands. Through this period teachers
elevated their pay and benefits and won
significant reforms, especially reductions in
class sizes and increases in education funding.
As they did so, teachers successfully held the
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PUBLIC WORKERS
moral high ground, fighting not only for
themselves but for their students’ interests as
well.
Recent developments, however, have
tended to put the onus on teachers’ unions. As
incomes stagnated and the shape of the
economy changed in the years since 1980,
politicians of both parties placed increasing
emphasis on improved education as a way to
create good jobs and raise living standards.
Public schools have coped unevenly with
these elevated expectations. Highly funded
suburban schools have flourished, while
many urban schools have lagged. Increasingly,
teachers’ unions have been blamed for underperformance. Educational reformers propose
charter schools, vouchers, and a weakening of
union work rules as essential tools for the
improvement of public education. For their
part, the AFT and the NEA have advocated
reforms, even supporting charter schools
under some conditions. But they have been
outflanked in the arena of public opinion.
Figures such as the former chancellor of
District of Columbia Public Schools, Michelle
Rhee, have won renown for their criticisms of
the unions, and the recent documentary film
sensation, Waiting for Superman, promoted the
view that non-union charter schools are the
solution to the nation’s education problems.
The embrace of that film by the Obama White
House indicates the degree to which teachers’
unions have lost the moral high ground to
their opponents. And the apparent ease with
which politicians like Chris Christie have
been able to portray teachers as greedy and
self-serving has tended to put all public
employees on the defensive.
The Long Rehearsal
Still, it was not inevitable that the current
environment would give rise to an attack on
public sector workers and their unions on the
scale and of the magnitude that we are
currently witnessing. The current crisis might
have led instead to a defense of public
workers’ standards as providing a necessary
stabilizing keel that could keep the economy
steady in these turbulent times, preventing it
from listing further into recession and taking
on more water than it has already. Labor itself
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D I SS E N T S P R I N G 2 0 1 1
has made this argument: unions like the
American Federation of State, County, and
Municipal Employees and the Service
Employees International Union continually
remind politicians that their members make
up the stable middle-class of their communities, upon whose spending local economies
depend. That such arguments have been so
thoroughly overwhelmed by the attacks on
unions as “a new privileged class” has to do
both with the circumstances of this moment
and with the careful long-term planning of
union opponents.
Enemies of public sector unions have
waited decades for this moment. The swift rise
of the government workers’ union movement
took labor opponents by surprise in the 1960s.
Not until 1973 did the National Right to Work
Committee belatedly convene a conference to
assess the threat posed by this sudden
upsurge. The lead speaker at that gathering
was the libertarian law professor Sylvester
Petro, who presented a draft of his article,
“Sovereignty and Compulsory Public-Sector
Bargaining,” which would be published in
1974 in the Wake Forest Law Review. It argued
that the unionization of government workers
would lead inevitably to tyranny. Petro’s
conference paper helped to spark the creation
of the first organization dedicated to fighting
government workers’ unionization, the Public
Service Research Council (PSRC). Under the
direction of David Denholm, the PSRC
spawned a newsletter (the Government Union
Critique), an academic journal (the Government
Union Review), and a lobbying arm (Americans
Against Union Control of Government). The
organization quickly made its presence felt,
derailing efforts to pass a national bill that
would have ensured the right to organize for
all state and local workers in the mid-1970s.
But the PSRC was unable to realize its ambitious mission to roll back the gains already
made by government workers or to end what
it saw as the scourge of “compulsory” public
sector collective bargaining.
Ronald Reagan’s breaking of the illegal
1981 strike by PATCO, the union of federal air
traffic controllers, also produced disappointing long-term results for the enemies of
government unions. Clearly, Reagan’s action
helped quell government workers’ militancy:
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PUBLIC WORKERS
strikes had been on the rise among
government workers especially at the
municipal level between 1965 and 1980
before the PATCO strike reversed that trend.
Teachers’ strikes alone fell 42 percent within a
year, and government workers’ militancy
never again reached pre-PATCO levels. But
the PATCO strike had its most profoundly
negative impact on private sector labor relations, where it helped legitimize the
permanent replacement of striking workers in
transportation, service, and manufacturing
industries that has since all but destroyed the
strike as a weapon of America’s private sector
workers. While both public and private sector
workers saw their ability to strike diminish in
the post-PATCO years, public workers
compensated effectively for their loss of strike
leverage with increasingly effective political
action. Using their political clout, public sector
unions were able to advance the interests of
their members under Democratic and
Republican presidents, governors, and
mayors. Even the air traffic controllers were
reorganized before Reagan left office: the
replacements hired to break the PATCO strike
joined the National Air Traffic Controllers
Association (NATCA) in 1987, and their union
has since lobbied to win many of the things
that PATCO sought unsuccessfully to achieve
in 1981.
Public sector unionism survived the Reagan
era, adapted to the “reinventing government”
initiative of the Clinton years, and held its
own during the Bush years. It provided a
measure of stability to an organized labor
movement that was atrophying in the private
sector. Its critics, meanwhile, bided their time,
continually sharpening their arguments in
preparation for this moment. Back in 1980, the
PSRC’s David Denholm predicted that the job
of “ridding society of this blight”—public
sector collective bargaining—would be a “long
and arduous” struggle. Denholm and his
organization are still in the fight thirty years
later. But they are scarcely alone. These days
the PSRC is a marginal player in a much
larger, more broad-based, and far more
sophisticated effort to combat government
workers’ unions that includes an army of talk
radio hosts, Tea Party activists, anti-union
websites, and organizations like the American
Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which
co-ordinates conservative legislative initiatives across the states, providing models and
arguments for those seeking legislation to
weaken public sector unions.
Today’s union opponents have done a much
more effective job advancing the anti-labor
argument than their predecessors of the 1970s.
This is in part because they have learned to
master the populist language that was once
labor’s province. “They don’t produce
anything,” says radio talker Rush Limbaugh of
the public sector workers. “They live solely off
of the output of the private sector.” Framed in
this way, Limbaugh’s attacks sound startlingly
like those once marshaled by the nineteenthcentury Knights of Labor against Wall Street
speculators and other social “parasites.” That
such attacks have functioned so well in
displacing public anger against Wall Street for
the greed and malfeasance that led to the
recent financial meltdown onto blameless civil
servants is a testament to how adept the Right
has become at mobilizing populist appeals.
Progressives, meanwhile, have yet to develop
an effective counter-argument of their own,
and the Obama administration has seemed
positively disinterested in stirring populism
on the left.
For now, momentum is clearly with those
determined to roll back public sector
unionism. How far that momentum will carry
them is yet unclear. In the years immediately
ahead it is unlikely that they will be able to
eliminate collective bargaining for
government workers in a significant number
of states, as they hope. But even if they fall
short they are poised to deliver a series of
crippling blows to public sector unions in
upcoming budget battles and legislative
fights, further weakening organized labor as a
whole. The situation could scarcely be more
perilous for the battered labor movement.
The Stakes
Although many factors help explain how we
have gotten to this point, the ultimate irony is
that it has been the inability of the private
sector to deliver rising standards for most
American wage earners over the past three
decades that is the unnamed yet essential
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PUBLIC WORKERS
precondition of this fraught moment. The high
unemployment, dead-end jobs, stagnating
incomes, lengthening workweeks, wobbly
retirement plans, and fraying benefit packages
of private sector workers have placed public
sector workers in the political crosshairs. To
this point, government workers have not faced
the full force of the gale that has been eroding
labor standards in the private sector. Now they
too are being hit by the storm.
The weakness of the anti-labor argument is
that it cannot credibly show how creating the
sort of “parity” between public and private
workers that Governor Christie advocates will
help the larger economy. It is unclear how
cutting taxes further will create better jobs or
raise incomes for the many, how reducing
government spending will bring back
offshored manufacturing, or how scaling back
the pension or health benefits of government
workers will improve the retirement security
or enhance the benefit packages of their
private sector counterparts. It is this set of
problems that is really at the crux of the
matter. In the final analysis, public sector
workers find themselves under attack not
because they really are a “privileged class,”
but because they are an attractive target of
opportunity during hard times. Unfortunately,
pressing government workers to surrender
some of their salary and benefits at this
moment offers a path of least political
resistance that requires less political will and
vision than building an economy that lifts up
private sector workers, an economy in which
all workers—public and private—can labor in
dignity, security, and the confidence that their
children’s lives will be better than their own.
Whether the United States can emerge from
the Great Recession to confront this massive
long-range failure of the private sector to
generate good jobs, reliable benefits, and
rising incomes for the many will depend
greatly on how well public sector unions are
able to weather this perilous moment. With
less than 7 percent of nongovernmental
workers unionized, private sector unions no
longer have the leverage to improve wages
and benefits for those beyond their ranks.
Thus, by default, public sector unions have
become the single most effective social force
capable of speaking out for a just economy
that lifts the standards of all workers, public
and private. To preserve their credibility and
their ability to fight effectively for both their
members and a fairer economy for all, the
unions would be wise at this moment to show
that they are prepared to make sacrifices
where necessary, appropriate, and fair. In turn,
all who seek a fairer economy have a stake in
coming together to resist the radical effort to
roll back public sector unionism that is now
gaining ground.
Joseph A. McCartin teaches history at Georgetown
University, where he directs the Kalmanovitz Initiative for
Labor and the Working Poor. His book on the PATCO strike,
Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers,
and the Strike that Changed America is forthcoming from
Oxford University Press.
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