and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
August 2003 #2

Somebody has to pay bill for union 'entitlements'

by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, August 8, 2003

I have a job and I'm grateful, because a lot of people have been laid off during the latest recession.

Haven't had a pay raise in several years, but that's because my organization has to solicit its own money from people who choose to contribute, and it's a constant struggle just to keep going. Even when there's a good year, I tend to resist raises until the guys I work with insist that we all get a little more. Then, irrationally, I feel I should put in a few more hours a week.

Guess I was born without a sense of entitlement.

It must be a wonderful feeling that, merely by virtue of being born, one has a right to a job, to good pay, to cheap health care and other benefits. Maybe if I join a union I could get that feeling.

The Verizon strike threat amazes me. According to newspaper accounts, the employees are demanding job security. What the heck is job security? What if we all learn to communicate over distances with mental telepathy; will they still be entitled to a phone company job?

They want great health care at little or no cost to themselves. While my organization has found it makes sense to put money into benefits instead of pay raises, to save both the company and the employees additional taxes, we expect to pay deductibles and co-pays to keep the premiums affordable.

To be fair, I read that one of the employee gripes is that they are forced to work regular overtime because Verizon finds it cheaper to pay time and a half than hire more help. I can see making people stay on in an emergency, but couldn't this be abused to the point that no one ever goes home to his or her family?

On the subject of management, why do CEOs who have presided over a company's decline into bankruptcy get golden parachutes? Have you ever heard any explanation of this that makes sense?

I grew up with a respect for business, for the people who provide jobs. But the Enron scandal, and others like it, made me adjust my automatic pro-business attitude. How can some CEOs take giant salaries and live like consumer hogs, while dropping their employees' health insurance - sometimes without warning of any kind?

Most people must be appalled by this greed, this lack of responsibility, and of course, this sense of entitlement. Unions were first formed to address abuses of working people, and then, inevitably I suppose, began to feel a sense of entitlement themselves.

Here's a new one: It seems some state unions are using taxpayer-funded payroll management systems, buildings and employees to collect contributions for political campaigns from their members. If union members agree, the state regularly withholds an amount from their paychecks and sends it to the unions, who use it to support pro-union candidates and issues. This week unions are running radio ads advocating higher taxes.

The Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) originally said no to the payroll concept, then allowed it when the practice was negotiated in collective bargaining.

I don't get it. If something is against the law, what difference does it make it there's a union contract involved?

Gov. Mitt Romney has filed an objection to this practice with OCPF. In his letter to that agency, he cites the law that prohibits state employees from directly soliciting or receiving anything of value for any political purpose, which includes fund-raising activity on behalf of a union political action committee. It also prohibits anyone from soliciting political contributions in a building occupied for state, county or municipal purposes.

Romney also refers to a 1978 court ruling on the subject. Many people think I am the person who brought that lawsuit and I don't mind; Anderson v. the City of Boston has a nice ring to it. But, in fact, it was the business community that went to court to object to Mayor Kevin White's use of taxpayer money to promote the 1978 ballot question, which amended the state Constitution allowing different property tax rates for residential, commercial and industrial property.

Voters, panicked by the state's high, pre-Proposition 2 property taxes and fearing the coming revaluations, passed the constitutional amendment, and communities can now choose to tax business property at a higher rate than residential units. But Anderson won the court case and it is the basis of all taxpayer challenges to government officials who use taxpayer dollars to support Prop 2 overrides or fight tax-cut ballot initiatives. OCPF is pretty good at responding to citizen complaints on these abuses.

However, OCPF is wrong in this union ruling, and Citizens for Limited Taxation (CLT) has also sent an objection. But if we and the governor are overruled, then CLT wants a piece of the action, too. Like the unions, we want a check-off for state employees, all of whom are taxpayers, to contribute to us. Then we can run radio ads opposing tax hikes.

If the unions are entitled to this taxpayer-funded privilege, then by gosh, I think I'm entitled, too.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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