A referendum on public employee unions

In what can only be described as an act of monumental political arrogance, Oregon’s public employee unions have cast Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Saxton as “Public Enemy No. 1.” In doing so they have made the 2006 gubernatorial election a referendum on the power of the public employee unions. This is no longer an election pitting Ted Kulongoski against Ron Saxton, this is an election pitting the public employee unions again Ron Saxton and Oregon’s taxpayers. So be it.

First, understand the power of the public employee unions. Each year, the state of Oregon forwards to the public employee unions about $14.5 Million withheld from public employee payroll checks. That means a war chest of $29 Million each election cycle and that is just money collected for the public employee unions by the state. Add to that an equal amount based on the sheer number of county, municipal, and school employees, and the figure becomes nearly $58 Million collected by government and forwarded to the unions to use as they see fit. Granted such amounts must also pay for recruiting, organizing and collective bargaining but since you have to join the public employee unions in order to work for all levels of government, the concept or recruiting and organizing exists in theory but not in reality.

Since the public employee unions are accountable to no one in how they spend their vast sums of money, one can safely assume that the vast majority of it is spend on politics – lobbying, political education, political research, polling, candidate recruitment and training, candidate support or opposition, ballot issue support or opposition – anything where a vote of the people could challenge their political dominance.

When the lobbying reports and campaign contribution reports are finalized and tabulated, the public employee unions are the largest spenders each election cycle. Add to that the army of “volunteers” that the public employee unions marshal each election cycle and you can see that this is THE political machine in Oregon.

So, how about their record of contributions to the improvement of life in Oregon? Art Towers, the political director for SEIU, states, “With Saxton as governor, it’s just going to be much more difficult for our members to provide the services the public relies upon.” It’s hard to tell whether that is a threat to withhold services if Saxton is elected, or just arrogance that the union really controls what services are provided. The public employee unions’ record of achievements is short and self-centered.

The public employee unions have brought us PERS which allows public employees to retire at age 55 with a taxpayer funded pension in excess of what they were earning while working. The net effect of that is to encourage public employees to retire early, and force the taxpayers to not only fund their exorbitant pensions but to also fund the replacement salary of the person who is hired to do their work. The PERS problem is so great that it was tagged at $13.5 Billion at the beginning of the 2003 legislative session. Today, state and local government units are paying an approximate 20% surcharge to fund this outrageous system. It’s hard to forget the picture of the laughing, partying recent retirees carried in the state’s newspapers.

Oregon’s public education system is in shambles. It is dominated by the public employee unions. Salaries, benefits, and work rules are dictated by the public employee unions. Oregon continues to pay more than the national average on a per capita student for K-12 education, and far more than neighboring states such as Washington, Idaho, Utah, Nevada and Arizona. Yet it’s academic performance is mediocre at best based on national averages. Oregon has one of the highest drop out rates in the nation.

The public employee unions are staunch opponents of educational accountability and teachers merit pay. They are routinely in the vanguard to support higher taxes in order to increase the amount of money available to an inefficient educational system. To be sure, the public employee unions have two goals – increase the number of public employees hired and increase the pay and benefits of those employees without limits. As they achieve those goals they have more money to spend on political dominance. The public employee unions view government as their open checkbook.

In contrast, Ron Saxton, states simply and correctly, “My goal isn’t to run government so the bureaucracy is all happy. My goal is to run it so it meets the needs of the citizens.” And what about Ted Kulongoski? Well, in true pandering fashion, he has promised to spend more money and to veto any attempts to reform the abusive PERS system.

Maybe it is time to find out whether Oregonians want to run government for the benefit of the public employee unions or for the benefit of the citizens

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Posted by at 08:19 | Posted in Measure 37 | 11 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Anon

    As if all of this isn’t bad enough the public employee unions have their own training center named the Labor Education Research Center (LERC). And how is it funded?…you guessed it taxpayer dollars…it’s based out of the University of Oregon. If you don’t believe it go to U of O’s website.

  • Dave A.

    Hopefully, those who question the costs of government in Oregon will vote for their own economic interests this election cycle.
    Needless to say, we can expect the public piggie unions to tell us what a great guy our current “DO NOTHING” Governor really is. Of course, if you ask most people what he’s done during the past 4 years they will draw a blank.
    Also, the education lobby will be pushing for mandatory pre-K classes for all. Just another cost to dump on the taxpayer. Maybe the OEA should be put on the defensive by demanding they answer why so many high school students in Oregon fail to graduate. Needless to say, it has nothing to do with pre-school classes.

  • Don

    first, i’m a republican, and have always voted republican. i’m also a public employee

    pers was started in the 1950’s. so don’t blame the public employees of today for an agreement that started back then. i’m a public employee, i work my ass off. and in return i get a public that hates me, blames me for things other branches of government do, sees it as thier right to yell and cuss at me because ‘they pay my salary and i work for them’ and treat me with no respect. no one else in any other job would put up with that or think that kind of behavior is ok. we have a good retirement. i am tier 2, so i have no guaranteed 8% return. pers was again changed in 2004, so it doesn’t exist anymore. we now have individual accounts similar to 401K’s.

    when i first got hired, i opted out of paying political dues. the money i paid was solely for bargaining, aministration, and for the union hall, respresentation of members in disputes etc.

    union members are tax payers too. they also have a right to put money THEY earn into what ever they want to, even politics. i don’t agree with half of what my union believes in, but i do believe in the other half. and we have a right to get our point across just like everyone else has a right. there are groups out there like the Oregon Taxpayers, or whatever thier name is. they are the same type of organization as a union PAC. they have an agenda and want it to be heard. they have dues paying members etc. because we pay for ourselves, we have every right to use that money as we see fit – we need not be accountable for the expenditures to anyone but ourselves since it’s *our* money that *we* earned.

    public employees do many of the jobs most of you wouldn’t even consider – working with criminals, working with the sick and the poor, working in jobs that are inherently highly confrontational, jobs that put our lives at risk, we baby sit the publics children in the schools and have jobs that are HIGHLY scruitinized. we get paid less than the typical counterpart in the private industry. we get treated poorly by the public. and partially because of those things, we get good benefits. we don’t get stock options, we don’t get any kind of incentive pay (and if we did the tax payers would yell that we’re government and shouldn’t have incentive pay, and yet many speak out of the other side of thier mouths and say they SHOULD get incentive pay – such as teachers). on the whole, it’s a fair trade off. unless you’ve been a public employee, you don’t know what it’s like and really have no place to criticize. there are in fact lazy workers. but there are many many more who work very hard – far outnumbering the ones that stand out in people’s minds. everyone loves to complain about a bad experience, but it’s RARE for anyone to give accolades to those that serve well and do their job well. just like when you go to a home depot you don’t tend to find a manager and say, you know, scott answered all my questions and showed me where the product was with a smile. no, you only go to the manager when you feel like you’ve been treated poorly.

    as far as schools go. how can you hold teachers accountable if thier students don’t want to learn? you can’t force kids to have a good home life that takes all thier stress away except for academic excellence. when students live in environments where they are abused, molested, fear violence or drugs outside thier house, can’t sleep because of yelling parents, or have a mom or dad that tells theym they are worthless – just getting through life alive is more important than getting a B. again, there are bad teachers. but there are tons of good ones too that work with what they have. they have to babysit kids, many of whom have NO attention spans, NO respect for authority etc, and have thier hands tied with disciplining them or kicking them out of the classroom so the other kids have a better learning environment. kids performance has more to do with thier life outside of school (in my opinion) than in it.

    since saxton is actually fairly moderate and the same as Big K in so many issues. you can bet that i’ll vote for Kulengiski over Saxton. i like my job, and i don’t want to be fired just because i work for the public and so he can take away accrued vacation, accrued sick leave, and gut my pension. he made a lot of enemies when he made it known he wants to fire all public employees, and refused to even extend a hand to the public employees union. what kind of message does that send? it says, i hate you, and i won’t deal with you in an honorable and fair way. i’m actually pretty conservative, but i can’t possible vote for saxton. and i know i’m not the only republican public employee who feels that way.

    • richard of portland


      BULL &^%$.

      Don not play the “I am a republican” game on me. All you are about is sucking at the teat of big Government.
      If you think you are so important come off your soapbox and work in the private sector like the rest of us and prove how good your are.
      The problem with public employees unions is they become corrupt with power. To be the public employees unions engage in a disturbing conflict of interest by allowing public employee unions to game government policy it order to bring in more power and tax dollars. It is also in their interest to oppose sensible tax, education and government reforms. Worst of all is because of their position in government I am forced to support them with my tax dollars and they can effect legislation to impend free market competition reforms to government as in the case of education. Unlike private sector unions I can chose non-union alternatives. I can dump my Ford and by a Toyota.

      • don

        um, richard, what ‘game’ is it that you’re talking about? i’m not sure where you or anyone else that has the same sentiments gets thier thinking. you talk as if public employees aren’t real people, but rather robots involved in some conspiracy. while performing my duties, how on earth do you think i’m trying to come up with some way to get more funding or kickback into my pocket? how is that even possible? my salary is very structured, i don’t get bribes or kickbacks, i don’t think up extravigent programs to start….. i have enough difficulty keeping up with the workload in front of me. i don’t have time to try and come up with some scheme to get money from anyone.

        what soapbox am i on that i should come down from? remember, line workers are NOT the elected officials who direct and manage departments. we perform the same duties no matter who is in office, and in the same way (at least we do). what power do i have that corrupts me? think about it. how does the clerk at records have any power? all they do is accept documents to record. how does the building inspector line his pocket? he’s too busy driving all over hells half acre trying to inspect the work being done and making sure it’s safe. how does the social worker demand power from the tax payer? i guess i don’t see your point. public employee unions are no different than any special interest group. they all are made up of PEOPLE and all the personal faults that come with them – just like oregon right to life, 1000 friends of oregon, the timber companies etc.

        how does it better my job or help me perform my duties to oppose sensible reform? i’m all for it! i want my job to be more efficient and easier! not more difficult! remember, we’re people too, and we want things to be easier, not more difficult.

        where did you get the idea i said i was so important? that’s not in there. please don’t project your personal prejudice of public employees on me. i’ve not said i’m more important, nor have i acted like it. at some point i will go to the private sector and be a consultant. but not yet. but let’s think about what you said. if every public employee left thier post to take the same job in the private sector, who would run the government? and when someone takes thier place, are you going to hate them just as much because they are the ‘government?” it seems to me that you’ll hate and despise ANYONE who works for the government, even your friends because you don’t see them as indiviual people. you seem them as The Man who is a collective and the basis for all your problems. remember, different departments have different responsibilities. don’t yell at the finance department for that speed bump put on your road. don’t tell at the plans examiner for your higher than expected property tax.

        i don’t see how you’re supporting us with your tax dollars. we use our salary the way we see fit. just as you do. unless you’re actually saying that since tax dollars pay for our salaries, you should be able to direct us in how we spend it. is it ok if i buy a car? a porn? a ciggarette? a house? a candy bar? a bible? do you get to tell me what charities i donate to? no to all of these above.

        you know, perhaps you should work for the government and see what it’s like on this side. put yourself in our shoes, take the abuse we take, and feel the seething hatred and anger we feel on a daily basis. maybe even have your life threatened like one of my collegues. it’s no fun when your employee has to get a restraining order on someone to protect you while at work.

        remember, we’re not robots, we’re not machines. we’re people who do our job. it’s rediculous to think we conive and scheme on how we can bilk money from tax payers (we pay plenty of taxes too!) and line the pockets of… i don’t even know! we don’t get any of the money.

        and honestly, if you’re so upset with your local government, you may not be able to dump the stock, but you certainly can move. whether its to a new city, new county, and in our case you can even go across the river to a new state.

  • Scott R

    The public employee union (like other unions) is nothing more than legalized extortion. Public employees should be paid a market wage (although it may be difficult–but not impossible–to determine what that means), and their offices and divisions should not be overstaffed. Period. Any compensation higher than than market, or hiring of people that is unjustified from a cost/benefit analysis, is pure THEFT.

    If the true market wage for Don’s position is higher than he is currently receiving, then he should get a raise. No question. Similarly, if he is doing the work of two people, another person should be hired.

    On the other hand, if Don is being overcompensated (relative to the market), his pay should be cut and the savings put back in the budgeting pot for the benefit of all Oregonians. Or if the benefits of his position do not exceed the costs, he should be fired. Simple.

    That’s the analysis I expect Saxton will undertake.

    Public employees who are (a) not overpaid relative to market and (b) fully-occupied and productive have nothing to fear.

  • don

    i can assure you i have more than enough to do. even though the economy has seen a huge upswing (what was it, 16 straight quarters of growth?), and tax revenues have increased, our department has been squeezed. 5 years ago we had three administrative assistents. now, we have two. however one is working half time for another department, the other is working quarter time for yet another department. both fill in when an admin from yet another department is gone. in essence we’ve lost 1.75 positions. we need them to function and meet our statutory deadlines. and we struggle. BIG. as far as my position goes, one guy is retiring in 3 months after working 25 years. we’re losing one position to attrition because of that. however, our work loads have gone up roughly 40% over the last two years – and before the loss of the one position due to attrition. we’re so loaded with cases that we’re starting to nearly miss our timeline deadlines – and in some cases we do. and yet, our customers are pressuring us to get our work out quicker… which we can’t. so we get yelled at by them. it’s really a no win situation. and it will just get worse with the retirement.

    i’m all for not having waste. and yes, i’ve seen some terrible waste. but i can assure you that those in my small department work hard. and sadly, many have worked undocumented and uncompensated overtime to get thier work done and meet deadlines. which is against the law. but they’ve felt they’ve had to in order to do thier job and not get disciplined. they have good work ethics… but everyone seems to think that because we’re the government, we’re lazy, and don’t care about our applicants. but we work hard, we try to find solutions to problems, and we try to advise customers the best we can.

    i highly doubt saxton would ever give public employees a raise after doing an analysis. even ted k froze wages to keep the budget from growing. the problem with many positions in my line of work is that they are highly technical, so the private equivilent is much higher, and the public would not want to pay us market rate. so we’re not paid market rate, but our benefits, stability and security help make up for that difference.

    i used to be very anti union. but one thing i’ve found is that the union requires fairness in the work place. all workers are treated the same. treatment is the same… in other words managers can’t discipline workers differently and give preferential treatment to others. there is always due process to grievances. and those are things everyone should be afforded. but without the union, people could be treated very differently and unfairly. and for that, i’m VERY grateful to the union.

    • Don, have you ever worked in the private sector? Do you think that it is a sea of plenty? The private sector is much more focused on cost than the public sector. There is no company focused on making profits that has a never-ending increase in funding like the government services. The soapbox we are referring to is that of “woe as me, my job sucks because we are understaffed and people yell at me.”
      1. Jobs suck regardless of the employer – the difference is that you get a kickass retirement package whereas the employees in the private sector are stuck with crap.
      2. Every employer that cares about profits is understaffed because labor cots eliminate profit. A business that can be as productive with a limited staff is much more ideal than a full staff.
      3. Those people that yell at you don’t stop there – they go to everywhere and yell at other people. Through college I worked at Blockbuster and Subway, guess what? They come in and are just as angry dealing with employees there. Any customer service job has its fair share of crappy experiences with customers, so get over your bad experiences and enjoy your job…or quit.
      4. Employees should not be treated the same – More productive employees should receive greater benefits than those that do not produce at a high level. That’s why unions devastate businesses; they base their analysis of employees upon seniority. Evaluating employees upon seniority means that talent does not play a factor in determining schedules, allocation of labor costs, and benefits.
      5. Public Employees should leave their job – Privatize everything. If the public services can be contracted out at a lower cost, then do it. Allow the government to keep the power over the personal information, but the day-to-day work can probably be done cheaper by a company that cares about efficiency.

      • KW

        Don isn’t saying, “woe as me, my job sucks because we are understaffed and people yell at me.” He’s (indirectly) telling you why we keep losing elections. Comes down to one thing: intellectual laziness.

        Union MEMBERS should be rock solid Republicans. The Democrats and the union bosses scratch each others back to the detriment of taxpayers and union line workers. Nobody wants to think things through. It’s a lot easier to just demonize hard working people like Don.

        Government work tends to cost more and produce less than the private sector AND their employees make less. Do you really think that was Don’s idea? Do you really think the rank and file support that? That’s retarded. We Republicans have two options. 1) Figure out WHY it costs more to get less. We can start fixing the problem and split the savings between the workers and the taxpayers. EVERYONE wins — the workers make more money and our taxes are lower. But that is hard. It’s much easier to take option 2) a blind, knee-jerk “All things touched by government are bad and I’m so conservative I don’t even have to think about it” approach.

        Meanwhile, thousands of workers like Don who want the same things from government that the average Oregon Catalyst reader wants are ostracized and told that they are the enemy of Republicans. Gee, I wonder why they keep voting D?

      • Irony Lizard

        Am I the only one amused that a student at Portland *STATE* University is advocating that “Public Employees should leave their job – Privatize everything?”

  • MaxRedline

    Granted such amounts must also pay for recruiting, organizing and collective bargaining but since you have to join the public employee unions in order to work for all levels of government, the concept or recruiting and organizing exists in theory but not in reality.

    It’s refreshing to read something from somebody who actually gets it.

    Union employees have no choice – which in a country that values freedom, I’ve always found curious.

    In order to work in a unionized environment, employees are required to “join” the union. Dues will be deducted from their paychecks, and the “brothers and sisters” have no voice in terms of how that money is spent.

    You can ask for money used to support political activities with which you disagree to be returned to you – but it won’t be. You won’t even receive acknowledgement of your concerns.

    The problem is not the people working in the unions – the problem is the union thugs who control the money that is extorted from the employees.

    Union “membership” is nothing more than state-sanctioned extortion. They are permitted to take hundreds of dollars each year from each employee; obligated to give little or nothing in return.

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