Saturday, May 22, 2010

Mayor Zimmer Welcomes Governor to Hoboken to Propose Reducing Salary, Benefits, and Pensions for Teachers, City Workers, and First Responders

On May 17, 2010 the Republican Governor of New Jersey came to Hoboken, NJ to give a talk to an invitation only audience concerning his "toolkit" for municipal cost reduction. Full details of the event by can be found by clicking HERE.

Ignoring a recent Rutgers University study proving that private sector employees do substantially better than comparable public sector employees, Governor Christie and Mayor Zimmer continue their attempts to paint teachers, police, fire and municipal workers as having high salary, benefits, and pensions. According to the study, private employees make 11 percent more in wages and 5 percent more in total compensation than public workers. But those facts were not on hand in Hoboken this week as the Governor spoke to a very friendly and invited audience.

In my opinion, the state does have a serious long-term budget problem, which will have to be resolved with a combination of reforms and other measures, probably including a moderate rise in taxes. But we should be very cautious and mindfully critical of those who pretend to be concerned with fiscal responsibility, but whose real goal is to dismantle organized labor, collective bargaining, and the safe guards of these generational efforts. Elected officials like the governor of New Jersey and the mayor of Hoboken are trying to leverage a so called crises in municipalities around the state to frighten people into giving them what the governor and mayor, as well as their political supporters clearly want-- a weakening of long term, hard won advances by the working class in civil service employment (education, police, fire, municipal government).

So, we hear calls for "accountability" for teachers and how willing these politicians are to embrace "merit pay" which NEVER includes how they want to pay "good" teachers MORE but is ALWAYS about how to 1) pay teachers less, 2) eliminate tenure, or 3) transfer money away from public schools. This is consistent with a deregulatory, "free market" perspective. The same thinking that has brought us the housing bubble, the financial sector meltdown, and an energy policy that is currently making itself evident with each passing minute of the BP Gulf oil spill.

I think that the current proposals on Christie and Zimmer's agenda (caps on wage increases, paybacks on benefit packages, opening up contracts, eliminating collective bargaining) are voluntary and reflect the desires of the politicians and of their supporters to pull back on unionized labor more than they represent a principled way out of the economic troubles facing the state. There's no way out of this situation without sacrifice and tough decisions--there is no argument there. But who is doing the sacrifice and who is impacted by the draconian decisions is what this is really about IMHO. To be sure, there is a larger, deregulatory, "free market" perspective that says "break up the monopoly and things will get better"-- that is fine as a political agenda...but the data doesn't seem to support it at any level other than the anecdotal.

Governor Christie and Mayor Zimmer are presenting their approach to permanently eliminating the gains of unions as a disguised plan of addressing a temporary fiscal problem. It should not be confused with being a solution or an answer nor should it be applauded as being either the best way or the only way.

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.
Kurt Vonnegut

Picture: Plain talking New Jersey Governor Christie and a beaming Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer this week in Hoboken.
photo NJ.COM

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