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Tales of the Absurd: Minnesota Public Employee Union Says 'We'll Embrace Change if You Protect Our Jobs"

Leonard Gilroy
March 11, 2010, 12:44pm

Public employee unions must think taxpayers are just plain stupid. If there's anyone out there that still holds the fantasy notion that public employee unions represent unselfish servants of the public interest (hence the term "public servant"), then they should take a gander at this missive released by the Minnesota Council 5 branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

Before reading it, keep in mind that we're coming out of a recession (hopefully), the private sector has been bleeding jobs, state and local governments budgets are reeling, yada yada. And then those of you in the private sector should think about how utterly absurd the notion of going to your boss—at a time of mass downsizing necessary to keep companies alive—and asking for job protection, pay protection AND protections against any layoffs in your department. For most people, that idea is laughable; in fact, many probably feel fortunate to have a job in the first place so they can keep paying the bills.

Now put yourself in the position of being the boss and imagine that your enterprise—let's call it the State of Minnesota—is staring at a $5.8 billion deficit in the near term, with the problem only getting worse. Most people would acknowledge that you cannot possibly address a problem of that scale without streamlining and downsizing. That's what families do when times are tight, and that's what businesses do as well.

So taxpayers should be offended and outraged that AFSCME—the employees of the taxpayer—are telling policymakers that public employees won't embrace change (read: streamlining, downsizing) unless they get job security. Are they out of their minds? They have the audacity to state—out loud, even, where the light of day exposes it for the cynical, self-interested ploy that it is—this utterly Orwellian "principle" of government reorganization:

Give workers job security and they will embrace change.

Seriously, is this supposed to be a joke? Does AFSCME think taxpayers are so stupid to think that assuring public employees they can't get fired would produce anything but the same sort of monopolistic, lethargic and sedentary bureaucracy we already have today, which is bleeding red ink? We're supposed to believe that adding steel reinforcement to their job silos would incentivize them to tear down the silo and rebuild it better? This is doublespeak of a most insidious and cynical variety. 

This all comes about because of a bill in the state legislature (SF 2874) that would reorganize parts of government, while also utterly destroying any realistic possibility of tapping a proven tool (privatization) to drive down the costs of service delivery. The provisions of that bill would apparently prevent any privatization unless several conditions are met, including: (1) privatization would bring cost savings; (2) privatization would bring an equal or higher level of service quality; and (3) the contract "does not violate public employee protection or otherwise reduce the full-time equivalent positions within the department."

The third is the real kicker. AFSCME is essentially demanding that any efficiencies gained through privatization be immediately lost because you'll have to find busy work for those public employees whose functions are no longer necessary. So forget about trying to "right-size" government through privatization. Even if you privatize, the size of your workforce stays the same. So why would you even bother?

Rather than trying to cynically manipulate public policy to cement their monopoly and protect their public jobs while the taxpayers who pay their salaries lose their jobs in the private sector, AFSCME should just be honest and ask for what they really want: higher taxes for everyone so that they can continue to live in a protected employment bubble. They want to live on a fantasy island where they get fat paychecks and pensions, guaranteed for life, unlike the rest of us. And the worst part is that they want taxpayers to continue footing the bill for it. I'd label this an attempt at a sneaky bailout for the public sector, and nothing more.

Hopefully, Minnesota policymakers are not gullible enough to fall for it, like an enabling parent on an episode of Intervention. For supposedly "public servants," AFSCME's taking a position that is clearly hostile to taxpayers, counter to the public interest and a death blow to any hope of downsizing government in a fiscal crisis. Why should public employees be treated any differently than the rest of us? Taxpayers, in the end, are really the "boss" of the public sector. The very notion of "public servant" implies that public employees work for us, right? AFSCME seems to think it's the other way around.

UPDATE: "Give workers job security and they will embrace change" is essentially the opposite of "good enough for government work." Ask yourself which statement jives with the way the real world works.


Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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