HECTOR AMEZCUA / Bee file, 2010

Yvonne Walker, president of SEIU Local 1000, addresses a rally at the state Capitol.

Editorial: State workers face reality, share in painful sacrifices

Published: Sunday, Jul. 1, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 6E
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jul. 4, 2012 - 5:19 pm

Check out the video on the California Correctional Peace Officers Association website, www.ccpoa.org. Historically one of the state's most aggressive public employee unions, CCPOA produced a slick but thoughtful video urging its members to accept the 5 percent pay cut that the governor's furlough deal requires.

Yvonne Walker, president of the 95,000-member Service Employees International Union Local 1000, urged her members to approve the furlough plan. As of Friday, all but two state bargaining units had accepted similar deals.

It has taken them awhile, but the state's public employee unions are facing reality. They have accepted the governor's furlough deal, and agreed to contribute more to their pension plans. They've approved later retirement ages and reduced benefits for new hires. It's a start, but not enough.

California's budget is broken. Even with concessions, government is cutting its workforce and unions are losing members.

Labor is engaging in a serious way at the local level, where pay and benefits have been richer. The Stockton bankruptcy has set off alarm bells. That city laid off 25 percent of its police officers, 30 percent of firefighters and 43 percent of non-safety workers. On top of that, Stockton cut the pay of its remaining workers from 9 percent to 25 percent. Retirees have been told that the city will no longer pay for health care.

Last month the cities of San Diego and San Jose overwhelming voted to trim public employee pensions. Those votes represent an honest sampling of the growing public impatience.

Clearly, some voter resentment is envy.

Private sector workers have lost jobs and endured pay cuts. Very few have guaranteed pensions. In the good times, the unions got greedy and politicians they helped elect lavished pay and benefit hikes that are clearly excessive.

Members of the public are no longer willing to pay for lifelong health care or pensions that allow public workers to earn more in retirement than while working.

Union leaders rail against conservative corporate forces that are out to wreck government and shred the nation's safety net. But there is a demographic change afoot that can't be blamed on the tea party or anti-government reactionaries.

People are living longer. It's a reality that government workers who retire in their early- to mid-50s will collect more retirement checks than paychecks. Governments will have difficulty remaining solvent under such circumstances.

To avoid losing more ground, public employee unions need to embrace the governor's pension reform plan, including the hybrid system. It would give workers a smaller guaranteed pension, as well as a 401(k)-type retirement benefit, plus Social Security.

Unions should go even further than the governor has requested. Approve the hybrid plan not just for new hires, but for existing workers as well. That would give cities, counties and the state the fiscal relief they desperately need. It would also save union jobs and the important public services they provide.

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