Another View: Public workers are being scapegoated

Duane Campbell
Duane Campbell

Steven Eide supports a proposed statewide ballot initiative that seeks to pit 2.4 million government workers against 16.5 million members of California’s private-sector labor force in a bid to sidestep facts and tap the politics of resentment against the public-sector workforce (“Pension reform has momentum,” Viewpoints, Aug. 14).

These critics have targeted government retirements as a cause of fiscal crisis, and demand pay and pensions changes, which would make financial firms billions as they charge management fees to future public retirees pushed into 401(k) plans.

Eide and his ilk imply that this minority of government employees is the “other,” a threat to the majority experiencing instability. Too many private-sector employers have deprived their workers of what public-sector employees have – stable pay and pensions. Such scapegoating has a notorious history in California and the U.S.

A recent example was former Gov. Pete Wilson’s Proposition 187, passed by two-thirds of the state’s voters in 1994. It banned more than 600,000 immigrants from receiving needed food stamps and medical care. The major parts of the proposition became national law in 1996.

After the Great Recession, public-sector workers – thanks to tea party rhetoric and some Democratic Party compliance – are scapegoats for government budget problems. This absolves the big banks and credit agencies of accountability and culpability in the housing and financial crash.

The proposed pension ballot measure would deprive current and future workers of the money they worked for, and invalidate contractual and fiduciary agreements. If private corporations tried this, victims could sue for wage theft. Still, some advocates want to impose austerity and reduce taxpayer spending on people and public services, including government workers. We see how that worked out in Greece, causing harm to the economy and people.

Consider the sanctity of debt when large banks and insurers ran short of cash. They got taxpayers to rescue them.

Public budgets that run short of funds get no such slack. The solution is to cut, cut and cut away pay and pensions from firefighters, nurses, police and teachers.

Duane Campbell is professor emeritus of bilingual multicultural education at California State University and a union activist. Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild.