Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In defense of public sector salaries and benefits

In some political circles, it's popular to attack teachers and other public employees. We saw it in the last legislative session, when lawmakers sought ways to reduce retirement benefits that seem overly generous in comparison to the desultory performance of private sector workers' 401(k) plans.

It's part of a larger, nationwide assault on public service. To some politicians, the current recession is seen as permission to denigrate the decent salaries and benefits earned by those who made the career decision to serve the public.

As writer Daniel Morris puts it in this New York Daily News article, "Now pundits and politicians across the country are getting in on the action by claiming that public-sector employees must sacrifice more and act like private sector employees who supposedly feel blessed and thankful to get a paycheck, any paycheck."

In what he calls a "new race to the bottom," Morris says that the woes of private sector employees are being used to "stir up rage" at public sector employees and, more specifically, at the unions that have worked to win those salaries and benefits.

The better solution is to ensure private sector employees' rights to the same decent salaries and benefits as those in the public sector. That didn't seem like such a strange concept a generation or two ago. But in an age that offers golden parachutes to top executives and the shaft to everyone else, the idea of basic fairness is sloughed off as quaint or, even worse, socialist.

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