Fourth, most unions are willing to help financially strapped local and state governments; they just think it should be through discussions, not demands for unilateral givebacks.
As for purported compensation gaps between the public and private sectors, it’s striking that most of the reports overlook the fact that public employees typically carry out highly defined tasks; the government sector is replete with scientists, doctors, lawyers and public safety personnel. Taxpayers aren’t funding many fast-food restaurants or yard-work firms.
And studies purporting to compare pay for comparable work raise more questions than they answer. Precisely what jobs in private industry equate to those of a cop, firefighter or NASA geologist? Even when direct comparisons are possible, the reports generally ignore training, education and skill levels.
None of this means public-sector unions shouldn’t be more forthcoming in terms of employee accountability for job performance, or in telling taxpayers that they understand economic realities and will explore contractual changes. But it does mean we should put the situation in perspective — and forgo the ideological fireworks.
• Philip Dine, author of “State of the Unions: How Labor Can Strengthen the Middle Class, Improve Our Economy, and Regain Political Influence,” is a Washington-based journalist and a frequent speaker on labor issues.
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