When Fairness Turns to Greed: The Gluttony of Public Unions

Things are getting real ugly, real quick.

Public sector union bosses are working overtime to tighten their stranglehold on America’s workforce and economy.

For us in Florida, the public pension time bomb is ticking louder.

For years, politicians have quietly escalated their guarantees for defined benefit pension plans for government employees. This has created one of the central political problems of our time: the luxurious and privileged pensions paid to state and local public employees. Public employees earn lush benefits that are 70% higher than the earnings of private sector employees, and the salaries of public workers are roughly one-third higher. Public workers receive such compensation along with job security, evidenced by the rarity in which government workers are fired or laid off.

The battle started in the 1960s, when the Feds allowed the unionization of the federal work force, which opened the door to unionized public workers and collective bargaining in cities and states.

The public employees’ unions have championed the building of a mammoth public welfare system for government employees. The result is a European-like entitlement state, and a growing inequality that has caused the most privileged class in America to be public union workers. No one argues that public servants deserve adequate retirements. I just don’t want them arrogantly and incessantly and greedily demanding more and more money.

But the real ticking time bomb is the long-term benefit commitments that politicians have provided to public retirees, the Faustian deal they made decades ago with public unions, and the fact that public pension plans are underfunded by $3-4 trillion. This is a $27,000 debt for every American family. One study shows the “typical state employee public pension plan has only a 16% chance of solvency.”

In 2009, Florida’s retirement system assets dropped to 88.5% of its funding obligations. In West Palm Beach alone, firefighter’s pensions rose 72% in 7 years; this year’s contribution to police and fire pensions will be more than $10 million, while property tax collections will be short by $60 million.

By far, government is the most unionized sector in the work force. Public unions reject the idea of pay-for-performance. They have too long looked at taxpayers as The Great Cow, forced to give milk in huge and expanding quantities all its days. But now, the taxpayer cow is left drained and dazed.

Taxpayers don’t like it, rightly so, when they have to pay their public servants more retirement benefits than they receive themselves. The truth is that it’s simple union greed, and it’s abusive. It’s insulting to ask South Florida retirees, who don’t receive substantive increases in their fixed incomes, to pay for increases to public employees.

What’s the solution for Florida and Palm Beach County? Pension reform. These things need to be done:

  • •  Eliminate the existing state retirement defined benefit program for all new employees.
  • •  Replace it with a 401(k) or defined contribution retirement system for public employees.
  • •  Reduce the number of public employees by 10% at a minimum.
  • •  Require all public employees to pay 25% of the cost of their pensions.
  • •  Pass a Florida constitutional amendment to prohibit public employees’ collective bargaining.
  • •  Eliminate pension “spiking”- huge increases in salary just before retirement.
  • •  No more “double-dipping” by government workers – retiring early, then working another full-time government job.

This reform will align the interests of Florida’s citizens with those whose job it is to service them as public employees. The cost of government is mostly employees, and the cost of public employees is way out of line with the public interest.


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John R. Smith


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