Wednesday, June 28, 2006


One of the most consistently radical unions in America is the United Electrical Workers, which left the CIO over 50 years ago in a McCarthy-era dispute.The United Electrical Workers has long taken the position that no union leader should be paid more than the highest paid worker. The result of this principled position is the vast majority of their union leaders leave to take jobs elsewhere and the union leadership experiences gained with the United Electrical Workers are ultimately applied to the benefit of other unions (and sometimes corporations) which pay considerably higher salaries.The argument that salaries of public sector workers can never be raised because others are suffering is so widespread that public sector unionism has become nearly universal in an age in which private sector unionism is down to 8% of the total. The only reason that the federal government does not have collective bargaining for its workers is that Congress passed a law against it.It is not the low income workers who pay the vast majority of taxes. Pennsylvania exempts low income people from the state income tax, and thanks to legislation pushed through by my father, Councilman David Cohen, the City of Philadelphia will do likewise after the Street Administration ends.Next to the public sector, the largest concentration of union workers is now in the non-profit sector, where the same arguments are raised against higher salaries as in the public sector. Community Legal Services, the United Way, and many other non-profits have unionized professional and non-professional employees because those who devote their lives to improving the welfare of those who need help most are victimized by appeals that they can't in good conscience get salaries at or near their market value as long as others are suffering.It is the goal of right-wing business leaders to drive down the income of the middle class in the direction of the income of the poor. That should not be the goal of progressives.It is the goal of right-wing business to dumb down the public sector by depriving it of experienced leaders. That should not be the goal of progressives either.Those who believe that the Medicaid cuts should be restored should organize on that basis. Conflating Medicaid cut restoration--a $250,000,000 cost--with salary increases for legislators, judges, and district attorneys--a $5,000,000 cost--is a diversion from solving the underlying problems affecting low income people.

July 5, 2005


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