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Michael Bloomberg: Make New Deal, Not War, With Unions

Feb 28, 2011

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Frank James

New York City's Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who made billions as an entrepreneur, has presumably forgotten more about how to run large institutions, whether a business or government, than most politicians will ever learn.

So his views on the relative merits of the warring sides in the fight between government officials and public sector unions are worth paying attention to.

In a New York Times op-ed piece, he urges Republican policymakers not to use present fiscal crises to attack unions while he suggests that organized labor let go of contract provisions that perhaps made sense in an earlier era but not now.

An excerpt:

Across the country, taxpayers are providing pensions, benefits and job security protections for public workers that almost no one in the private sector enjoys. Taxpayers simply cannot afford to continue paying these costs, which are growing at rates far outpacing inflation. Yes, public sector workers need a secure retirement. And yes, taxpayers need top-quality police officers, teachers and firefighters. It's the job of government to balance those competing needs. But for a variety of reasons, the scale has been increasingly tipping away from taxpayers.

Correcting this imbalance is not easy, but in a growing number of states, budget deficits are being used to justify efforts to scale back not only labor costs, but labor rights. The impulse is understandable; public sector unions all too often stand in the way of reform. But unions also play a vital role in protecting against abuses in the workplace, and in my experience they are integral to training, deploying and managing a professional work force.

Organizing around a common interest is a fundamental part of democracy. We should no more try to take away the right of individuals to collectively bargain than we should try to take away the right to a secret ballot. Instead, we should work to modernize government's relationship with unions — and union leaders should be farsighted enough to cooperate, because the only way to protect the long-term integrity of employee benefits is to ensure the public's long-term ability to fund them. In Wisconsin, efforts to rein in spending on labor contracts have included proposals to strip unions of their right to collectively bargain for pensions and health care benefits...

... Rather than declare war on unions, we should demand a new deal with them — one that reflects today's economic realities and workplace conditions, not those of a century ago. If we fail to do that, the fault is not in our unions, or in our stars, but in ourselves.

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