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Public employees arent the problem

The argument that public employees are the elite of the workforce is bogus.

The showdown in Wisconsin has put public employee unions on the hot seat.

Many feel the pendulum has swung away from public sector employees' screams of the unfairness of it all to the GOP and Tea Party blood lust to cut the public sector to the bone.

It's amazing how soon we forget who drove us into the ditch.

Public employees were the heroes of 9/11 - police and firemen were first responders.

Teachers do their best for our kids, public health nurses help those in need, librarians provide a safe place for people to read, recreation staff make our pools and parks fun places and public works staff go out in bad weather to make sure we have power.

So let's quit vilifying public employees. Wall Street goons and political hacks created this mess, not city planners, road crews and myriad other public employees who serve the community at the city, county, regional and state level. If you want to clean house, start the spring cleaning on Wall Street, not State Street.

Joni Balter of the Seattle Times commented in her Feb. 23, column that 'Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker goes too far in trying to dramatically weaken collective bargaining. Certainly, public-employee unions have to give a lot to help the states with their huge budget shortfall. But the Wisconsin governor stepped over the line.'

It's also worth noting that many public employees are African-American and Latino. The focus on a mostly white teacher corps skews our picture of who is being asked to sacrifice. At night when the teachers and students have left their schools or other public buildings, who cleans up for the next day?

The calls for sacrifice have a slightly racist tone to them along with a sexist tinge since so many women are public employees at below management level - teachers, social workers, data input staff, public health nurses and service workers. Many union members have working spouses in the private sector who have been hammered, too.

In Oregon, public employees are more likely than their private sector counterparts to have been forced since the 1980s to give up salary increases on the condition that their pension and health care benefits would remain in force. They've been taking de facto pay cuts through the roaring '90s and before.

OK, it's a tough economy. Paying a share of health care premiums and pension benefits is reasonable. But the argument that public employees are the elite of the work force is bogus. Workers across the board should demand that high-income people and corporations sacrifice too. Instead we give them tax breaks while the American Dream slips away for the remnants of the middle class.

The middle class is now engaged in an intra-class war for the leftovers instead of demanding the top 1 percent of wealth holders pony up more in federal and state taxes after benefitting from decades of loopholes and tax shelters. Don't buy the party line of the government haters out there. Government workers aren't the problem.

Grover Norquist, the Darth Vader of the anti-government movement, wants to shrink government to the size that it can be drowned in a bathtub. In Norquist's America, who will answer the fire alarm, go out in a snowstorm to fix a power line or get you to the ER in the nick of time?

Yes, some public employees don't measure up and should be given the boot. But we all know there are drones in the private sector too. How many of you have been the recipient of 'customer no service?' In the public sector you can complain to the boss - a city manager or a mayor. Good luck in reaching the CEO of a Fortune 500 company!

Instead of 'welfare for the rich' we need the well-connected to pay their fair share. In Oregon many transnational corporations don't pay a dime of state income taxes while they get millions to attract them here or beg them to stay. If you come here you owe an obligation to give back to the community in the old fashioned way - taxes!

Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winning economist writing for Slate.com on Jan. 3, summed up the problem:

'It has become fashionable among politicians to preach the virtues of pain and suffering, no doubt because those bearing the brunt of it are those with little voice - the poor and future generations. To get the economy going, some people will, in fact, have to bear some pain. But the increasingly skewed income distribution gives clear guidance as to whom this should be:

Approximately a quarter of all income in the United States now goes to the top 1 percent, while most Americans' income is lower today than it was a dozen years ago.

Simply put, most Americans didn't share in what many called the Great Moderation, but was really the Mother of All Bubbles. So, should innocent victims and those who gained nothing from fake prosperity really be made to pay even more?'

- Russ Dondero is Professor Emeritus, Department of Politics and Government, Pacific University. Read his blogs at russdondero.squarespace.com.