Across U.S., public unions under fire this Labor Day,

Par contre, les Américains ont un avantage que nous n’avons pas, ils peuvent imprimer de l’argent.

Extrait de: Across U.S., public unions under fire this Labor Day, David Shepardson/ Detroit News Washington Bureau, September 05. 2011

Strapped governments put pressure on pay and benefits

Across America on this Labor Day, public employees whose job security once seemed iron-clad are defending their jobs, pay, benefits and bargaining rights.

"This is a tough moment for public employees," said Harley Shaiken, a labor studies professor at the University of California, Berkeley. "The public sector is under unprecedented financial stress. Governors are reluctant to raise revenue, so they are pressing hard and demanding tough concessions."

Il faut comprendre les États et les villes américaines ne peuvent faire des déficits d’opérations, donc quand ils manquent des revenus pour satisfaire les salaires et les conditions des travailleurs du secteur public, ou bien ils augmentent les taxes, licencient ou réduisent les avantages de ceux-ci

Nos provinces n’ont pas la même problématique, ils transfèrent le problème sur la dette, ce qui est tout à fait immoral, car on transporte le problème sur le dos des futures générations, au lieu d’assumer le problème immédiatement.

The struggle between public workers and their employers — school districts and state and local governments — stems from large deficits that piled up when spending exceeded the tax revenue needed to support it.

The stakes are high for both sides: the states and local governments that need to rein in spending, and the public employee unions and their members seeking to preserve collective bargaining and protect pay and benefits.

State and local governments cut more than 200,000 workers from payrolls last year alone, the U.S. Census Bureau reported. Experts say that was the biggest annual reduction in public employment since 1981.

More than a half-million local government jobs have been eliminated in the past three years, and the U.S. Labor Department said Friday that 17,000 government workers lost their jobs in July alone.

And with the economy in neutral, John Lonski, chief economist with Moody's Capital Markets, said the pressure on state and local governments isn't going to let up.

Furthermore, as the public employee unions fight for bargaining rights and pay packages, they'll do it with fewer dues-paying members. The percentage of public employees who were union members fell last year to 36.2 percent — 7.6 million workers — from a decade high of 37.4 percent in 2009.

Still, for the first time, the number of union members in public jobs last year exceeded the number of members in the private sector, where membership has been falling steadily for two decades and now stands at 6.9 percent, or 7.1 million.

In unemployment-wracked Michigan, the number of all workers who belong to a union fell 11.7 percent last year, to the lowest in at least 20 years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 627,000 Michiganians were union members in 2010, down from 710,000 in 2009. Last year's union membership in Michigan was the lowest since the Labor Department began tracking membership by state in 1989.

The shrinking percentage of unionized private sector workers means public employees don't get a lot of sympathy from many citizens.

"In many cases, they see that public employees have health care and they don't," Shaiken said.

Reality check needed

Public employees and the governments and school districts for which they work in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Ohio and elsewhere have clashed over pay, benefits and the right to bargain collectively. In some cases, the unions have gone to court. In others, they've appealed to public opinion, through widely publicized demonstrations such as the thousands who rallied at the Ohio and Wisconsin capitals.

In an annual Gallup Poll released Thursday, support for unions has rebounded to 52 percent from a record low 48 percent in 2009. Still, that's off dramatically from the 1950s, when three-fourths of Americans supported unions and more than a third of all workers were union members.

Even Democrats, who traditionally have counted themselves among labor's friends, have stressed the need for a reality check among public employees.

U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis acknowledged the economic pressure on states, and said unions should be prepared to make concessions. Those concessions, she said, "should be decided at the bargaining table."

"Labor right now in many cases — especially the public sector — has had to make concessions because we have to live within out means," Solis said.

"That's just the way it is, in the time."

Changes spark protests

Nowhere in the debate over public employee unions were emotions more raw than in Wisconsin.

Newly elected Republican Gov. Scott Walker sparked a firestorm and weeks of protests in February, seeking to strip most collective bargaining from most state workers along with $300 million in concessions over two years — in essence an8 percent cut in take-home pay.

Tens of thousands of protesters filled the state Capitol in Madisonfor weeks, 14 Senate Democratsfled the state in an attempt to prevent the bill's passage, and recall campaigns were mounted against Republican lawmakers. Republicans removed fiscal parts of the bill in March and approved it by a majority vote.

Ohio experienced wrenching and angry conflict with its workers, too. Several thousand union members and their supporters protested Gov. John Kasich's plan to strip the state's 350,000 public workers of most bargaining rights.

A statewide referendum is on the measure is planned for November.

Michigan seeks cuts

The conflict between the state of Michigan and its employees has not risen to the levels seen in Ohio or Wisconsin. But Gov. Rick Snyder is pressing Michigan's 35,000 unionized state workers to accept $145 million in concessions to avoid layoffs.

Snyder decided last week not to issue layoff notices at this time, hoping state employee unions will return to the bargaining table to talk about concessions. Administration officials warn, however, that layoff notices — required 30 days before layoffs can be implemented — will be issued if there is no movement toward saving $145 million in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The Michigan Legislature, meanwhile, approved a bill to make public employees in schools and cities pay higher bills for health care coverage, by limiting the taxpayer money that can be spent on health care coverage for teachers or municipal employees. Communities could opt out of the rules under a two-thirds vote of the city council or township board.

The United Auto Workers union, which represents 22,000 state employees in 1,200 work sites across Michigan, said its members are willing to do their share to help. State employees, their unions say, have made $4 billion in concessions over the past decade, and the state work force shrank by at least 25 percent in the past 20 years.

Additional cuts "are not the answer," according to a joint statement issued by the UAW and Service Employees International Union.

"State employees are on the front lines every day, seeing critical opportunities to save money so the state can avoid the cuts that are hurting Michigan's residents and communities," the unions said.

"We are social workers who help families through tough times and keep kids safe, prison guards who protect our communities by keeping dangerous criminals behind bars, 911 operators who send police or firefighters to save us when our lives are in danger and much more."

But a majority of administrators in Michigan communities say unions make it harder for them to keep government books balanced.

Fifty-six percent of local leaders surveyed by the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan said public employee unions are a fiscal liability, compared to 13 percent who said they were an asset.