Bloomberg: U.S. Governors Confront Public Sector Unions

Excerpt from today’s Bloomberg.com, "Public-Worker Unions Confront U.S. Governors Over Benefits in Role Switch":

Pension Rollback

In New Jersey, with a projected $54 billion gap between assets in its pension and payments promised retirees, Republican Governor Chris Christie wants to roll back a 9 percent benefits increase enacted in 2001 and raise the retirement age to 65 from 62.

“Benefits are too rich and contributions are too small,” Christie said in his Jan. 11 State of the State speech. “The system is on a path to bankruptcy.”

Christie, 48, has also clashed with teachers. He’s sought to cap school-superintendent pay and wants salaries and tenure linked to student performance. The governor’s chiding of a teacher about union unwillingness to accept a one-year pay freeze became a popular Internet video.

In New York, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, 53, with a $10 billion projected budget gap, has called for a one-year state-wage freeze and is mobilizing business for a media campaign supporting his agenda. California’s Brown, 72, confronting a $25.4 billion deficit over the next 18 months, wants to cut employment costs by as much as 10 percent in part with the unpaid days off.

Bargaining Rights

The strongest challenges to unions come from newly elected Republicans such as Wisconsin’s Walker, 43, and Ohio’s Kasich, 58. They were part of a November election wave that now puts their party in control of 25 legislatures and 29 governorships. In addition to proposals to cut wages and benefits, both are seeking to curb workers’ collective-bargaining rights.

“The scope of these attacks is unprecedented,” said Naomi Walker, the Washington-based director of state-government relations at the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest union organization.

While labor unions haven’t said they will withhold campaign money from Democratic candidates who have been traditional allies, actions such as those of Brown and Cuomo could temper the enthusiasm of union voters, Walker said.

“These things will certainly impact whether working families get involved in their political campaigns,” she said.

Unions should use teachers, firefighters and active-duty police as spokesmen so there is “a sympathetic face attached to the issue,” said Chris Lehane, a California-based Democratic strategist who worked on the 2000 Al Gore presidential campaign.

Read the entire piece here.