Whining and sniveling are not exclusive to public employees in Wisconsin.
Sunday, February 27, 2011 - Page updated at 01:00 p.m.More:
By Andrew Garber
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA — Washington state isn't Wisconsin, where a fight over Republican efforts to curtail union collective-bargaining rights has effectively paralyzed the state Legislature.
But as debate over government workers' wages and benefits erupts across the country, some lawmakers here are questioning whether state employees have given enough to help balance the state budget.
The Washington State Legislature, faced with multibillion-dollar budget shortfalls, already has cut the pay of certain general government workers through furloughs and increased health-care costs.
There's been little talk of a widespread rollback of collective-bargaining rights for public employees, as is being debated in Wisconsin. But Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed additional salary and benefit cuts during the next two years.
State Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, Clark County, argues even more needs to be done to reduce state worker costs, either by lowering wages and benefits, or cutting the size of the general government work force.
Workers at private companies "have had a much more difficult time than those in state government," said Zarelli, the ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
State Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, who is also on Ways and Means, agrees. "We can't have a world where public employees are the haves and the taxpayers are the have-nots," Tom said.
Union workers, for their part, say they're being blamed for a budget crisis that's not their fault.
"I'm struggling," said Barb Hangartner, a single, 55-year-old office assistant at the Department of Corrections, who's already had seven furlough days and made about $29,000 last year. "I'm not asking for the moon. But when you see gas prices going up and your salary going down, I don't know how I'm going to make it."
There are roughly 59,000 full-time equivalent positions in general state government, based on a seven-month average for this fiscal year. About three-quarters of the workers are represented by unions. They are the folks who guard prisoners, collect taxes, issue licenses and perform myriad other services. Their pay and benefits totaled about $2.8 billion in fiscal 2010, or about 18 percent of the budget.
It's going to be easy for the media to find whiners like Barb, above. But there's a very simple solution for any state employee who thinks they're not paid enough:
We're long past the days where the people can dance to the bizarre and unrealistic tune of the public employee unions demands. Now is the time for action by the legislature to enact the cuts required.
Public employees are no more important than the woman working behind the counter at the AM/PM... many of whom would LOVE to make the $29,000 Barb is whining about... since she, like so many other public service employees, were seemingly completely unaware of what they were going to be paid when they took the job.
So, Barb... by all means, quit. There will literally be hundreds who apply for your job and who can, and will, do it for much less money and many fewer benefits than you.
You see, this is an employer's market. And we, the People, are your employers. And the sooner you... and your unions... figure that out, the better.