The media have repeatedly targeted public employees by suggesting that the public dislikes their supposed generous pay and benefits. However, polls reveal that many in the public believe that public employees do not receive too much compensation and, in any event, believe state employees should not have their collective bargaining rights taken away.
Media Target Public Employees By Suggesting Their Compensation Be Cut
Huckabee Suggests Cutting Public Employee Compensation To Balance Budget. From the February 18 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
COTTER (guest-host): You know, one of the things I am trying to do is get to between bottom of the fact as to whether Governor Walker gave the union ample opportunity to bargain collectively before dropping this bill on them, because all I am hearing is, oh, Friday, this bill was dropped on us out of nowhere.
I can't imagine it was out of nowhere.
HUCKABEE: Well, first of all, I don't know if it was or not, but you still can't justify their actions of essentially doing something that is illegal, which it is, in public employees to strike.
And that is all what we have here. If they are really serious about it, then the Democrats, instead of running off to Illinois or God knows where, they ought to sit down with the governor and say, now, Governor, come on, let`s figure out what we can do to balance the budget and to meet the needs.
But I think, when people start looking at the numbers, they know that the public sector employees are being paid significantly better than their private sector counterparts. And if you're a taxpayer and you're barely hanging on to your job, and you're making concessions, it's really tough to be asked to pay more money so that the people in the public sector get even more, and they`re already getting more. [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 2/18/11, via Nexis]
Beck Attacks Well-Paid Union Members For "Mak[ing] It All About The Working Man." During the February 22 edition of his Fox News show, Glenn Beck said of the Wisconsin protesters, "They're angry because the benefits that they have still far exceed the average worker in the private sector":
BECK: All right. Let me tell you something. Come over here. There's so much breaking news today, I don't know where to start. Before we got into what we had planned, I want to give you a couple of updates.
In an attempt to transform the Wisconsin protests from the vulgar signs and angry union members, you know, come here, kind of like these guys back over here, you know, the angry union members -- they are angry because the benefits that they have still far exceed the average worker of the private sector. Yes. Well, they're going to try to transform everything that's happening in other cities and make it all about the working man. That's what's happening here. [Fox News, Glenn Beck, 2/22/11, via Nexis]
Kelly Claims There Is "Quite A Gap" Between "Salaries Of Public And Private Sector Employees" In Wisconsin. During the February 21 edition of Fox News' America Live, host Megyn Kelly followed live coverage of the ongoing protests at the statehouse in Madison and said, "A closer look at the salaries of public and private sector employees in Wisconsin reveals quite a gap." After airing a graphic purporting to show a gap between public and private-sector workers, Kelly said: "What a difference. It used to be if you went to work for the state government, you would make less, but it was worth it, because you would have good benefits, good health care, nice fat pension, that kind of thing. So your salary would be lower. You can see from that full-screen we just showed you, that graphic, that that's no longer the case." [Fox News, America Live, 2/21/11]
Attacking Public Employee Protests, Limbaugh Repeats Claim That Public Employees Nationwide Make "Twice" As Much As Private Workers. On the February 17 edition of his radio show, Rush Limbaugh claimed that "[t]axpayers are paying public sector unions twice, on average, what the American employee earns. Pensions, welfare, benefits, the health care -- all of that stuff. Twice. Wages, salary, you name it." [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 2/17/11]
Washington Examiner Op-Ed Attacks Compensation For Public Employees. A February 21 op-ed in The Washington Examiner claimed that "state and local government workers" were paid "44 percent" more than private-sector employees in 2010. The op-ed, titled, "There is no right to collective bargaining," was written by David Denholm, president of the anti-union Public Service Research Foundation. From the op-ed:
We might resent that [government is sovereign] when it comes to things like taxes but we need it when it comes to things like murder and mayhem. A sovereign institution might choose to seek input from interested parties about a decision, but when the decision is made, it is the law.
How different this is from a typical public-sector bargaining situation where the union makes demands and those demands are backed up by the threat -- whether legal or illegal -- of a strike.
There is a consequence to this distortion. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010, the total compensation costs of state and local government workers was 44 percent higher than private industry; pay was only 33 percent higher but benefits cost 70 percent more. [The Washington Examiner, 2/21/11]
Associated Press: Some See "Public Servants As Public Enemies In Some Ways." Although the Associated Press highlighted a USA Today/Gallup poll stating that "Americans largely side with the employees" on the issue of collective bargaining, the article highlighted people who had, in the AP's words, "pension envy". The article also stated that some people see "public servants as public enemies in some ways." From the Associated Press:
When Erin McFarlane looks at public workers, she sees lucrative pension benefits she doesn't ever expect to get. And it makes her mad.
"I don't think that a federal employee or government employee is worth any more than anybody else who does their job and does it well," said the Slinger, Wis., woman. She's been working a couple of bartending jobs since January, when she was laid off from her job at a Harley Davidson plant after almost a decade.
She's not alone in seeing public servants as public enemies in some ways.
It's a case of pension envy.
A USA Today/Gallup poll last month found show that Americans largely side with the employees, though about two in five that want government pay and benefits reined in.
Barbara Davis, a retiree from Cherry Hill, N.J., has been watching public workers in rallies in Madison, Wis., as well as Trenton. She says the protesters are wrong about tightening benefits hurting the middle class.
"I'm sorry, but what they're doing is telling off the middle class," said Davis, 76, and a co-chairwoman of the Cherry Hill Area Tea Party. "The middle-class people don't get all the goodies that they do."
At its heart, the issue is this: Some public workers get a sweet deal compared to other workers. And it's taxpayers who pay for it.
That's set off resentment in a time when economic doldrums have left practically everyone tightening their belts. Many people have found their tax bills rising even if their earnings haven't. [Associated Press, 3/8/11]
Polls Do Not Find Support For Decreasing Public Employees' Compensation
NY Times: "Majority In Poll Back Employees In Public Sector Unions." A February 24-27 New York Times/CBS poll found that "61 percent of those polled -- including just over half of Republicans -- said they thought the salaries and benefits of most public employees were either "about right" or "too low" for the work they do." From a February 28 New York Times article headlined, "Majority in Poll Back Employees in Public Sector Unions":
Governors in both parties have been making the case that public workers are either overpaid or have overly generous health and pension benefits. But 61 percent of those polled -- including just over half of Republicans -- said they thought the salaries and benefits of most public employees were either "about right" or "too low" for the work they do.
When it came to one of the most debated, and expensive, benefits that many government workers enjoy but private sector workers do not -- the ability to retire early, and begin collecting pension checks -- Americans were closely divided. Forty-nine percent said police officers and firefighters should be able to retire and begin receiving pension checks even if they are in their 40s or 50s; 44 percent said they should have to be older. There was a similar divide on whether teachers should be able to retire and draw pensions before they are 65. [New York Times, 2/28/11]
USA Today: "53% Oppose Reducing Pay Or Benefits For Government Workers." A February 23 article published by USA Today summarized the findings of a USA Today/Gallup Poll. From the article:
-- 71% oppose increasing sales, income or other taxes while 27% are in favor that approach.
-- 53% oppose reducing pay or benefits for government workers while 44% are in favor.
-- 48% opposed reducing or eliminating government programs while 47% were in favor of cuts.
"This underlines the difficulty of solving these problems," Jeffrey Jones of Gallup says. "It's hard to find a consensus on what to do." [USA Today, 2/23/11]
Quinnipiac Poll Finds The Public Is Split On Pay For Public Employees. A February 21-28 poll conducted by Quinnipiac University found that 35 percent of the public say public employees are paid "about right" and another 15 percent say that they are paid "too little," while 42 percent say they are paid too much. This means that 50 percent of respondents thought public employees were not being paid too much. [Quinnipiac University, 3/2/11]
Polls Also Reveal Strong Public Support For Collective Bargaining
NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll: 77 Percent Believe Public Employees Who Belong To Unions Should Have The Same Collective Bargaining Rights As Private Employees. A February 24-28 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that "77 percent believe that public employees have the same collective-bargaining rights (when it comes to health care, pensions, and other benefits) that union employees who work for private companies have." [MSNBC, 3/2/11]
NY Times/CBS Poll Shows Overwhelming Support For Public Worker Bargaining Rights. In a February 24-27 New York Times/CBS News Poll, results show that "Americans oppose weakening the bargaining rights of public employee unions by a margin of nearly two to one: 60 percent to 33 percent. While a slim majority of Republicans favored taking away some bargaining rights, they were outnumbered by large majorities of Democrats and independents who said they opposed weakening them." [The New York Times, 2/28/11]
USA Today/Gallup Poll Shows Majority Support For Union Workers. In a USA Today/Gallup Poll from February 22, results show that while Republicans supported limiting the rights of union workers by a 54 percent to 41 percent margin, 79 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of independents polled were against the limitation of union bargaining rights, representing the majority of total persons polled. As USA Today reported, overall, "[t]he poll found 61% would oppose a law in their state similar to such a proposal in Wisconsin, compared with 33% who would favor such a law." From USA Today:
Americans strongly oppose laws taking away the collective bargaining power of public employee unions, according to a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. The poll found 61% would oppose a law in their state similar to such a proposal in Wisconsin, compared with 33% who would favor such a law.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators in Wisconsin have proposed cutting union rights for most state government workers and making them pay more for benefits. Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana, Iowa and other states with Republican governors are considering similar laws. [USA Today, 2/22/11]