The Right-Wing Zombie Lie About Public Workers That Just Won't Die
Continued from previous page
“For decades public sector unions negotiated deals which reduced the cost to taxpayers by getting increased health and retirement benefits in lieu of higher salaries,” Browner-Hamlin said. “Targeting them now for being out of step with our essentially unorganized private sector workforce not only requires that we ignore contractual negotiations of the past, but that we forget that the path to reducing the compensation of private sector workers was a deliberate one, orchestrated by the very same types of greedy ideologues who are now attacking public workers.”
Weissman gives a passing nod to the idea that all workers should make a decent living, writing, “It's great that the federal government is providing livable wages to workers, and their families, who would probably have a tough time of it in the private sector.” But he ignores the history of struggle that won those workers their decent wages and benefits, and also the hits that private sector workers have taken over the past 30 years. Price pointed out that along with the decline in unions in the private sector, the falling purchasing power of the minimum wage and the decline in manufacturing, which used to be a way that less-educated workers could have a middle-class job, have contributed to drive down wages for most people.
“What the CBO study and most other studies of public sector pay reveal is not that the pay systems in government are broken but that middle-class jobs are disappearing from the private sector,” Price said.
Meanwhile on the high end, Price notes that more educated workers stay in the public sector, often, because they are "mission driven"--they are committed to their jobs because they believe in them, not simply because they can make money. While Weissman and Kevin Drum at Mother Jones seem to think that, as Drum puts it, the federal government needs to “compete better for top-level managers and other professionals,” by paying more and that the government would be more efficient as a result, they seem to ignore the idea that paying low-wage federal workers less might make those workers that much less efficient as well . A raise for the workers at the top would have less real impact on their lives than a cut for those at the bottom.
Price also pointed out that the relative equality in pay in the public sector actually helps with morale for all workers. “To take a counter example from the private sector like Apple computers; they couldn't possibly maintain company morale and productivity if they directly employed manufacturing workers in Cupertino under the same pay and working conditions that allegedly prevail in their contracted factories in China,” he said. “Workers have a sense of fairness that if violated can often undermine productivity. This is the chief reason human resource departments in private companies discourage employees from sharing with one another information about their pay levels.”
It's not just pay equality that is greater in the public sector. The gender gap, as noted above, is less for public workers, and the racial pay gap is also smaller. (Public sector layoffs, for this reason, have hit women and people of color the hardest in the last few years of austerity—and have fallen hardest on workers without union protections, while union workers were more likely to retain their jobs, as Catherine Rampell at the New York Times noted recently.)
It's disturbing, then, that the response to a study on workers' wages should be to call for more inequality, not less.
The obsession with the idea that the private sector's wages are somehow natural and the result of the “invisible hand” of the marketplace, while the public sector is simply throwing away money, is ideological and the result of years of anti-government rhetoric.