The Edmond Sun

Business

June 8, 2012

Public workers in fiscal, political bull's eye

This has been a difficult year for government workers across the country, who are fighting uphill battles to hang on to their pensions and stable salaries — and it's not over yet.

From California to Pennsylvania, workers are facing efforts to sharply curtail the job security and benefits they have enjoyed for years, perks long viewed as compensation for the sometimes lower salaries in the public sector.

Now, the perks that came with being a firefighter or a teacher have become a target, not only for conservative lawmakers but for Democrats under pressure to make deep cuts in government budgets.

Experts note a marked loss of public support for government workers and their powerful unions, a sentiment shared by conservative activists eager to weaken organized labor. And never have they been more confident than this week, when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, R, fended off a recall attempt orchestrated largely by unions outraged at his efforts to end collective bargaining for most public employees and teachers.

"We absolutely intend to use this going forward," said Brendan Steinhauser, spokesman for FreedomWorks, a tea party organization that has been working to undercut public employee unions' power through state legislatures. The group views the failed attempt to unseat Walker as a powerful motivator for other Republican governors.

The message, Steinhauser said, is: "Be bold, be a leader, be a conservative and you'll be rewarded."

Wisconsin is one of several places where public employees have become targets this year. In California, San Diego and San Jose residents voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to cut pension benefits for city workers. The votes followed dramatic steps to curb union power in Indiana and Louisiana, and efforts by some in Congress to freeze salaries and whittle away benefits for federal workers.

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere are considering legislation that would weaken teachers unions. And some conservatives plan to push Republican leaders in Michigan, where lawmakers have had limited success curbing union power, to redouble their efforts after Walker's victory next door.

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