Editorial Round-Up: Collective Bargaining And Pension Reform

The nation's newspapers took a hard look at collective bargaining and pension reform on their editorial pages.
by | November 2, 2011

Ohio Senate Bill 5, the controversial law that would restrict the bargaining rights of public employee unions and presumably save money for local governments in the state, has been hotly contested since it was approved by the state legislature this spring. Now, in November, voters will ultimately decide whether to endorse or reject the legislation.

Regardless of the outcome, Crain's Cleveland Business argues that state lawmakers should work together to create legislation that won't spark such a divisive response.

"Unless Ohio wants to go the way of California and govern itself by constant referendum," its editorial board writes, the majority in the state General Assembly must cooperate with the minority to craft more moderate policies. The current result, which has "powerful constituencies" like unions rallying to oppose SB 5, is unproductive for all involved, the business publication says.

Playing for political points is what got the legislation into trouble in the first place, the Akron Beacon-Journal lamented earlier this month. There is a need for "sensible" reform to the state's collective bargaining policies, but the resulting law "aims to score political triumphs," its editorial read. In particular, ending the "fair share" requirement in union contracts and eliminating paycheck deductions for unions' political activities were clearly politically motivated provisions in the law.

"It didn't have to be that way, if Republicans had practiced a degree of restraint," the Beacon-Journal said.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also drew heat when his state drafted very similar legislation restricting public unions' collective bargaining rights. Now, as Walker has called a special legislative session to focus on job creation, his own compensation is under attack from opponents, leading to "discord" and a lack of production in the state capital, the Green Bay Press-Gazette observes.

Walker benefitted from a $7,000 pay bump approved by his predecessor. His political opponents have called for him to return that sum as a new public employee pay plan is under consideration, but the governor has balked at doing so.

"Walker absolutely has the right to keep the full amount of his current salary, which is considerably less than what a CEO of a similar-size organization makes in the private sector," the Press-Gazette reasons. "Still, that decision undoubtedly will be perceived as his indifference toward the frustration that public workers feel regarding their wages and benefits."

Meanwhile, in New Mexico, state legislators will take a long, hard look at public employee pensions, the Albuquerque Journal says, and rightfully so. "It's a discussion that's long overdue," the newspaper editorial board asserts. In a troubled economy, public employees shouldn't be benefitting from "overly generous pensions... that hurt the taxpayers who fund them," according to the Journal.

The Sacramento Bee praises California Gov. Jerry Brown for his own efforts to reform the state's pension system, calling his recent proposal "bold and comprehensive." But, "it's also politically risky," the newspaper notes, as it requires the state and employees to share costs equally. Brown can expect the standard opposition from union leadership, but he should take his case to the voters and employees themselves, according to the Bee.

"Taxpayers and union workers have a stake in fair pension reform," the Bee writes. "Brown has provided a good blueprint to make that happen."

At the same time, California lawmakers should be working to ensure that private employees are protected by banning predatory payday lending, the San Jose Mercury News says. But a quick look at campaign finances reveals payday lenders contributed more than $585,000 to state legislators in the 2009-2010 election cycle, the newspaper reports.

So if the state won't join with the 17 other states that have banned the practice, local governments must step in on behalf of their constituents, the Mercury News points out. Banning new locations and requiring special permits, as some cities have already done, is a good place to start, its editorial board suggests.


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