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Sunday, January 2, 2011


The Solipsist has had it up to here (his hand is at his chin) with people blaming the nation's economic woes on unions, particularly public-service unions. At a time when right-wingers oppose any attempt to raise taxes on millionaires, it seems disingenuous at best to claim that the main culprit behind state-budget disasters is the pensions of teachers and other public-sector employees.

Certainly there are abuses. People react with justifiable outrage to stories of retired politicians collecting six-figure pensions, but these are the exceptions, not the rule. In New Jersey, whose citizens have expressed some of the greatest outrage, the average public-sector pension is $20,000 a year; teachers earn, on average, $46,000. Pardon us if these figures don't provoke an urge to march, pitchfork in hand, to our local UFT office demanding a clawback of hard-earned tax dollars.

Obviously, the Solipsist--a teacher and son of a teacher--is a biased commentator. But we have little patience for those who claim that teachers (along with other government employees and civil service workers) should accept pension cuts in the spirit of shared civic sacrifice. Put simply, many of these folks have already sacrificed.

Consider: Teachers are, by definition, highly educated people. They must graduate college and then either satisfy state-certification requirements or earn post-graduate degrees or both. The Solipist's FFB Emi Ha has jumped through hoops over the last year or so to prove that she is qualified to teach in her new hometown, despite having multiple degrees and teaching experience and having satisfied all certification requirements in her previous hometown. The Solipsist himself has two post-graduate degrees, as well as a BA and state certification to teach in New York.

Our point is, when one decides to become a teacher, it is not for lack of intellectual capacity or professional ambition. These are people who could easily have chosen more financially remunerative careers in law, politics, or finance. They chose, though, to provide service. They sacrificed.

In many cases, these workers continued to sacrifice. Indeed, in the face of state and municipal budget difficulties, some public-sector unions agreed to forego wage increases. The spirit of sacrifice exists in these workers. Ironically, one of the concessions that some unions made was to forego raises in exchange for pension guarantees--guarantees that are now apparently endangered.

By all means, look at abusive pension-padding practices and crack down on those. But stop blaming deficits on the people who have chosen to take a lifetime pay cut to serve their fellow citizens.


  1. Well said. As one who is living on a pension, believe me, there are no steak dinners around here, or vacations or fabulous diamond jewelry, and we're still helping put child number 5 through college. The anger and frustration people feel about what is happening in the economy has to be directed somewhere. God forbid it should be towards the wealthy because someday they too may be rich (a myth of epic proportions not to be dispelled by mere facts).

  2. Here is what the Republican Party has ALWAYS been against (at least the "modern" GOP, from about 1930 onwards). Unions... ALL unions..., Social Security, Welfare, Government Medical Care, Unemployment Insurance, ANY Middle/Lower Class aid, public education beyond that necessary for making a good employee. They have never made any secret of it (although, they are able to downplay it when necessary). To be surprised at this behaviour is to be, simply, not paying attention. The media would have it that this is all just some kind of game wherein sometimes the Democrats are in power, sometimes th Republicans, and it really doesn't matter. It's not a game. It DOES (or did, when the Democrats stood together for something) matter.