Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) has been gaining lots of attention at the moment for his attempt to strip collective bargaining from many of his state’s public employees, essentially busting their union legislatively. But he is far from alone among Republican governors in trying to take a pound of flesh from his state’s working people.
Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), for instance, proposed a budget yesterday that holds property tax rebates for seniors hostage to benefit cuts for public employees: if public sector workers don’t agree to the cuts, property tax rebates don’t go out. And of course, Christie has rhetorically bashed teachers’ unions since he came into office, in order to score political points. During an appearance on MSNBC today, Christie actually bragged that his state leads the nation in terms of public sector layoffs, claiming that “unions are trying to break the middle class”:
USA Today recently said that New Jersey has shed by percentage more public sector jobs in the last year than any state in America. And the reason we’ve done this is because our government was bloated and too big at every level…In New Jersey, we’re not trying to break the unions, the unions are trying to break the middle class in New Jersey, through the expenses. And they’re close to doing it.
Because of his mass layoffs of public employees, the number of unemployed workers has actually increased in New Jersey since Christie took office. And Christie’s assertion that unions are not good for the middle class is quite troubling.
As David Madland and Karla Walter pointed out, “the middle class is markedly stronger when workers join together in unions.” In fact, the decline in unionization rates over the last forty years has been almost perfectly mirrored by a drop in middle-class incomes. Income inequality in the U.S. is the worst its been since the 1920’s, with nearly 25 percent of the total income in the country going to the richest one percent. The richest 10 percent of Americans control 2/3rds of the country’s net worth.
When unionization rates were high, prosperity was broadly shared, and workers were able to enjoy their fair share of productivity gains. But the overall economy is also stronger when unions are strong: “From 1947 to 1973, the period when unions were strongest and nearly one-third of workers were organized, U.S. economic output nearly tripled in size, growing at an average of 3.8 percent annually.” Since 2001, economic output has been just 2.2 percent annually.