Saturday, February 26, 2011

Making a Better Argument

The other day I read in a discussion of the Wisconsin affair that public sector unions do not actually get free pensions and health care, that “every penny of that cost comes out of their wages” in the form of lower wages because public sector workers make less money than private sector workers do. Unfortunately, the poster stopped there, without providing any evidence to support his claim, so I discounted the claim altogether.

This is, unfortunately, altogether all too typical of the nature of our political discourse. We present half of the argument, the part which seems to support our side, and then are too lazy to complete the presentation in a manner that would be convincing.

Tom Levinson at Balloon Juice is far more thorough in this post, as he takes a different approach and presents documentation and references which show that in Wisconsin specifically, public workers are paid 8.2% less than in the private sector, and that even with the inclusion of fringe benefits they make 4.2% less. The link he provides is to the website only, not to the specific article, and I was unable to locate the article in question on that website, but I’m not questioning his reference. Websites change from time to time.

His argument is well presented and makes a difference in the way I view the Wisconsin issue specifically. The numbers in California are much different, as are many other factors, so I think each issue needs to be argued on its own merits, but it’s refreshing to see a case well presented.

What he doesn’t mention, and is not really significant to his point, is that those numbers indicate that the fringe benefits received by public sector workers are of a rather dramatically higher order, or at least cost a great deal more, than those received by private sector workers. It might be interesting to explore why that is the case, since the buying power of the large union should be able to get more benefit at lower cost.


  1. bruce7:47 PM

    My first thought it is not the union purchasing fringe benefits, but the state.. doing it for their benefit. SO the state is getting a bum deal if in fact they cost is high relative to the benefit provided. I would expect the state to get an even better deal that the union, as the state might have more clout. Are we just talking one union here? The stste ought to have more people working for it than this union.

    This does not address the issue of the (union) worker paying any portion of these fringe benefits. Perhaps the 4% lower pay is offset by their not paying any? I don't know, so I'm just suggesting, not making any assertations of fact.

    If they have collective bargaining for wages but not benefitsm that seems a bit unfair. You can negotiate a higher benefit for smaller wage or vice versa. I can think of some pension rules that can be changed that would help out the financial situation.

  2. Well, teher you raise an interesting point. The idea of "collective bargianing" that includes only wages as a point of negotiation is absurd in and of itself. The whole process is one of balancing work rules and benefits against wages.

  3. Belafon8:38 AM

    Couldn't this be similar to what the CBO said with regard to the ACA: Prices would go up some because people could now afford better healthcare. Say the unions negotiated for better benefits and were willing to "pay" for them by taking the pay cut, because the government could get a better deal for the amount of money spent than the individuals or the union.