Plunder! Dissects Government Unions
by John Seiler
Previously by John Seiler: Freedom
government treating you lately? I thought so. Unjust wars. Torture.
Inflation. Wild spending. Record deficits. Record debt. Bankruptcy.
Police brutality. Officious officials. Depression.
It’s time to
get even. Or at least get an explanation.
what you get in Steven Greenhut’s shocking Plunder!:
How Public Employee Unions Are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our
Lives and Bankrupting the Nation. Although it covers
government at all levels, it mainly focuses on state and local governments’
assaults on citizens’ pocketbooks and liberties.
familiar to LRC readers as the deputy editorial page editor
for The Orange County Register from 1998 to 2009. He was
my colleague there for eight of those years. He is the best journalist
of local and state government in America, digging into the roots
of corruption, largesse, and repression that have grown so alarmingly
in recent years.
This fall he
left The Register to head the new Investigative
Journalism Center and News Bureau at the Pacific Research Institute
You won’t find
a better writer, so this is an easy read of 240 pages – plus some
resources in back to continue the fight. But you’ll find yourself
stopping every few pages to open a window, stick your head out,
and scream, like Howard
Beale in Network,
"I’m mad as hell and I’m not taking this any more!"
the central ("federal") government’s oppression is increasingly
pervasive and poisonous, most of us still deal more often with local
or state authorities. Most of us also have a favorable opinion of
a great school teacher, a fireman who brought down a child’s cat
from a tree, or a cop who helped change a flat tire on a car. And
most of us have local government workers as our neighbors and friends.
Government is so big now, it’s hard not to.
But in just
the past three decades, government has far outstripped any rational
limit on its size. As Greenhut reports, as recently as the 1970s
(and I can confirm this from memory), government workers usually
were paid a salary slightly less than private-sector counterparts.
But they got great benefits, a decent pension, and sterling job
government pay and benefits have ballooned like Gov. Schwarzenegger
when he used to inject
himself with steroids. An example: The local firefighters’ union
in Orange County "gets annoyed when anyone refers to"
their average annual pay and compensation of $175,000, Greenhut
writes. "Officials there confirm its accuracy, but complain
that it unfairly angers taxpayers because the number includes the
cost to the county for every benefit that firefighters receive."
Imagine buying a new car for $15,000. When you pull out your checkbook,
the salesman says, "Actually, it’s $25,000. We have to ad in
pension and other benefits for the auto workers."
firefighting is an essential job, Greenhut notes that in most communities
volunteer fire departments do the job.
public safety jobs among the most dangerous in America? Not really.
Here’s the list of most dangerous jobs, as complied by the Bureau
of Labor Statistics:
- Pilots and
- Iron and
- Taxi cab
- Truck drivers
and sales-related drivers
- Law enforcement
going into these jobs know they might be dangerous. That’s their
choice. An Alaska crab fisherman, whose fatality rate on the job
is 90 times that of the average worker, knows he could drown. Yet
he chooses to do the job anyway.
A widely quoted
article by Thomas Aveni of the Police Policy Council claims
that the job so stressful that police officers, on average, live
to be only 5366 years of age. "If that were so,"
quips Greenhut, "there would be no unfunded liability problem
because of pension benefits."
In fact, policemen
and firemen live about as long as everybody else. Greenhut quotes
a study by the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System on the
age-60 life expectancies for the system’s workers (the years they
can expect to live after 60):
- Police and
fire males: 22.6.
and service males: 23.4.
- Police and
fire females: 25.7.
service females: 25.7.
have not prevented the recent trend – caused by overwhelming union
power over politicians – of pension spiking. Not just police and
fire, but many other government retirees get "3 percent at
50." Greenhut explains: "So if a police officer starts
working at age 20, he can retire at 50 with 90 percent of his final
salary until he dies, and then his spouse receives that for the
rest of her life. The taxpayer typically makes the complete retirement
contribution throughout the officer’s years of work."
And pay is,
indeed, generous. "If he earned a slightly above-average California
police salary of $100,000 a year (base, not counting overtime, which
is not calculated in the retirement formula), he would receive $90,000
a year until he dies."
In his mid-50s,
the retired officer commonly would take another job – often in government,
with another tax-funded pension.
on the hook for 100 percent of the pensions – no matter how bad
the economy gets. And taxpayers are stuck paying for bad investments.
The California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) stupidly
invested heavily in the recent real estate boom. (I guess they don’t
"The bubble burst and CalPERS lost 103 percent of the value
of its housing investments in one fiscal year. Here’s the kicker:
CalPERS not only blew its investments on some shady deals, it borrowed
money to leverage those deals. So it has to pay back the borrowed
cash as well."
money comes, of course, from taxpayers – the same taxpayers who
took hits on their houses, 401(k)s, and other investments during
the current bust, but can’t get reimbursed.
abuse now is breaking the backs of the budgets of many cities and
states. The California city of Vallejo went bankrupt after 75 percent
of its budget went to police and fire benefits and salaries. California’s
ongoing budget crisis of the past 10 years – if honest numbers are
used, it hasn’t balanced a budget since 2000 – is the direct result
of outrageous public employee pay and benefits.
than the extravagant pay is the abuse of power by union-protected
government authorities. Greenhut cites the case of teacher Carlos
Polanco, who was accused by the Los Angeles Unified School District
of "immoral and unprofessional conduct" for making fun,
in front of his class, of a student who had just returned after
a suicide attempt.
horrifying and a good reason to fire this cruel man, who obviously
has little concern for the safety of his students and lacks common
decency. The school board voted to fire him, but that’s just the
first part in the Rube Goldberg-like maze of the firing process
in a district that…fires far fewer than 1 teacher per 1,000 a year.
No wonder. The union-dominated Commission on Professional Competence
overruled the Polanco firing. The commission found technical reasons
why it could not rule on the unprofessional behavior accusations
– the notice of dismissal wasn’t provided by the proper deadline.
And then the commission unanimously found that Polanco’s behavior
was not immoral because ‘it was not established that Javier was
ever suicidal, that he ever intended to harm himself, or that he
in fact had ever been hospitalized’."
are the abuses by the guys with guns. Police now commonly are protected
from even the most reasonable scrutiny of their activities. Due
to state laws and court rulings, Greenhut observes, "I’ve found
that in covering cases of alleged excessive force, or when police
are involved in deadly shootings, that it is no longer possible
to find out if the officer has a history of abusive or violent behavior….
And even a watered-down bill that would have restored some level
of open records to the process was shut down thanks to the unified
efforts of Republican and Democratic legislators. Police unions
used the most heavy-handed and dishonest tactics to stop the legislation."
a horrifying example: "After Huntington Beach officers Shawn
Randell and Read Parker fired 15 shots at Ashley MacDonald in September,
killing the distraught teen as she held a pocketknife in a nearly
empty city park, I expressed shock in print: You mean two male officers
could come up with no better way to subdue a young girl than to
shoot her to death? In response, the usual suspects (the police
chief, the police union, unthinking defenders of anything that police
do) argued that I should not rush to judgment. I should not draw
a conclusion before the official investigation, handled by the Sheriff's
Department, is completed and the results released, they argued.
went back to an incident in Huntington Beach 2½ years ago in which
Steven Hills, a distraught man who, according to police, had called
911 and made threatening statements, was shot by police 29 times
and killed. The report of the investigation is done. Plenty of time
has passed. Since the HBPD tells me that I shouldn't rush to judgment
on the MacDonald case, but wait until the report is complete, I
thought it only fair to look at the report about Hills. Well, the
police department and the Sheriff's Department won’t release that
report. It is exempt from the public records act. That's quite a
scam: Shut up until the investigation is done, but once it’s done,
it’s none of your business."
should be done?
Depression is finally making Americans wonder why they stand in
unemployment lines while government workers enjoy lavish pay, perks,
and benefits. And cases of brutality are making many wonder why
police and prosecutors have been given such excessive powers.
first, for outlawing public employee unions: "There is absolutely
no public good served by it, especially in a world of civil service
protections. In fact, such unionization is a relatively recent phenomenon,"
dating only to the 1960s.
violate government employees’ rights to influence their own government?
Hardly – because they are the government. A government union
sits on both sides of the negotiating table, representing the employees
who get the benefits on one side – and, on the other side, influencing
the politicians who use tax money to pay the benefits.
"Legislatures should impose tighter restrictions on union political
contributions. States should also pass paycheck protection measures
that allow union members to withhold dues payments that are used
for political purposes."
last government-caused Great Depression, the one in the 1930s, citizens
revolted against government excesses. It’s well past time for
another revolt. Plunder! provides the facts, the outrage,
and the ammunition.
Get it. Read
it. Use it.
living in Southern California, Steven Greenhut will be discussing
his book, and signing copies, at 6 p.m. today, Dec. 10. Location:
Barnes & Noble, 791 S. Main Street, Orange, CA 92821; directly
across from the MainPlace Shopping Mall. Phone: 714-558-0028. The
event will be filmed by C-SPAN.)
Seiler [send him
mail] is a freelancer writer who wrote editorials for
19 years at The Orange County Register. He now is looking
for full-time employment in or out of journalism. Hire him.
© 2009 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.