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Friday, July 1, 2022

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Protesters gather in Wisconsin's capitol rotunda to protest Gov. Walker's plan to end collective bargaining. Credit: Joe Rowley Protesters gather in Wisconsin's capitol rotunda to protest Gov. Walker's plan to end collective bargaining. Credit: Joe Rowley
 


Pension Reform Could Politically Backfire

A political science professor discusses the ramifications of the battle for pension reform.
By Greg Block
 

Driven by budget crises and fueled by growing pension costs, state-by-state battles are raging across the country between public employee unions and the state governments for whom they work.

Led by Republican politicians, there is a movement to drastically reduce — or in some states — completely eliminate, the right to collective bargaining for public employee unions.  

Public support for change

According to Brian Adams, professor in the San Diego State University Department of Political Science, the efforts are based on the states' current budget crises and Republicans “emboldened” by their party's results in the 2010 election, in which it enjoyed several major victories.

“They thought there was a lot of public outrage toward unions, and they thought that they could do this and not lose that much public support,” Adams said.

Whether or not these laws will pass is still up for debate.

Not likely to sweep the nation

“I don’t see this necessarily like a wave sweeping the country,” Adams said. “When these things do go from one state to another, it tends to be regional,” like what’s happening in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana.

Some states, according to Adams, have traditionally conservative politics and the unions have never had strong collective bargaining rights. Meanwhile, other states are more liberal leaning, so efforts to curb union power will be for naught.

“In a state like Ohio, which may lean Republican, you actually have public employees who have decent benefits and good collective bargaining rights,” Adams said.

“We’re seeing it there because they avoid either extreme and they’re somewhere in the middle, which makes for more political contentiousness and more fierce political battles.”

He added that he believes the laws may pass in Ohio and Wisconsin.

In California, where a bill was recently proposed to do away with collective bargaining for public employee unions, Adams believes it was more symbolic than anything.

“You’re not going to see any type of serious consideration of taking away collective bargaining rights (in California),” he said. “You may see stuff around the edges. Gov. Brown during the campaign said he was supportive of some pension reforms. Not major reforms, but some pension reforms.”

Political miscalculations

Regardless of what happens, Adams believes both sides are going to take a political hit when it’s all said and done.

“Republicans miscalculated what the 2010 elections meant,” Adams said, referring to the Republican victories based on a platform of economic reform. He said that election was skewed because there wasn’t a large Democratic turnout. “The average voter isn’t the Tea Party voter.”

“Democrats are miscalculating the power of the labor unions,” he said.

Adams explained that less than 10 percent of Americans are unionized and unions don’t spend nearly the amount of money on campaigns as some believe.

“Neither Republicans nor Democrats are taking a position that appeals to moderate independent voters,” Adams said.

“And they’re the ones that really matter for winning elections. They’re the ones who ultimately decide who holds power in this country.”