Paul Panasiuk

These past few weeks, states across the nation have seen an eruption of protests as Republican-controlled legislatures and governorships attempt to balance their budgets by restricting reckless public sector labor unions.

The state receiving the most news coverage, Wisconsin, has introduced legislation to rein in collective bargaining, which will only allow public unions to negotiate wage increases at or less than the rate of inflation. As a result, the 14 Democratic state senators have childishly fled to Illinois to avoid the vote.

Many view these unprecedented bills as an attack on the rights of workers and organized labor. The fact of the matter is that public sector unions are largely different from private unions.

While private sector union membership is a voluntary and healthy contract between the employee and employer, public unions rip the contract to pieces. For decades, public unions have used their lobbying abilities to attach themselves to the government teat and, like parasites, extract high wages, nearly full health care coverage and large pensions from the lowly taxpayer.

On top of receiving salary much larger than the average private school teacher, public school teachers in Milwaukee receive, from the public, 74.2 cents in benefits including pension and health care for every dollar of their salary. The taxpayer shells out the entire cost of premiums for medical and visual as well as half of dental.You would think state employees would pay for their small contributions to pension funds, but taxpayers contribute a full 13 percent of their earnings every paycheck. I will spare you the statistics on taxpayer-covered local and supplemental pensions and retiree benefits, as they would likely make you sick.

Public unions, with help from the media, have portrayed public union employees as poor workers whose rights are being threatened. Public unions should not have many, if any rights. Their wages and benefits should be determined not by how many Democrats they get elected through massive political campaign contributions, but by the people they serve — the taxpayers.

When states are hurting from a distressed economy, and members of private unions and those not members of unions at all are forced to cut back, public unions continue to suck every last drop of money they can from taxpayers’ paychecks.

The budgetary crisis across the nation and the sensible and necessary response of restraining public workers’ wages unearths a much deeper question: Are public sector workers held accountable for what they do?

Since Wisconsin is making headlines this week, the Department of Education reports that two-thirds of eighth grade students cannot read proficiently and only 39 percent are proficient in math. Not only are public teachers not performing the jobs they were hired to do, but they are being compensated for failing miserably. I can only imagine the inefficiencies amongst the myriad of other state and local government jobs.

I applaud the states standing up to unions and making headway balancing their budgets. Perhaps after they finish cleaning up what should have been done years ago, they will finally fix the education system and government inefficiencies by firing incapable but well-paid workers. In the end, after all, it’s really not about the teachers; it’s about the children.