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July 2013

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Defending Public Workers

In the name of deficit reduction, federal employees have lost $126 billion in benefits and wages in the last five years. Proponents of the wage freezes and benefit cuts, including, sadly, our president, say the ballooning debt demands sacrifices.

Yet there is a mountain of evidence that many of the sacrifices borne by public sector workers are so poorly thought out and executed that they actually cost more money than they save.

Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee released a 26-page catalogue of self-inflicted wounds that makes for grim reading. Millions of dollars in lost wages and benefits are leading to billions of dollars in increased costs down the road.

As only a small example from close to home, the sequester forced the Air Force to shutter both East Coast stations in the Space Surveillance System, known as the "space fence." Two dozen IBEW members were laid off. The radar antennas keep track of everything that flies over the country and keep our satellites, including the International Space Station, out of harm's way. For a savings of at best a small sliver of the federal budget, we create an unknowable risk to the billions of dollars of satellites we all rely on every day for work, for safety and for communication.

Even if they won't admit they were wrong, you would think that the self-described budget hawks shooting us all in the foot would at the very least quietly stop firing the gun. Instead, at least 16 more bills attacking public sector workers are under consideration in Congress.

One of the worst developments in the American economy has been the philosophy that workers are a problem, not an asset. When the time comes for companies to cut back, it has become commonplace for them to target workers' salaries, benefits or jobs first. The result has been the impoverishment of working families and the largest transfer of wealth upward in our history.

This is nothing less than an effort to impose the predatory workplace on public workers who build and maintain our warships, safeguard the locks and dams on our rivers and keep the lights on across vast swathes of the United States.

The truth is, public sector workers — including nearly 70,000 members of the IBEW — aren't the problem. This concerted assault by a corporate elite accomplishes nothing but pushing more Americans out of the middle class, corroding effective governance and blowing up the debt down the road with deferred costs.

The worst part might be the near silence and, at times, collusion, of political leaders who should know better. It's past time for them — President Obama included — to find their voices and defend the public sector workers who defend the rest of us.


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Edwin D. Hill

Edwin D. Hill
International President