Ron Radosh

'Even the liberal New York Times writes....' A Dissection of a mixed-up Editorial

In the 1980s, when The New Republic used to be unpredictable and ran hard-hitting articles and editorials that took on the shibboleths of the Left, people used to say when citing them, “even the liberal New Republic pointed out that…” Well, today, some of us are saying, after reading the lead editorial in the Sunday New York Times, “Even the liberal New York Times tells the truth about public sector unions.”

Well, almost. Perhaps because the paper’s editors always support Democrats, and perhaps because Governor Andrew Cuomo is the publisher’s friend and the paper supported him for governor, they have to find a way to oppose Scott Walker in Wisconsin for trying to take on public sector unions, while supporting Cuomo in New York when fiscal reality is forcing him to do the same thing.

Therefore the editors try to tell the truth about the fiscal crisis in New York while arguing at the same time that none exists in any other state. The result is a somewhat hilarious exercise in double-talk meant to please its liberal/left base of readers while pleasing the governor in New York and his administration at the same time.

The editors express shock when they inform their readers at the start that “New York State is paying 10 times more for state employees’ pensions than it did just a decade ago.” Who would have guessed? How could this be? The paper’s answer: “That huge increase is largely because of Albany’s outsized generosity to the state’s powerful employees’ unions in the early years of the last decade, made worse when the recession pushed down pension fund earnings, forcing the state to make up the difference.”

The last time I read anything similar was by my friends Fred Siegel, Sol Stern, or the editors of The Wall Street Journal. Could they have somehow hacked the Times’ computers and surreptitiously managed to type this in unnoticed? Did Paul Krugman write it, after someone spiked his coffee? Well, it gets even better.

The editors continue to point out that the members of public sector unions contribute far less to their pensions than private sector workers, and much less than state workers elsewhere. These costs must “be reined in,” the editorial warns, or New York will not even be able to afford essential services. As has happened elsewhere, that means cutting the number of police, firefighters and garbage collectors. Or maybe even the most horrible of all outcomes — privatization.

But does it mean taking on the unions? The paper assures its readers, in the most self-contradictory statement of the editorial, that stating this is “is not to be anti- union, or anti-worker.” Of course not. As we have seen in Wisconsin, the union is ready from the beginning to make all the necessary concessions that a state has to have to produce a fiscally sound budget. In Wisconsin, that awful Republican governor and his cronies, the editorial tells us, instead of having a serious discussion about the budget shortfall, have used the facts “as a pretext to crush unions.”

That is not what they are proposing. Of course not. Cuomo’s course is “reasonable,” since he “expects public unions to make sacrifices.” Didn’t Scott Walker expect the same in his state? Sure, I bet he did. But somehow, the unions did not want to work on a compromise with him. Instead, they have started a win or die movement, calling in all the troops from out of state, from Michael Moore (who doesn’t allow unions in his own production company) to rock stars and others of the comfortably rich who have to be on the “progressive” side.

As if they did not read their own previous sentence, the editorial next says — I had to read it twice — that negotiations are set to begin, but “so far union leaders have publicly resisted Mr. Cuomo’s proposals.” Oh — wait a minute — I thought that Cuomo had expected them to make sacrifices? Guess his expectations were wrong. So what can he do if the unions do not play ball? The paper’s answer: “He will have to lay off up to 9,800 workers.” Didn’t Scott Walker tell his unions the very same thing? And isn’t this what has led to him being portrayed as a monster?

Warns the Times: “Some compromise must be found.” They then inform the readers what precisely the unions have done that have made things so bad. These measures include getting a 4 percent pay raise amounting to $400 million in the middle of a recession; this comes on on top of  three percent raises for each of the previous three years — just as private sector workers had their wages cut!

When Gov. David Paterson, Mr. Cuomo’s predecessor, pleaded with the unions to voluntarily not take the raises, they portrayed him in much the same way as Wisconsin unions are portraying Gov. Walker today. Unlike Walker, the incompetent and cowardly Paterson caved, settling for reducing pension payments for new workers only. So state workers in New York State earn an average salary of$63,382 (more after the latest raises) compared to private sector workers who earn an average of $46,957.00. And you wonder why the public isn’t anxious to rally around the public sector union workers!

And now, unless the unions give, the paper warns its readers that 50,000 workers are due to get “steep increases” that will cost taxpayers in New York $140 million. And state law includes a clause that gives them the new increases to take effect even while the negotiations are in progress and before agreement on a contract is reached! No wonder the public sector employees like their unions. How could such a clause ever have been created? The paper explains that it was meant to give workers who could not strike “leverage” they otherwise would not have had. Somehow, they forget to mention that the union leaders negotiate with the politicians they elected and to whom they gave thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. The politicians pay them back in quick agreement with whatever the unions demand. No wonder Paterson caved.

So the paper demands that the unions agree with Cuomo’s plea for a wage freeze. It just sounds fair — but to the union bosses, who found Gov.Walker’s plea for the same kind of understanding to be nothing but union busting, Gov. Cuomo’s suggestion is not exactly something they are shouting off the rooftops to support.

Next come those dastardly pensions — the same ones Scott Walker talks about as unjustifiably high for public sector workers, much to the derision of the unions, the Left, and The New York Times. They now cost New York State, we learn, $1.5 billion. And moreover, “the Legislature, ever eager to curry favor with powerful unions, added sweeteners to pensions and allowed employees to stop making contributions after 10 years.” Seems like just the sweetheart deals regularly made by legislators with the unions each year. As the editors put it, they seek to “curry favor” with the unions.

Wait, I thought they said earlier in the same editorial that they are not anti-union? Or is that just a denial meant to get their readers to read the rest of the statement without putting it down in anger? Even after some changes were made, they continue, union public sector employees can still retire at 62 with full benefits, and drive up their amount by overtime. Moreover, it turns out that once retiring, they can even get another New York State job and thus engage in double-dipping. And of course, they can get another pension from the new job as well! And unlike private sector workers, they only have to give three percent of their pay to their own pension fund.

Anyone reading this and still feeling sorry for these poor public sector workers clearly has not learned how to read, and how to evaluate fiscal reality. The paper’s own investigation revealed that 3,700 retired public workers were receiving six-figure pensions due to overtime abuse. And 2000 workers are now receiving state pensions while employed at new state jobs which give them salaries, paid by the taxpayers.

Finally, there is the problem of health insurance that, evidently, ObamaCare has not solved in New York State. New York State is paying $3 billion each year for it and the amount will grow to over $400 million more each year! And state retirees pay less than their counterparts in both the private sector and federal workers. New York State must therefore “achieve the necessary savings in wages and pensions,” and seek higher insurance contributions from state workers. I’m sure the union leaders will love the paper’s proposals, and immediately agree.

After all, the editors write, “unlike Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Governor Cuomo is not trying to break the unions.” We have their assurance for this, and because he is not going after collective bargaining, I’m sure the AFL-CIO chieftains in New York State will immediately see the wisdom of Cuomo’s plans and the New York Times editorial endorsement, and will not accuse Cuomo — as they did Gov. Paterson — of being a union-busting monster. I mean all Cuomo wants is a “salary freeze and a reduction of benefits.” How could any union disagree with that? So the editors warn: “The unions need to negotiate seriously.”

Ask yourself this question. When papers like The Wall Street Journal told the unions the same thing about what their attitude should be towards Scott Walker, how did the unions and the Left respond? What is the difference between what they asked the unions to do when Walker first talked about his state’s fiscal crisis, and what Cuomo is asking the unions to do now?

The answer is obvious: Absolutely nothing. So watch carefully as the unions resist their admonition that “the state’s middle-class workers will have to make real sacrifices.”

Will the state capitol in Albany soon be the focus of the kind of protests we have just seen in Madison? Don’t hedge your bets.