Public Opinion of Unions Plummets, ALG Cites Public Sector Union Kickbacks as Cause

"The American people are sick and tired of the class warfare engaged through public policy by government unions and their willing accomplices in federal and state legislatures."—ALG President Bill Wilson.

February 24th, 2010, Fairfax, VA—A new poll conducted by Pew Research shows public opinion of unions plummeting, which Americans for Limited Government President Bill Wilson said was caused "by the endless handouts and kickbacks to public sector unions that are milking taxpayers and bankrupting the states."

According to the poll, as reported by, "Favorable views of labor unions have plummeted since 2007, amid growing public skepticism about unions' purpose and power. Currently, 41% say they have a favorable opinion of labor unions while about as many (42%) express an unfavorable opinion. In January 2007, a clear majority (58%) had a favorable view of unions while just 31% had an unfavorable impression."

"The American people are sick and tired of the class warfare engaged through public policy by government unions and their willing accomplices in federal and state legislatures," said Wilson.

"Public opinion of these government unions in particular is souring as they demonstrate no willingness whatsoever to embrace common-sense solutions like moving to defined-contribution pension systems that would help the solvency of states.  Instead, the public sector unions have been so greedy in states like California, New York, and New Jersey with benefits packages that the states are in fiscal deficits as far as the eye can see," Wilson explained.

Last week, the Pew Center on the States reported that "at the end of fiscal year 2008, there was a $1 trillion gap between the $2.35 trillion states and participating localities had set aside to pay for employees' retirement benefits and the $3.35 trillion price tag of those promises."

Wilson blamed the problem on defined-benefit pension plans that 90 percent of public employees are currently enrolled in, as reported by the Huffington Post.  Those plans promise to pay a certain amount of benefits for every year of retirement based on factors like salary and duration of employment. 

In an op-ed published this week by ALG News, Wilson outlined his proposal for states to switch to defined-contribution plans: "If today states just stopped adding new employees to their defined-benefit plans, as has been done in Alaska and Michigan, and switched to portable, IRA-like defined-contribution plans (as corporate America has already done with much success) while simultaneously offering younger workers an option to switch into the IRA, they could immediately takes steps to address the inherent cause of the crisis by limiting the universe of unfunded liabilities."

Today, state public pensions' unfunded liabilities stands at $1 trillion, and Wilson wrote that "If this proposal were adopted in every state, the unfunded liabilities would not grow that much more, and the states over time could bring the pension funds to fully-funded levels from their general funds."

According to Pew, public sector unions are "vigorously opposed" to this reform: "Because unions and other employee representatives often have vigorously opposed defined contribution plans, it is unclear whether any state will find such a switch viable, or if such plans are primarily being proposed as a starting point for hybrid plans or other compromises."

The public relations pitfalls for unions do not stop there, according to Wilson.  "Unions have compounded their public image problems through aggressive lobbying on the federal stage for more ObamaCare handouts," he said.

"For example, the special, sweetheart union exemption deal to the so-called Cadillac tax on health benefits that was worked out behind closed doors probably cost Democrats the Massachusetts Senate seat," Wilson explained.  "After that deal was reached, many rank-and-file union members went against the grain in Massachusetts, apparently not favoring the special treatment Congress sought to bribe them with." 

Wilson also cited a recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics' for 2007 which found that public sector pay was outpacing the private sector, as ALG News has previously reported.

In California, which still faces annual deficits totaling tens of billions of dollars, average annual income for state employees was $56,777 versus $49,935 for the private sector, a 12.1 percent gap.  In Illinois, the numbers are similar: $53,925 for state workers, and $48,006 for the private sector, an 11 percent split.  New Jersey: $57,845 average state salary, $53,590 for private sector workers, at a 7.4 percent difference.

Nationally, the same pattern holds: Federal workers in 2007 made on average $64,871, with private sector workers making $44,362, representing a 31.6 percent gap in between.

Wilson said "the favors to unions do not stop there," citing how Department of Labor prosecutions of union corruption and financial disclosure requirements have been halted by Obama Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, as previously reported by ALG News, and by

Wilson also noted that "One of Barack Obama's first acts in office was to enact several pro-union executive orders."

"To top it all off, despite overwhelming opposition, the unions are still pushing for card-check, which would remove the right of workers to have a secret ballot when unions are organized," Wilson added, citing the so-called "Employee Free Choice Act" that Congress has proposed once again in its 111th session.

Wilson concluded, "Politically, all of these union kickbacks have backfired, and are fueling public dissent against government unions being treated as a favored political class over taxpayers.  The American people favor a system where everybody is treated equally, and the more union bosses demand special treatment, the worse their public image will become."