Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I Learned a New Word Today: Mokita

‘Mokita’ is a word from New Guinea that means a truth everyone knows but nobody speaks about directly. It’s like an elephant in the room. It can be applied to many issues, but one area where it can no longer be applied is in connection with the disastrous financial position public employee unions have placed the rest of us.

Many cities and states are facing unprecedented budget shortfalls in the aftermath of the collapse of the housing bubble. Some communities in California have declared bankruptcy, and my summer-home state of Rhode Island has announced a half-billion dollar deficit, a huge amount for such a small state with a population only a little over a million people.

Rhode Island has long been known to be in the grip of the state workers’ unions, and, in the past, they have always been able to wring major increases in salary and benefits. The present climate, however, may give the state’s politicians some backbone in confronting these unions.

Labor’s power hangs in balance
June 8, 2008 Providence Journal (Excerpt)

"Labor union membership in Rhode Island is at its lowest point in more than a half-century. Powerful Democratic legislators, long rumored to be “in labor’s pocket,” now support cutting benefits for unionized workers. And a growing chorus of critics — Governor Carcieri among them — blames unions, at least in part, for the state’s mounting fiscal problems.

Organized labor is in trouble in the Ocean State.

“I think we have to reevaluate the strength and the clout of the unions,” said Maureen Moakley, a political science professor at the University of Rhode Island, a union member herself. “They don’t have the clout that they used to. The question is how much do they have left?”"

Panel to debate pay cuts for California lawmakers, top officeholders
June 7, 2008, Sacremento Bee (Excerpt)

“Salaries of California lawmakers and top elected officials should be cut to share the pain of a massive budget deficit, the head of the state's independent salary commission has concluded.

Charles Murray said Friday that he plans to propose a cut of perhaps 10 percent when the California Citizens Compensation Commission meets Tuesday in Sacramento City Hall.

"It's across-the-board for everybody under our power – from the governor on down," Murray said.”

The problem for taxpayers caused by the power of public worker unions is not limited to Rhode Island, but is a general problem affecting many communities. A website intended to advise and support elected officials who honestly desire to rein in the insatiable demands of these particular unions is located at

This website offers a wealth of resources to the public. Below is a summary of what the website is all about:
The Coming Showdown with Public Labor
by Lewis M. Andrews, Ph.D.

Executive Summary

With the cost of government at all levels – federal, state, and local – soaring wildly out of control, politicians will soon be forced to take the only action that can guarantee the continued delivery of public services at a reasonable cost: create laws to make the public sector more efficient and effective.

New Zealand, which in 1984 initiated a sweeping privatization of national and regional services to forestall national bankruptcy, provides endless examples of how streamlining government to bring expenses in line with revenues actually improves the overall quality of services. Employees in transportation were reduced from 5,600 to 53, in forest services from 17,000 to 17, and in the national Ministry of Works from 28,000 to 1 – all with no loss of service or safety to the public.

The problem is that importing these kinds of savings to America will not go down well with public employee unions, which have grown accustomed to extracting generous benefits from politicians without having to give much in return. At the state level, government workers have been collecting nearly 50 percent more in total compensation than the average private sector employee, with taxpayers subsidizing 128 percent more than private employers to fund health care benefits and 162 percent more on retirement benefits.

When budget pressures have occasionally forced politicians to make modest demands for increased productivity, the response from public employees has been less than generous -- witness the 2005 holiday transit strike in New York City and repeated threats of illegal walkouts by nurses throughout the University of California system.

But as taxpayers and elected officials come to insist on more cost-effective government, public unions will discover that their leverage is limited.

* In a world where an Internet course can substitute for a live teacher, where technology is cutting the length of hospital stays and allowing medical centers in other countries to compete for American patients, and where Web-enabled technology can ease the impact of government workforce reductions, the bargaining position of monopoly labor is slowly but surely eroding.

* Eventually, public employees will see that they too have a vested interest in the productivity changes necessary to resolve the debt crisis, especially at the local level where state legislatures have considerable latitude to restructure failing municipalities by rewriting union contracts. This has already happened in cities like Springfield, Massachusetts.

* Indeed, not all guarantees made to government workers are as ironclad as supposed. Even without the threat of bankruptcy, officials in Texas, Oregon, and Rhode Island have challenged longstanding labor agreements.

Although politicians are afraid to discuss it, most know that a raucous showdown between government workers and taxpayers is but a few years away – and that economics dictates only the taxpayers can win.


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At 2:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 7:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally agree with this. Rhode Island State employees have been getting free health care for years now. This is ridicules. The employees should be paying at least 20% of their heath insurance like everyone else in other states including Massachusetts. I couldn't care less about some of the cities in California who want to pay for sex change operations for their public employees. That state is so backward, and always has been. In the town where I worked, the electric department had a mere hand full of employees working all the over time that they wanted. They still do, and some of them are making well over $100,000. a year. The thinking there has always been; having a small group working all the overtime to get the job done is cheaper than paying the benefits for a large group without overtime. This to me is absurd and immoral. Why not just hire enough people to do the job and pay them a decent wage? There are plenty of workers who need jobs. I'm talking about line workers, and these jobs aren't entry level jobs. It takes a period of three years to learn, and there is schooling involved. Everyone thinks that unions are great, but they are political. In my state, they have the support of fools like Teddy Kennedy and John Kerry. Need I say more?

At 1:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rhode Island's budget deficit is as much the fault of its notoriously corrupt politicians as it is the fault of the public employee unions. Union contracts are negotiated. It's up to the state managers from the governor on down to negotiate contracts that they can live with. If they have given away the store, in the past, that's not labor's fault.

At 8:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a point well taken and I agree with you on this, but if the labor forces want to continue to keep working, they had better learn to bend with the times, or lose their jobs. Not all departments are self supporting like the electic and water departments, but that is neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is; you just can't get blood out of a stone.


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