There has been a big push to bust labor unions, especially public service unions, in favor of “right to work” laws. The recent blizzards on the east coast have suddenly become fodder for attacking organized labor.
It all began, reportedly, when some anonymous civil servants approached conservative City Councilmember to make a troubling confession. Tea Party-backed Councilmember Dan Halloran, who proudly attacks bills for paid sick leave and living wages, claimed to the press, “three sanitation workers and two Department of Transportation supervisors came to his office saying their bosses ordered the slowdown, telling workers that ‘the mayor will see how much he needs us’ and ‘there will be plenty of overtime.’”
The union denied the charges. The Mayor, who could arguably use a good diversion tactic amid heavy criticism of his administration’s emergency preparedness, has called for further investigation. And the right has gone to town, using the botched clean-up as a platform to once again demonize the public sector. Because obviously, the city’s poorly coordinated snow plows were a direct result of sanitation workers’ lavish benefits and outsized public pensions, as opposed to just the administration’s mismanagement. At City Journal, Nicole Gelinas argues, “the snowstorm has made it obvious that New York hasn’t perfected public-sector management to such an extent that it can cut spending to feed the benefits monster without harming the public.”
Laura Flanders gave a more cool-headed assessment of “snowgate”:
The blizzard narrative became that it’s not tax cuts or layoffs that trigger state shortages and service crashes. It’s the workers. Public Services fouled up? It must be public service workers’ foul play.
Could the hailstorm of anti-labor rhetoric be a bellwether for backlash against the public workforce? Ask the students trudging through the slush this week to begin the semester under the controversial new schools chancellor, former media executive Cathie Black. She’s poised to continue Bloomberg’s agenda of antagonizing teacher unions by attacking tenure policies, while cheerleading the test-heavy, pro-charter “McEducation” model of school reform.
Steven Greenhouse, labor and workplace reporter for the New York Times, and author of “The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker.”
Michael Zweig, Professor of economics and director of the Center for Study of Working Class Life at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He is author of “What’s Class Got to Do with It?” and “The Working Class Majority: America’s Best Kept Secret”
Art Levine, contributing Editor at Washington Monthly, he also writes regularly on labor, health, financial and other reform issues at the Working In These Times blog, Truthout.org, and the Huffington Post.