You hear the false meme everywhere: the overpaid public service employees are being vilified all over the media and blamed for the state of the economy.
The nation’s public employees educate our kids, fight our fires, make sure our food isn’t tainted with toxic crap, provide services to the neediest and perform a thousand other vital tasks the private sector has no incentive to do. They earn less, on average, than their private-sector counterparts with similar qualifications. None become billionaires.
But the government doesn’t engage in the kind of ruthless and relentless union-busting that corporate America has employed to make it virtually impossible for private sector workers to organize. That explains, in part, why public workers toil in the last sector of the U.S. economy where employees enjoy some job security, decent health care and the prospect of a dignified retirement.
Now, the corporate Right has public sector workers in its cross-hairs. A viral email making the rounds in Tea Party circles sums up the charge, describing a dark conspiracy among “stinking, filthy libs” to use masses of sallow government bureaucrats to undermine America’s “capitalistic, independent, rugged individualists and entrepreneurs”:
[Government workers] are supported 100% by the American taxpayers employed in the private profit producing sector [sic]. None of the gov. offices produce one red cent in profit--they are all parasites. Every 100 gainfully employed American tax payers supports 6.5 gov. employees 100% [sic].
Jonathan Cohn, writing in the New Republic, calls public employees, “the new welfare queens,” an easy target for the Right’s politics of resentment. And the comparison is apt. Just as there were no doubt a few welfare recipients gaming the system and living the high-life, a very small number of public sector employees -- mostly the cops and firefighters to whom politicos don’t dare say no -- have won lavish retirement packages. That small group of rather specialized workers is being held up as an example of both the perfidy of “big government” and the unbridled greed of public-sector unions.
It's manifestly nonsensical under even the most casual scrutiny. And the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have decided to fight back:
Public service workers are not the problem. Attacking public service workers will not create jobs. Attacking public service workers will not solve the problem of trying to save the vital public services that so many rely on.
The only thing attacking public service workers does is divert attention from the real culprits of our country's economic troubles and inequality: You, greedy Wall Street CEOs, politicians in Washington who turn a blind eye, and all right-wing talking heads who spin lies.
When you attack public employees you are attacking the very folks whose work you benefit from — from providing basic public safety, to fixing potholes in the roads you drive on, to making sure clean water runs from your tap.
No more. It's time to stop the lies.
You can sign AFSCME's petition supporting public sector employees here.