Union Wages and Benefits Didn't Cause the Deficit!

Every day, more Minnesotans are losing their jobs, their homes and their health care. When these victims of the poor economy need help, it's unionized public workers who come to their rescue. We're their life preserver, not an anchor weighing them down, as Katherine Kersten suggests ("Public sector: An anchor as we sink," Feb. 14).

We're the blue-collar workers who take care of South St. Paul while Gov. Tim Pawlenty cuts his hometown. We feed grandma while he forces her nursing home to close. We staff the emergency rooms while he cuts hospitals to the bone. We help minds soar while he crowds classrooms, hikes tuition and closes libraries.

Rest assured that our union wages and benefits are not the cause of the state deficit. AFSCME Council 5 is a union of 43,000 public and nonprofit workers, who earn $38,000 a year on average. Most of us are struggling paycheck to paycheck with frozen wages, just like the average Minnesota worker, who also earns $38,000. We're buying necessities, not luxuries, and that's the kind of spending that will pull Minnesota out of this recession.

Public workers are your friends, your neighbors and your customers. When Pawlenty cuts a public employee's job, Main Street loses a customer. As more stores shutter their doors, the last thing we need is more layoffs.

How Minnesota responds to this recession is a test of who we are as a people. Kersten and Pawlenty want to gut essential services while protecting Minnesota's wealthiest citizens and corporations from paying their fair share of taxes. This failed plan puts the rich in lifeboats while everyone else sinks.

Top economists on the left and right agree that investing in vital public services is one of the best ways to save and create jobs. They know that every dollar invested in public services grows the economy by $1.41 -- and that helps put all Americans back to work. They estimate that at least 1.2 million jobs were saved by President Obama's stimulus, which Pawlenty calls a "Ponzi scheme on the Potomac" and Kersten dismisses as "funny money." Experts disagree; they say government still needs to do more to breathe life into the economy, according to a recent survey by USA Today.

A jobs program isn't a slow drip stimulus or another Wall Street bailout. It should avoid corporate tax cuts, and instead consist of measures that directly save or add jobs. That should include aid to state and local governments to prevent layoffs and maintain vital services, and it should create jobs by repairing and building infrastructure.  Mpls. Star Tribune (2/23/2010)

~ Eliot Seide, Director, AFSCME Council 5.