It was a rough week for public-employee unions in Wisconsin, what with anti-union Gov. Scott Walker surviving an attempt to recall him from office, and also in California, where San Jose voters approved the trimming of public employee benefits and San Diego voters chose to put new hires in a 401(k) retirement rather an old-style guaranteed public pension.
Here in New York the picture is more mixed, with our own Gov. Andrew Cuomo having gained some ground against the powerful unions, but having caved on some issues also.
He gained a property-tax cap, pay concessions from CSEA and PEF, and evaluations of teachers, but he had to cave on introducing a 401(k) plan as a substitute for guaranteed pensions, even for new hires.
Give him this: He is the first New York governor to stand up to the unions since they gained far-reaching power in the late 1960s with the passage of the Taylor Law.
How does he do it? Well, we now know he does it in part with the support of a shadow campaign organization called the Committee to Save New York, which rakes in millions of dollars’ worth of contributions from big business, including the gambling industry, and also, curiously enough, from the construction trade unions. That’s money he uses to wage his own public-relations campaigns to counter the public-relations campaigns of the public-employee unions.
Last year the committee took in $17 million, including $2.4 million from the gambling industry and $500,000 from the construction trade unions, according to The New York Times.
You don’t have to be a political scientist, then, to understand why the Cuomo administration would advocate a “New York Works” program to rebuild roads and bridges and create thousands of construction jobs and why it would also require so-called project labor agreements on major jobs like the rebuilding of an exit on Rte. 17 in Orange County, seeing as how a project labor agreement locks in work for the trade unions. They help him, he helps them.
One of the oddities of this situation is that it pits members of public unions against members of private unions — construction workers against teachers, for example, and never mind solidarity forever.
You can call it divide-and-rule on Cuomo’s part, or you can say it’s just practical politics, but either way, we no longer have a government cowed and intimidated by its own employees — “government organized as a special interest to lobby itself to expand itself,” in the words of the conservative columnist George Will. We now have some counterweight, and how jolly that a small part of that counterweight should be in the shape of another union, looking out for its own narrow interests.
I don’t know the significance of the Wisconsin vote. The Democrats tried to make it a referendum on Gov. Walker’s union-busting, but exit polls showed some voters were leery of such a use of the recall process. Better keep it for genuine misconduct and not deploy it for mere policy differences.
But in any case, the governor was targeted by the unions, and he survived, which is a lesson that cannot be lost on other governors. Surely if he had been ousted, that lesson would have registered in every state capitol in the land.
Meanwhile I’m happy to learn that the village of Cooperstown has banned the use of herbicides on its famous Doubleday Field and has also agreed to ask the state DOT to stop spraying herbicides along Route 80 where they can leach into Otsego Lake, which is the source of Cooperstown’s drinking water.
Enough of this reflexive spraying of chemicals to kill organisms that for the most part do not endanger health or safety but merely mar the carpet-like effect desired by the operators of golf courses.
Let baseball players deal with the occasional irregularity in their playing field, and if weeds grow by the side of a road where they might obstruct the visibility of a sign, well, mow them, says this lover of the earth and its amazingly prolific flora.